Serenity Movie Review - Joss Whedon Delivers!
by Lisa Kratzmann
Joss Whedon’s "Serenity" fulfills and even exceeds the promise offered by his TV series "Firefly"… and still leaves the viewer wanting more, much more. (In the best possible way.)
I had never even heard of "Firefly" when I saw the trailers for "Serenity". Immediately I knew I had to see this movie. It called to me.
White knuckling the entire film, I don't think I even ate my popcorn. Leaving the theater I was in a stunned state. "Where did this move come from?"
Obviously I then discovered "Firefly" and like so many fans had my heart broken by the reality that this one movie and a mere 14 episodes was all I was ever going to have of Malcolm, Zoe, River, and the rest of the crew.
"Serenity" takes place 500 years in the future when the Earth had been used up and humankind terraformed and colonized hundreds of other planets. Humans being humans, conflict ensued, with two factions forming. The Alliance or the Core planets representing technology, beauty, and civilization, and the Independents, who live in the farther reaches of space with less technology, less beauty, and virtually no civilization.
The story opens a decade after the crushing defeat of the Independents by the more "advanced" Alliance. Malcolm Reynolds, a former lieutenant of the Independent Army and his rag tag crew (the term rag tag may have been created just for this group of individuals) ply the dark space between the Outer Moons, taking such work, legal and otherwise, as they can get.
Aboard Serenity, Mal’s smuggling/transport ship, are River and Simon Tam, brother and sister on the lam from Alliance authority. River is a deeply damaged, incredibly gifted teen-age girl with psychic abilities developed as a result of brain experimentation in an Alliance facility.
Her brother Simon, rescuing her from captivity at the cost of his fortune and career as an Alliance doctor, now has them working with Captain Reynolds as a way to stay one step ahead of the extraordinarily concerted effort of Core operatives.
The plot, which rarely dips below breakneck paced, evolves through the crews' efforts to find out what exactly has been done to River and why the Alliance is so desperate to get her back. In the end, they unearth a secret kept by the Alliance that is so horrible the authorities would kill hundreds, even thousands to keep it. Mal takes a stand against the oppressors, driving himself and his crew to the edge of the "Verse" to get the secret out.
"Serenity" supplies everything needed in a great science fiction film: stunning spaceship visuals, outlandish planetary locals, and an action packed plot. But what makes it special are the same things that made "Firefly" on a very tight budget so special, the almost freakishly good characters, their relationships with each other, and the group dynamic.
While watching the movie, I had the feeling that I got from the later episodes of "Star Trek: The Next Generation". A feeling of history. A weight to each character that speaks of a long and detailed back history, of actors that know their characters inside and out, of a writer and director who is working with a series Bible that spans years. With the Next Generation that took seven years to accomplish.
Joss Whedon did this in one movie and 14 TV episodes.
The tragedy is that no one, at the time at least, seemed to notice. "Firefly" was cancelled for good reason. Aside from a few diehard fans, no one was watching. And "Serenity" fared little better, not quite meeting its budget at $39M worldwide. Well received by critics and awarded both Nebula and Hugo awards, it was a moderate flop in the box office.
And yet, it goes on. Over the years it has developed a cult following that continues to grow. Maybe like the 1939 "The Wizard of Oz" it will be a modern day Cinderella, over the decades capturing the imagination of each new generation, and remaining vibrantly alive in the hearts of its fans when its' blockbuster peers have long since been forgotten.
About the Reviewer:
Lisa Kratzmann has been a fan of Science Fiction movies, books, and TV since seeing "Star Wars" on a VCR at her daycare at age 5. Aside from her 9-5 sales job and raising two boys, she also heads up the science fiction book review site www.ScienceFiction-Lit.com