Serenity (2005)

Before I even start reviewing this movie, I have to confess that I am a confirmed Browncoat. I’ve been a fan of Joss Whedon since the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie; I followed the resulting series faithfully for seven years, as well as watching the Angel spin-off, and when Firefly started airing on the Sci-Fi channel, it was something of a no-brainer. Knowing from the outset that it was doomed – cancelled after half a season in the States – I was quickly and completely drawn in. The cancellation made the series more poignant, if anything; a sort of real-life parallel to the story unfolding on our screens of space pirates, people eking out a living on the edges of space after fighting on the losing side of a righteous war. These were people who survived in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, and they were complex, involving, and incredibly loveable.

I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I’ve watched all kinds of nonsense just because one or other of the Firefly cast was appearing in it – Jewel Staite being the main culprit, on whose shoulders I firmly place the blame for me having watched Dead Like Me and, moreover, the rather dire Wonderfalls.

I’ve been there all the way through the campaigns to “keep Firefly flying”, to get the Fox execs to change their minds and bring back my show. I remember the despair of discovering that the sets had been dismantled; the joy when the DVDs were announced. I’ve joined in online discussions with the cast and crew. So I guess it’s fair to say that I’m not exactly unbiased when I tell you that Serenity is far and away the best science-fiction movie of this year, or indeed any other year in recent memory.

Picking up some time after the series left off, the viewer is thrown unapologetically straight into the action. Most, if not all, of the main characters are explained thoroughly enough for new viewers to pick up, though. A brief run-down: Captain Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) is an embittered war veteran who cares a lot more than he lets on about the safety of his ship and her crew. His second-in-command is Zoë (Gina Torres), an Amazonian who fought alongside her captain in the war. Her husband, Wash (Alan Tudyk) provides the comic relief as the ship’s ace pilot; ship’s mechanic is farm girl Kaylee (Jewel Staite), whose mixture of innocence and sensuality makes her the most endearing character of the lot. Hired-gun Jayne (Adam Baldwin) is a mercenary who’ll probably betray them all as soon as the price is right, while a certain amount of respectability is brought to the proceedings by Inara (Morena Baccarin), a registered Companion (a high class, legal kind of prostitute). In addition, Serenity has three semi-permanent passengers: Shepherd Book (Ron Glass), a preacher with a shadowy past who is currently on leave at an abbey at the time of the movie, and Simon and River Tam. Simon (Sean Maher) is an incredibly intelligent doctor who’s become a fugitive after rescuing his even more gifted sister River (Summer Glau) from the clutches of a government-sponsored academy where experiments were being done on her brain. Disturbed and psychic, River is the loosest cannon on this ship of misfits, and the fact that the government want her back makes her doubly dangerous. A bounty hunter known only as The Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is willing to go to any lengths to get River back, and on top of that, there’s another threat to contend with: Reavers. Men gone mad on the edges of civilisation, they’re barbaric and relentless, and no one who’s encountered them has lived to tell the tale.

Serenity’s mix of old West sensibilities and deep space settings makes it a peculiar vision of the future – there are no aliens, everyone speaks a strange mixture of English and Chinese, and, in an effort to be scientifically accurate, there is no sound in space – that may not appeal to everyone’s tastes. For those it does appeal to, though, it may quickly become an obsession. It’s action-packed, with plenty of beautifully rendered space battles and an ensemble cast of interesting characters given trademark snarky Whedon dialogue. Serenity has its fair share of laughs, as well as a large helping of shocks and heart-rending tragedy. Without giving too much away, Whedon by no means takes the safe route here: some utterly unexpected things happen, in quick enough succession that it all really only sinks in after the movie, creating a resounding need for multiple viewings…

Fangirling aside, Serenity isn’t perfect. Some of the effects, lighting and camera angles are deliberately less than perfect for a more authentic feel, which is sometimes distracting. Joss Whedon’s writing is sometimes a little clunky, and it can be difficult for new viewers to accept the idiosyncratic way the characters speak. They may also find some of the characters slightly superfluous – namely, Inara and Book, neither of whom are really central to the plot – and while, for existing fans, there are one or two gleefully geeky touches, the characters we’ve watched develop over a series are somewhat simplified here, boiled down to their more basic elements. It’s occasionally frustrating for seasoned viewers, but that frustration is easily overridden by the joy of seeing these characters back in action again. New situations, interactions and confrontations that we never dared hope we’d get to see again – it’s awe-inspiring. Serenity is a victory, a triumph of the underdog, but on top of all that idealistic rubbish, it’s a damned fine piece of science fiction.

IMDB link

No comments: