Sunday, October 02, 2005

Stardate 59752.5 – My Review of Serenity

A very brief history. Joss Whedon, the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel had a very brief series on television called Firefly. It was a space western, and was quite good. For a variety of reasons discussed at length elsewhere, it was cancelled after 11 episodes. When the DVD went on sale, it also included a few episodes that never aired. The DVD sold beyond anyone’s expectations, and so a movie was green-lighted. Serenity is that movie, picking up shortly after the final episode of Firefly. If it does well, there are supposed to be 2 sequels lined up. Serenity opened on 30 SEP 05.

Quick note to parents...there is a lot of violence and I don't recommend the movie for young children. The reavers are pretty terrifying.

Here begins the spoiler-free review. I’ll give you fair warning before I discuss any spoilers.

I agree with Entertainment Weekly’s review and give the movie a “B”. If I have to give it a thumbs-up or thumbs-down, Cheryl and I give it thumbs-up. It was good, but it was not fantastic. I know that a movie treatment of Serenity must by definition be different from a weekly TV show, but I was still disappointed here and there. Here are a few reasons why:

  1. Characters Were Marginalized – This is the same issue that Star Trek: The Next Generation had when they moved to the big-screen. Only a few characters “led” the movies while the rest were relegated to bit parts. The same thing happens with Serenity. The Captain is clearly leading the film and the “main” character, while some of the other characters seem to get little to no screen time at all.
  2. The Tone Was Too Serious – One of the advantages of a TV series is that you can do silly episodes, funny episodes, and serious episodes all in the same month. In a movie, you have to stick with pretty much one tone for the entire feature, and Joss went with a serious tone and plot. I found myself missing the silliness of some of the episodes.
  3. Character Romantic Interaction Was Brief – One of the great characteristics of the show was the interaction between characters. The relationships between Mal and Inara, between Simon and Kaylee, and between Zoe and Wash were intricate and deep in the TV show. Some of these were explored in the movie, but it felt too much like Joss was trying to wrap up some things too quickly in case there are no more movies.
  4. Character Interaction Was Brief – The characters had great non-romantic interactions in the TV show. Lots of witty banter and discussions were exchanged, and there was nothing greater than seeing them all sitting down to eat together on the ship. There was such a feeling of comradery among the crew, even when some of them were at each other’s throats. That feeling is missing from the movie.
  5. General Sadness – Watching the movie reminded me how truly awful I felt as I watched the DVDs for the first time and realized that I could not get any more of Firefly because there was no more…4 DVDs were it. On about disk 2 I realized what a great show it was and truly what fantastic potential it had for a long run. And I felt awful. Seeing it on the big screen was great, but it made me realize again that I might be seeing the last new Serenity material. There may be 2 more movies, but there may not. And even if there are two more movies, that will be it…the end. It will never be a TV series again. And that made me sad.

Don’t get me wrong. It was a great experience and any fan of Science Fiction or of the Firefly series should see this movie. It really is quite good. But I was such a huge fan of the series (on DVD) that I wanted the greatest experience ever…and I was a little let down.

Alright, now I am going to drop a couple of spoilers. So stop reading right now if you haven’t seen the movie yet.

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Couple of minor things first…I never really understood from the TV series that all of this takes place in a single, gigantic solar system. I assumed they were traveling between solar systems, but the movie makes it clear that is not the case. Weird, since they had to have the technology to travel between solar systems in order to get there from “Earth That Was”. So did they just turn that technology off? Lost of unanswered questions there. And my wife, who is a demographer, pointed out that an entire planet of 30 million people dieing would be noticed. You just cannot buy off that many relatives and friends to keep it quiet. Especially since it took place relatively recently. Very implausible.

Now for my biggest complaint. I should have known as soon as I heard that “some” of the cast had signed on for the sequel, coupled with Joss’ propensity to kill off main characters, that there would be some main character deaths. And I figured out pretty early that Shepherd Book was probably going to be killed. He wasn’t on the ship at the start, and it seemed pretty far into the movie before we saw him and his role was very brief. So I was not surprised when he was killed. I was disappointed that we will never learn his true history and his relationship to the Alliance, and I did like his character. So I was a little angry, but not surprised during the movie when he died.

What I was not expecting, and what I am still fairly pissed off about, is that Wash was killed. His relationship with Zoe was a great relationship. The way they felt about each other was very evident during the TV show. It was not as evident in the movie early on, and only once he was killed did the audience see how much Zoe cared for him (but see my “Character Romantic Interaction Was Brief” comments above. I also loved this character…he was great comic relief and I am so, so, so mad that he was killed off. I couldn’t quit talking about it at dinner afterwards with Cheryl. An entire TV episode was devoted to working out the Mal – Zoe – Wash triangle (Mal and Zoe weren’t romantic, but the military relationship was as deep and maybe deeper). I felt like that entire episode was a waste, as if Joss went back and erased one of the very few episodes that even exist!

I guess deep down I always held out hope that the movies would do well and that they’d go back to a TV series one day. But with Book and Wash dead, that hope is now dead. Firefly will never be back, and that makes me very sad.

2 comments:

Ryan said...

Wash is also one of my favorite characters. I guess this death means all future movies will be prequels?

The scene I thought showed the difference between Serenity and every other sci fi movie I have seen in the last 5 years was when Mal is getting ready to go see Inara although he knows it is an aliance trap. He says to Zoe, "Now if you don't hear from me in an hour you take the ship.....and come get me!"

Good movie.

-s said...

Good review, though I still probably won't go see it, but that is child related, not because I'm not into those sorts of flicks.

In the first Ace Ventura movie, he says "If I don't come back in 5 minutes, wait 5 more." Perhaps the only funny thing Jim Carrey has ever done.