Thursday, February 21, 2008

Cinematographicus: "Serenity" (2005)

In a move that would once more prove that Fox is a network of complete morons, Firefly died in 2002, shortly after seeing the light of day. Its questionable numbers in viewership were certainly not helped by the fact that Fox aired the episodes out of order (the very pilot wasn't aired for two or three weeks after the SECOND installment was shown!), juggled its time slot like a hopped-up circus clown, and unreasonably would go weeks on end without airing a new one. The last four episodes of the season had been produced but never saw the light of day until the DVD release a couple years later.

The show's premise was creatively original and fresh, something that hadn't been done in some time. Classified as a "Sci-Fi Western" (side note: did you know that "Star Wars" was originally labeled a western?), the show followed a retired Confederate rebel who'd earned his veteran status in an intragalactic battle with the Alliance, the future's Man and governing body that performs unspeakable acts of horror and downright intrusion in the name of justice and peace. Mal, now captain of a small crew aboard a ship they use to run their business as smugglers, spends his time running jobs and quietly avoiding run-ins with the Alliance by keeping his work as far into the outskirts of society as possible.

What's more to add to the very Western feel of the premise is that, despite advancements in technology, shotguns and revolvers are still common weapons. Mal carries a sidearm in a holster around his waist on a regular basis. There's also an episode that involves the transportation and herding of a large number of cattle. Certainly an unorthodox setting for an attempt at pop culture success, but nonetheless delightful. Mal's the type of character you love to watch. He doesn't put up with the silly, cliche-type setups that most pop culture icons find themselves in (he's more likely to blow a bad guy's head off than listen to his attempt at a monologue), and thus provides a critique of formulaic storytelling and melodrama. Each and every member of the crew is also a treat in his or her own respect.

Joss Whedon, creator of Firefly (and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, among others), managed to draw a cult following after the show's cancellation. It was strong enough to get the studios to back a feature film that took us back to this universe, and it was the preview of this film that sparked my interest in these characters (I didn't watch any television, aside from bits and pieces of Carita de Angel, from 2001-2003 and therefore missed the series' original airing). An old roommate of mine owned the DVD set of Firefly and let me watch the pilot before hitting up the theater for the film.

Hands down, "Serenity" is one of the most well-constructed movies I've ever seen. In addition to all the excellent elements carried over from the TV show, the visuals are greatly enhanced by the budget of a major motion picture, the story's intensity is kicked up about ten notches, and the action sequences are all the more stunning. You know how, in most films, you can somewhat predict the overall outcome of the story, depending on their genre and inciting incidents? Well, the genius of Joss Whedon's tale here was that it somehow managed to keep me guessing the entire length of the film! In fact, there was a long stretch of the story where I felt an utter sense of hopelessness for Mal and his crew -- there was NO way they were going to walk away from this situation, even if they were to succeed in their ultimate objective (and, in fact, some of them don't). The sense of doom was thicker than Christina Ricci's forehead!

The other major element of "Serenity" that makes this movie so interesting to me is its message that teaches the viewer to never be a fence-sitter, but to rather take a stance on issues (of any magnitude) and proactively stand by them. This theme is illustrated as Mal finds himself having to wrestle with the fact that merely "staying out of the Alliance's way" is detrimental and imprisoning, not to mention unjust to the people who have less power than he to oppose their iron fist. The point is not to always come out on top, the point is to do what you feel is right and embrace that part of you. The theme is a very important message, and a very unique one at that, given the large number of films that seem to teach us no more than "don't get carried away with science" or "BFF's are more important then selling out for romance."

Finally, if NOTHING else convinces you to rent this movie right away, know that it's jam-packed with awesome action sequences. Not only are there some complex, explosive space battles (side note: Whedon opts to go with a slightly more scientific approach to the outer space battle sequence in that, when an explosion occurs in the vacuum, there is no accompanying "kaboom!" sound), but one of the major characters (who is an inciting incident for the entire series) surprisingly breaks out of her mellow shell and delivers some fan-freakin'-tastic hand-to-hand combat scenes that WILL blow you away.

I give this film a definite 10/10 rating and sincerely hope a sequel is made one day.


Bjorn said...

I hope a new generation of characters can return in a new series. It's too bad that sci-fi seemed to die in the 90's, with token pieces popping up here and there.

Warren said...

I'm not much of a TV watcher, but I really enjoyed the series and the movie was simply awesome, possibly the best one I watched last year.

If you are going to watch the movie, the TV series comes first so if you can watch that beforehand.

The Shark said...

I've heard from many people who saw the movie before watching the TV series that it was very much enjoyable even in their ignorance, so I don't think it's an absolute must that they have the prior experience with the TV series.

I saw it after only having seen the pilot and maybe the 2nd episode, and I loved it.

The Former 786 said...

I can speak as a witness that the movie was quite enjoyable without having seen the series and, in fact, made me want to watch the series.

And, once I had gorged myself of Firefly and finished the DVDs, I watched Serenity again and was blown away with how much I enjoyed it.

Few shows, in my opinion, are able to created an entirely new world while still maintaining the humor and intensity that this show did.

I miss Firefly/Serenity.