SMBFC Movie Bites Review – Serenity

I was one of the lucky folk who managed to wrangle an invite to one of the several Serenity preview screenings that have been popping up lately, with the last free preview in New York just three days before the official national opening. For those who aren’t familiar with Serenity or what it’s supposed to be, this review’s for you.

Serenity is a film written and directed by “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel” creator/writer Joss Whedon, whose writing and creating talents have garnered him celebrity status among the legions of fans of either show. Few are familiar with Whedon’s less-successful creation, “Firefly,” named after a class of spaceship from the show, bearing slight resemblance to the insect by the same moniker. It enjoyed limited popularity on FOX, citing poor time slots and inconsistent scheduling as the reason for its downfall.

Serenity is both a continuation for fans of the show, and jumping-on point for those who missed it on television or DVD. Like the show from whence it came, Serenity centers on a group of nine eclectic individuals who make up the crew of Serenity, the name of a “Firefly” model spacecraft given by the ship’s captain and war veteran, Malcom Reynolds (played both in the show and film by Nathan Fillion). When the film opens, we are privy to a flashback (of sorts) from one of the crew’s newest “recruits,” a young woman named River Tam (portrayed by film newcomer Summer Glau) who is established as exceptionally intelligent and strangely intuitive.

When we are finally introduced to the stars of the film, we are thrown in the middle of what would under normal conditions be considered utter chaos. From reentry to landing, we half-expect Serenity to fall into anarchy altogether. The crew we are expected to follow for 127 minutes is already at each others’ throats (both literally and figuratively) and some members of the crew aren’t living on the ship for various reasons. However, there is an energy that can be felt through each actor’s performance that is truly remarkable. By the end of the first ten minutes, we as an audience understand that this is a family that has fought for each other, fought with each other, and bled for each other on more than a few occasions.

Unfortunately, if you want to get a feel for what it must be like on a regular day-to-day basis on Serenity, one should probably pick up the DVD set of the show. For the film Serenity, it is non-stop action from the opening ‘til the end title crawl. The first “job” Serenity’s crew undertakes is truly a sequence to behold. Snappy dialogue that puts Kevin Smith to shame, mixed with the best heist guts of film, topped off with a chase scene that makes Bullet look like Driving Miss Daisy, should have you jumping on board and ready for the rest of the ride within the first fifteen minutes.

Our story is rather standard. While we do follow the lives of nine main characters, it is one character’s story that takes the stage for this adventure. The sister of Serenity’s medic Simon (played by Sean Maher), River carries within her tortured mind a terrible secret that threatens to unravel the very structure of lies the government hoped to keep unknown.

We are in what sci-fi fans refer to a “lived-in universe,” where the status quo of life is quite different from what we’re used to today, and everything’s dirty. That’s not to say there is no hint of the pristine, polished, high-glossy future we’re so accustomed to. We receive our Roddenberry fix in the form of the great Alliance, this universe’s governing body that keeps the peace, and occasionally kidnaps young children for devious purposes. This universe even has its own urban myth. Cannibalistic madmen, or “Reavers” as they’re called, roam on the fringes of space, attacking ships and performing unspeakable acts upon their inhabitants. A deep connection between these “Reavers” and River’s dark secret is what throws this unlikely band of thieves, mercenaries, pilots, mechanics, preachers and prostitutes into a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with the largest military might in the galaxy.

The makers of this film do not make any effort to hide the fact that this film is indeed established by its television predecessor. However, Whedon and his team go through painstaking efforts to make the film as acceptable to a new audience as it is to the salivating fans that have eagerly awaited its release since April (its originally intended release). While you do not need to watch the show to follow the film in any way, I will say that having a familiarity with the characters makes it feel like coming home again.

For a film season lacking so much originality, Serenity is a welcome change. She’s got her kinks and quirks, like the ship she’s named after, but you find yourself loving her all the more for them. From bad 70’s camera zooms and lens flairs to the occasional run-on sentence or butchering of grammar in the interests of giving someone a cool line, to a medley of actors you’d never expect to see in a room together, but couldn’t imagine any other way, Serenity’s got character in spades.

~ by Crivelliman on September 13, 2006.

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