Friday Film Review ..... And the Film is Serenity ~ A movie which is based upon ~ continues the story of ~ the Fabulous, but sadly-aborted TV series created by Joss Whedon, Firefly!
And, yesterday's Blog was Part I of this review ..... An introduction & necessary pre-read ~ Firefly .... The Final Frontier!!!
Serenity has actually one of the cooler “how it got made stories” ...... Firefly was a TV series produced by Joss Whedon, (executive producer of those other awesome series (Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel). Only 14 episodes were made before the show was cancelled ~ the pilot was ditched and the remaining shows were run out of order, so Firefly was never really given a chance. That’s right, it barely lasted a season, only 11 screened episodes. However, Joss Whedon is a superheavyweight in this world of wonder, and through support of his fans was not only able to turn this failed series into a cult hit with massive DVD sales but also supply a Firefly fix & a sense of closure with this feature film, Serenity!
As for the passengers … River Tam (Summer Glau) is a child prodigy, a psychic and sometimes psychotic victim of the ruling Alliance. Her precocious nature alienates her instructors but it soon becomes apparent that she is gifted in other ways. She has telepathic abilities and sees the world in a very different way. Of course, the military become involved and carries out tortuous experiments on this slender seventeen year old, sitting her wired up in a cold, clean lab. She is set free by her brother, Simon (Sean Maher). He has sacrificed a medical career on the central planets just to get River away from her tormentors. So the Alliance is after brain damaged but recovering River ~ who knows something she shouldn't but is unaware of this ~ and Dr. Simon Tam, her abductor. They take refuge on Serenity. The ship's other two (now ex-) crew members are Shepherd Book (an aptly named Preacher man) and Inara, a 'companion' or maybe a 'cosmic hooker'. Talk about awesome extremes!!! The holy man lives on one of Mal's hideout worlds from where he personifies the strong moral belief in Mal, (not religious belief which Mal lost at the battle of Serenity hence the ship's moniker). The love of Mal's life, Inara, (who decided to leave the ship but never got a chance to in the cancelled series) is settled on the companion training planet. After a visit from the Operative, she understands all too well both his ruthless dedication & the nature of the danger Mal and his crew are in housing River and Simon. She chooses to return to Serenity.
The great thing about Serenity is that it takes Firefly the series, on which it is based, and transmutes it intact to the big screen with creator Joss Whedon at the controls, the original cast in place, and all of them in perfect form. While I'm delighted that Universal gave Whedon a chance to make a film of Firefly, I didn't want to see a film of Firefly. I wanted to see the next season of Firefly ~ better yet, six more seasons ..... that said, I loved every gorramn minute of the movie. Just spending time with these people is a pleasure regardless of the medium their story inhabits and now what I want is a Serenity Sequel, or Series of Sequels!!
Serenity is a science fiction western with three-dimensional characters. I LOVE the concept of a western in space. A New Frontier. New worlds. Being 'free'. Hell, Gene Roddenberry pitched the original Star Trek as 'Wagon Train To The Stars'!! And Serenity is so obviously a labour of love from all concerned, (I mean this movie looks better than most $100 million pictures and cost under half that). The direction is assured and the three dimensional space effects (akin to those on the TV show) are absent of sound effects (just as it was in Kubrick's space epic, which I hated!). It is Silent in Space! But it is a familiar world, not just because of Firefly and our camaraderie with the characters, but because it is populated with Human people. There are no space creatures, no alien life forms (the only alien glimpsed in the TV series was an upside down cow foetus at a carnival) but there are the Reavers. Humans (including raping, flesh eating Reavers) ... that's your lot when it comes to species in Serenity!
The Reavers were a never seen, apparent throwaway sub-strata of humanity gone bad in the TV series (if Firefly had been allowed to develop, so the Reavers would have developed too in tandem). They are the ultimate, horrific monster men but they serve a vital purpose in Serenity and as stories go, Serenity's is superb! To summarise .... it is 500 years in the future. Humankind has colonised another solar system. But the rich, cosy, educated, cosseted, enlightened ones stayed on two central or 'Core' planets and formed 'The Alliance'. All the rest decided that freedom was something they valued and broke off from the safe and ready-made lives to be 'free' on the outer worlds. We see the emergence of Totalitarian strains when the Alliance wanted to envelop them and so began a mighty war ~ the Alliance verses the Independents. Captain Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) fought on the losing side but still on, as he often maintains, the right side. His belief in a man's freedom to choose has overridden any kind of intellectual logic and at the battle of Serenity, he lost faith in making the worlds right (the Alliance kicked the Independents' ass) and subsequently Mal went straight ..... straight into Alliance-irritating thievery and misbehaving in a down and dirty but noble fashion!
