I was there... where were you?


There's no place I can't be, since I found Serenity!

J.C. Mašek III... Brown Coat Critic!
J.C. Mašek III
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Serenity Fan Fest
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It was an ordinary Tuesday in Crap Town (which is what I gleefully call my Day Job). Star Wars 3 had ended its run in even the cheap theatres, and my next big wish list item, Serenity, was still ten grueling days away. I was busy thinking of ways to have the Nazi-reminiscent program known as Websense deleted from the network to spite our own version of Hitler!

Sorry, Welbutrin hasn't kicked in yet. Anyway, as I say, it was an ordinary Tuesday, and I checked my email, only to discover that the Universal Studios Hollywood Theme Park in all their Golden celluloid Glory, was to hold a "Serenity Fan Fest" that very Saturday, stopping the gap and granting the teaser we needed. Props were to be displayed, sets were to be observed, questions to be asked answers to be answered and autographs were to be signed, all by the cast and crew.

Universal is to be praised for rescuing a canceled Fox TV show anyway, and for holding screenings of the (almost) finished film months before its actual opening to internet spanning "Browncoats" everywhere. Chances are, if I'm on the internet, I'm writing one of these articles, so I wasn't one of the "early viewers". So the want was that much more of a WANT (shades of "Beer Bad" abounded, buddy)!

Indeed, but September 24, 2005 the WANT was as serious as a Reaver hunger for human flesh. My wife, daughter and I showed up early to Hollywood, paid for the Premiere Parking flashed our Annual Passes (are you surprised my family would have Universal Studios Hollywood passes?) and sprinted toward the front gate. I staggered before a sign that read "Due to a Scheduling Conflict, Joss Whedon will not be able to attend." I then fell to my fat knees and began to weep like I just watched Love Story as my family attempted to carry me into the park. In that I'm fatter than Jabba the Hutt's "kinda chunky" cousin Rodney the Hutt, they were unable to lift me to my feet. My daughter, ever the speed-thinking wunderkind leaned down and whispered "props"! I staggared forward and gushed five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred Thank Yous to the Universal Versers who provided us wrist bands for entry into not one, but two memorable events of the Serenity Fan Fest.

We weren't alone. Browncoats from as far away as Australia showed up wearing their... um... brown coats. We began with a look at the props and sets! Everything from Inara's "Parlor" to River's "Edited" Bible were on hand including the new "Hover" Mule, replacing that "practical" Four Wheeler from Firefly. The shiniest point, quite naturally, was a look at the lady herself... Serenity, the ship herself, in the flesh, as it were, for the first time (Firefly's Firefly was a purely computer animated affair).

Naturally, you don't hit a Theme Park without riding the 'Coasters (and, incidentally, visiting the set of Desperate Housewives), but soon it was time for the proverbial "Line Up". The prevailing idea in the park was to hit one of the "Events" or the other. We, on the other hand, were intent on finagling our way into both, baby! First, there was the "Fear Factor: Live" stage. After some relatively obnoxious warm up, we were blessed with our panel, consisting of Producer Christopher Buchanan, Visual Effects Supervisor Loni Peristere, Yan and Rafael Feldman (the real deal Fanty and Mingo), sweet River Tam (Summer Glau), with her hair combed, and the Chairman of the Board: Adam Baldwin. Yep, yep, yep, yep, Jayne Cobb speaks! What followed were hints at the production, previews of the killer special effects and a few of the "How'd they do that" moments explained.

The highlight, of course, was hearing from the cast and crew. The greatness of hearing how much Loni believes in the project, and how proud Chris is of what Serenity had become was worth the wait in line, the Sci-Fi conventioneers dressed to the Nerds, and the "In Character" interview of an out of shape white chick dressed like Zoe. The Feldmans were sensibly blown away to join this family. Summer Glau and Adam Baldwin... well, it was amazing to see the "real" them. Baldwin's sarcastic humor leaves little room to wonder why it is that he was cast as Jayne Cobb. Glau is petite and pretty, but humble with a wit that's worth paying attention to. Baldwin relayed the story of his biggest on-set disagreement with Joss Whedon. Long story short: it had to do with whether or not Jayne wanted to sleep with Inara, or whether or not he'd get a chance to. Summer Glau laughed about her biggest problem with River... that being, her lack of hair grooming!

At the end of the "Q/A" session, knowing more than aught we knew about Serenity, my daughter laid down cover fire while my wife and I fisted and booted our way through the true believers back to the exhibition of the Props where Loni, Chris, Yan, Rafael, Summer and Adam would be showing up for a meet and greet. Forty dollars and one Roll Playing Game book later (I don't play RPGs, but I'm fan enough to spend the cash for a signed souvenir) we were cued up to meet the onery gorram group.

What struck me was not so much that these people were "down to Earth", but that they were actually grateful to have these fans here. Fans aren't taken for granted by this group, and they're happy just to have the chance to be in this great movie and have it watched.

When I complimented Baldwin on his career, he was humble, yet comical in his response. I told Summer Glau that she'd been good in everything we'd ever seen her in. She put a hand to her chest, smiled and said "I hope I deserve that!"

Yan and Rafael were grinning ear to ear, talking specific points of their great new movie to their new fans. Chris was similarly excited by the whole thing, actually standing up to shake hands, before sitting to sign his name. It was Loni Peristere that surprised me most. When I mentioned the greatness of his special effects work (he worked on not just Serenity and Firefly but also Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and more), he actually struck up a conversation with me on it, and how honored he was to be involved. This is with a few hundred of his closest friends lined up behind me. It was only the interference of the world's largest security guard that stopped the conversation.

Six key members of the Serenity-verse, completely without ego. They had worked hard on a great piece of art and were happy to have been a part of it, and happy to share it with us all. Every "star" should be this magnanimous.

At the time, Serenity was all the rage in the press, and was, as Entertainment Weekly put it, "poised to be a hit". We left the day with signed souvenirs and posters in hand, and the impression that we hadn't met a bunch of movie stars, but a bunch of really cool people.

The following Friday I watched the film twice in the largest auditoriums that the largest cinemas in Orange County had to offer. And they were almost empty. People simply weren't coming to see this movie. The opening weekend, which was undeniably going to be HUGE, instead grossed $10.1 Million Dollars. To date, Serenity hasn't made its production costs back (in ticket sales, internationally it's slightly less than its 39 Million dollar cost).

There is hope for more, however. Firefly was cancelled, but made boucoup bucks in DVD sales and rentals. Serenity is now on DVD (released today, 12/20/05), and is once again, we hope, "poised to be a hit". Percentage-wise, most of the movies that make the most money aren't really all that "good", but have advertising budgets to make Bill Gates weep. Serenity is a good movie, and deserves a look!

It's not all about Money, though. The victory is that Serenity was made at all. The victory is that it's so very great. The victory is that it stayed true to the original vision, with the original creator at the helm and the original cast before the camera. Should there be more? Yes, and let's hope that little silver disc provides a big bowl full of "reversal of fortune". If not, hey, we've got Serenity, and I know first hand that there are at least six people who are proud of this film and proud to have been a part of it... just as it is. And they're not alone either.

See you in the next reel, everybody. Watch the skies.

There's nothing worth risking your cool for, if it's not Joss...
Okay, I wasn't ever all THAT cool, but I do write COOL reviews.
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The Universal Studios Serenity Fan Festival (9/24/2005) was attended by
J.C. Mašek III a guy who, frankly, doesn't feel so geeky after this one...
He still feels fat, though.
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