Can’t Stop the Signal

by Alan Rapp on September 30, 2005

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Serenity
  • IMDB: link

“I would rather have a show that a hundred people need to see than a thousand people like to see.” —Joss Whedon

serenity-posterHere’s a peculiar story, a television show that only aired for four months and was cancelled after a dozen episodes has been made into a movie. Joss Whedon’s short lived, but much beloved, Firefly told the story of Malcolm Reynolds and his crew in the distant future, got the whack from Fox Television.  Cancelled after only half a season into its run it produced big numbers when released on DVD and Whedon was asked to revive the franchise on the big screen.  So what’s the result?  Damn good if you ask me.

The movie begins four to eight months after the last episode of the series Objects in Space took place.  Captain Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) and his crew are still doing what they do, trying to make a living, legal or criminal, out in the blackness of space.  The crew includes firstmate Zoe (Gina Torres) who served with Mal in the war for independence, on the losing side, her husband and pilot of the ship Wash (Adam Tudyk), the ship’s mechanic Kaylee (Jewel Staite), and the rather dim-witted muscle Jayne (Adam Baldwin).

The ship also is carrying two passengers who are fugitives of the Alliance (the big corporate government of this ‘verse).  Simon Tam (Sean Maher ) gave up his life as a doctor to rescue his sister River (Summer Glau ) from government run experimental procedures on her brain.  The government desperately wants her back and has sent a highly skilled assassin (Chiwetel Ejiofor) after them.  One of his first moves is to set a trap for Mal by kidnapping Inara (Morena Baccarin), a courtesan and former member of the crew, and forcing Mal and the crew to come to her rescue.  And then the fun really starts.

The movie, like the television show, is a western set in a futuristic sci-fi setting.  It’s quite an interesting world Whedon has created and the film gives him the opportunity to return and explore a little more deeply.  I also think the introduction of Ejiofor makes up for one of the weaknesses of the show, a good villain for the crew and especially Mal to play against.  I know you’ve got some questions, hopefully I can answer them for you

The first question:  Will people who didn’t watch the show be able to understand and enjoy the film?

The answer is yes.  Although the world is complex and there are many characters the people who I talked to did enjoy the movie even if they had lingering questions about some of the storyline.  I do think those who have seen the show will get more out of the movie, but the movie does re-setup some of the characters and plot for you in early sequences so even if you never watched an episode of Firefly you shouldn’t be completely lost.

Second question:  Will fans of the show like it on the big screen?

The screening I was at seemed like most people enjoyed themselves and ended with a bigger ovation than anything I’ve sat through this summer, so I would answer, yes.

Third question:  How good is it?

Ah, this one’s a little more complicated.  Viewing it strictly as a motion picture the film has some faults.  Not all of the characters get as much screen time as they deserve, Shepherd Book (Ron Glass) most notably isn’t given as much screen time as I would have liked though he does play an important role in the plot of the film.  Also the film has periods where it goes from one action sequence straight to another having the feel of a need for a commercial break now and then to give you a moment to pause.  The acting and writing are well done and fans of Whedon will notice his trademark touches wonderfully used throughout.  As a stand alone film it is very good, though not great.  However you also have to judge it on how the film works with the show.

As a bookend for the series the movie succeeds extremely well.  It answers many questions originally raised on the show, provides new information about the universe and characters that reside within it – especially the Reavers, and continues the character development of River.  I think fans of the show will be very pleased with the end result.  The movie isn’t an end, and allows for more stories to be told, at the same time the conclusion of this particular storyline is a nice way to go out if no future projects take place.

Final Question:  Would you recommend it?

Hell ya’!  It’s great fun, and although you will get more out of the film by watching the series I don’t think it’s completely necessary (come on folks, it’s only a little four disc set, go out and buy yours today).  I thoroughly enjoyed myself and will take friends back to see it with me.

While not a perfect film, Serenity succeeds on most levels and I think most fans of westerns, sci-fi, and Whedon in particular will have a very enjoyable time.  I would have liked to see more from all of the group of characters, but Star Trek hasn’t gotten that right in ten tries so I guess I can’t be too hard on Whedon for not getting it perfect his first time out.  The movie succeeds in getting the same feel of the show (and I mean that as a compliment) and translating it well onto a bigger screen.  I hope the film makes enough money to keep Whedon and this crew in business; I’d love to see where he’d take them next.

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