|Serenity's Living Area|
So Mal now ferries passengers and commits petty crimes to eke out a living on the fringes of Space in Serenity, a ship that looks like an actual living 'Firefly' creature, (she behaves like one & even glows like one!), which is her Starship category. It is clear from his almost sensual in-space direction that Joss Whedon really loves this ship. I think too, that the cast love the ship ... the characters certainly do. I watched the Firefly episode 'Out of Gas' last night. In this episode Inara explains to Simon how she loves the ship, and always did right from the very first moment she stepped aboard. Kaylee obviously adores the ship ... in this episode she explains to Mal how Serenity talks to her .... this time she didnt "tell her something was wrong". It is also evident in many other episodes ( Shindig, Persephone) how Kaylee loves the ship. In Persephone we see too that Shepherd Book loves Fireflies! .... Simon explains how River loves the ship, "it is the only home she has ever known" (I think it is in Ariel or maybe Objects in Space). In fact, in the 'Objects in Space' show, River becomes the Ship!!! In Out of Gas we see Mal in a Spaceship sales lot as the Starship vendor tries to get him interested in another ship .... Mal spots Serenity & just stands there in awe, a beaming smile on his face. I LOVE Serenity ..... I just need to see more of her!!!!
Her captain is a good, bad-man with a very strong moral sense. His second in command is the unswervingly loyal and hard when needed ex-soldier Zoe. Zoe is married to Serenity's pilot, and resident witty-ass, (Whedon's self-confessed alter-ego) Wash. The muscle is provided by Jayne, a wonderful name for a brute of a man none too blessed in the thinking department. The fifth of the crew is the bubbly female engineer, Kaylee. To say this group has an on screen chemistry is doing it a disservice. You feel they've been on that boat for years. That they actually live there! It's a tribute to Whedon and his remarkable cast that he can fly through the interior of that lovely ship with a steadicam, introduce these characters as if it's a normal slice of Firefly pie when what he's really doing is giving all newcomers to his 'verse what they need to get up to speed. It's a dazzling opening (after a pre-credit introduction to the main character and principal villain in the tale he's telling).
Chiwetel Ejiofor as the Alliance's dirty tricks Operative is pretty impressive, he's chilling. He is also unfailing in his belief that his terrible actions will actually bring about a better 'verse. There is more at work here than just shoot-outs, bar fights, and some snazzy deep space action gilded with moments of divine absurdity. The Operative as the sad-eyed true believer is revealed to be far more dangerous than someone who is merely evil, willing as he is to do the dirty work for an ideal that he himself admits he can never be part of. As for where that government actually falls in the scale of such things, Whedon makes it very clear with a flashback, or perhaps a hallucination River has to childhood, where a teacher is explaining that the Alliance doesn't want to tell people what to think, just HOW to think.
A payroll heist goes belly up as Reavers descend to snack on the townsfolk. Just to establish that these are uncouth gentlemen .... Zoe tells us in the TV series episode 'Serenity' (the pilot) that "…if they take the ship, they'll rape us to death, eat our flesh and sew our skins into their clothing and if we're very, very lucky they'll do it in that order…" The Serenity crew escape by the seat of Jayne's pants and some fancy flying but the real mystery kicks off (literally in River's case) after she is triggered by a visual and aural signal from a bar screen. She becomes… well, She becomes the most graceful fighting machine you're likely to see outside of The Matrix's Trinity. We all knew River was special but this display, glimpsed in the trailer, is pure ballet and suitably violent. This incident, recorded as everything is, gets back to Alliance central and begins the Operator's search and Mal and his crew have to stay one step ahead of his murderous intent. This is the basic premise of Serenity's Story!
Whedon has allowed himself 115 minutes, give or take, to tie up the loose ends and finalise Firefly's funereal tale .... For the fans there is closure. Shepherd Book waxes wry and pastoral to Mal but we are no wiser about his depth of Alliance cum Criminal knowledge, tender-hearted mechanical whiz Kaylee (Jewel Staite) laments her lack of carnal diversions with Simon, but as the movie fades out they are set to sexually liase at last, Jayne (Adam Baldwin) pouts over Mal not letting him bring grenades along on a job, and Zoe's improbable true love, Wash (Alan Tudyk), takes a poetic turn as he once again plays fast and loose with the laws of physics while piloting the ship in and out of tricky situations. As for the intoxicating professional companion, Inara Serra (Morena Baccarin), she and Mal trade barbs and tantalizing hints of what tey really want to say as they play out the sexual and philosophical tensions that keep them at odds.
Running through the film beneath it's feigned nihilism is a delicate sense of the melancholy felt by the former rebels for a worthy cause that was lost and can't be resurrected. The Moral compass is there too ~ the bedrock sense of right and wrong that wells up in Mal in spite of himself and that can't be ignored or expunged, no matter how hard he tries or how annoying, not to mention life-threatening, it turns out to be. There is Closure, & a few gut-wrenching twists that change the dynamics of the core cast. I'm saying no more!!!
What did I not like about Serenity??? Three Things. First, I want to know what happens to Mal & Inara ~ Joss, what were you thinking?? Mal is like the 'leading man' in this movie & there is no real romantic revelation, some hints ... sure, but we still don't know if he gets it together with Inara!?!?!?!?! Secondly, the Firefly theme tune is nowhere in evidence, having been replaced with a too modern, not 'western' enough soundtrack. And lastly, it is two hours long and not the ten hour fantastical feast that Firefly is!!!!
Serenity the Movie is dark, bloody & in the end emotional. How would I not absolutely adore it ..... it's just like me!!!!