You have to hand it to Universal Studios on this one. Take a T.V. show for which only 14 episodes were ever made (and only 11 actually made it on the air), recognize the inherent potential for an incredible Sci-Fi Franchise (aided by the fact that the great, great Joss Whedon is at the helm... and the fact that DVD sales exploded upon release), and not only have the film made, by Joss, with the original cast intact and a budget to match the scope, but also to advertise the hell out of it, begging for a hit! Most major studios wouldn't bother, they did, and the result is fantastic and thoroughly satisfying. Joss Whedon has succeeded in doing what so many have tried before: Make a movie version of a series and make it accessible to a wider audience, while never insulting the intelligence of the fans.
The result? It's a classic! Serenity is a thinking-person's action film, set in a shocking Sci-Fi future that isn't all that pretty, and really isn't all that nice. Set the nine major characters on a duct-taped together ship (the Serenity of the title), and make sure that the whole gang are, at best, a bunch of anti-heroes, hardly your Luke Skywalker or Captain Kirk ideal. What makes this gang, this story, so great is the characters... funny, smart, dangerous... and strangely enough... realistic.
Taking place a few scant months after the last episode of Firefly, the crew of Serenity are still floating about the rim of the Solar System looking for a buck to survive on, with their two most "respectable" members hanging out elsewhere. Naturally, the Anglo-Sino Alliance is still in hot pursuit, particularly because the crew now includes the anything-but-serene, River Tam (the excellent Summer Glau).
The chase is amped up by The Operative of the Parliament (Chiwetel Ejiofor), whose single minded mission is protecting Alliance Secrets, including, and especially those that are secret even from him. It appears that not only does River have a few tricks up her sleeves, but also a nightmare or three tucked away in that shining brain-pan of hers. Just when Simon Tam (Sean Maher) thought it was safe to go back on the lam, a new and frightening issue pops up with River Tam, and puts the whole crew back in the slam. Or damned near!
What follows is a hell of a great adventure across unknown space, with enough back story to fill in the newbies and enough excellent fan-only moments to cause brown-coats everywhere to stand up and cheer. (I'm no brown coat, as my experience at the Universal Studios "Serenity Fan Fest" proved, but I had to clap out loud a time or two as well). Questions are answered and new dominoes are set up; surprises grab you by the throat and the familiarity of Serenity feels like coming home again! Make no mistake, if audiences give this film the shot it deserves, this could be the next great Sci-Fi saga! Believe me, we need one, and believe me, Joss can give it.
The film is excellent, full of surprises and worth every second of its (just shy of) two hour running time. It's also never boring and an absolute thrill to watch piece by piece. Joss Whedon (who both wrote and directed this one) introduces the crew with a long, cut-free tracking shot, reminiscent of Welles' Touch of Evil or Altman's The Player, using the entire set as the stage, and one steady cam as a blockable actor therein. It's truly incredible to see, and a credit to Whedon's directing talents, which shine throughout the film.
Further, the use of the same cast as Firefly, the show that spawned Serenity, is brilliant, and remarkably effective. Not only do these actors do these characters better than anyone else could, but each of them is unquestionably fantastic! While, I suppose, it could be argued that not enough time was available for character development, I would submit that the attitudes and characteristics of each individual were handled here pretty damned well, and in a way fully explanatory to the audience, new or old.
While this is unquestionably River's story (and what a story!!!), Serenity is equally unquestionably Mal Reynolds' ship! Mal (Nathan Fillion) is still the tough and affable captain, just a little too battle scarred and war wounded to be a "Nice Guy". The same goes for Jayne Cobb (Adam Baldwin), who couldn't be called a nice guy solely because... well, he ain't one, is he? Naturally married couple Wash (Alan Tudyk) and Zoe (Gina Torres) are "nice" only to each other (most of the time), and Kaylee (Jewel Staite) is still pretty much dying to be nice to somebody (preferably Simon, as always). Don't worry, though, Kiddies, for those of you who miss Shepherd Book (Ron Glass) and Companion Inara (the incredible Morena Baccarin) in this lineup, they're in there like Prego... boy are they ever! Amazingly, all get their due here, and do a hell of a job at it in their shared, ensemble screen time. Gina still steals virtually every scene she's in, and delivers one chilling self-fulfilling prophecy early on!
While the story speaks for itself, there is a lot of CGI in this film (less than in the series, but a lot nonetheless), and a fair amount of special effects and model work. It's all done tastefully and without overreaching the story, or attempting to replace it. It's noteworthy how beautiful the whole thing is, and how realistic (believe it or not) Joss managed to get this to be (there is no sound in space, but in self-contained atmospheres, there is, natch). Further, I would be negligent not to point out that Joss and company actually know how to use a hand held camera (real or simulated) without having the result become a lame experiment in Nausea Vision! Bravo on all counts.
If this film has any flaws, they are visible only to the nitpickers. A flashback sequence involving Simon Tam, who started out meek and milquetoast and evolved into a tougher character, reveals a few uncharacteristically action-packed moves in the introduction. Further, as a fan myself, it's hard for me to imagine coming into this movie without a knowledge of the characters, or their setting. I believe Whedon and company did a fantastic job of filling in the blanks here, but then again... I didn't walk in with any blanks... so... Aside from those, very minor, things, I can honestly tell you that this is a well made, well directed, well effected and well acted piece of classic cinema, and if it doesn't do well... audiences are going to get what they deserve! Namely, less originality and more predictable crap like Flightplan and The Day After Tomorrow.
Serenity isn't careful, and isn't a cookie-cutter, simplistic view of the future. It's complex and edgy and anything but serene! It's also funny and filled with action, but not at the expense of the excellent story that brings us through to a jagged end that is neither pat-Hollywood in its gift-wrapped conclusion (the end is as complex as the beginning and middle) nor blatantly left open for a green-hungry sequel. It's all surprising, and as one fan said to me after the show, it's impressive that Joss had the courage to do all these things that he did... on the other hand, some of these things might not sit too well with the audience. It's his movie, however, and I am more of a fan than ever, especially with the revealed secrets here that total out to be bigger than the Titanic's big brother! Serenity is a great continuation to a great (almost) Eleven Hour saga known as Firefly. Let's just hope this is the beginning, and not the end.
Bring your friend, your kids, your grandma, and even the family dog to this film. Show Hollywood that you want something new and different and challenging, or, I promise you, you will be getting more of the same old mass-produced garbage that has been spoon fed to us for years now. Universal Studios took a risk here... Prove to them that they weren't wrong. I'm not exaggerating to tell you that Serenity is fully worth Five Stars, and is a must see for the intelligent movie fan! It's worth every penny to see Summer Glau bring River to more life than ever, culminating on one incredibly beautiful scene that simply must be seen to be believed! Color me impressed, color me a fan, and color me brown... just don't color me Serene! So, until Wonder Falls is brought to the big screen and subsequently ignored by callous viewers as it was on its TV Run, I will most assuredly see you in the next non-Alliance-Controlled reel, which surely spin on the system's fringes. If you've got a ship, I just might have a job for you... a gun, and I'll let you keep it!
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