Published on October 3rd, 2005 | by Erich Becker0
I once heard an amazing quote that puts everything in perspective concerning the FOX network. To paraphrase it, “FOX develops amazing shows, sometimes the best in the business; they just don’t know how to handle them.” Never before has a quote shown so much enlightenment upon a single situation. Luckily, for all of us, those amazing shows also pique the interest of other companies, and in the case of Firefly, an ill-fated 2003 sci-fi romp, Universal saw the potential of the show, and gave creator Joss Whedon the pickup for a feature film.
Firefly, the precursor to Serenity, was, as described above, a sci-fi series nested comfortable in the “Friday Death Slot” that hasn’t seen a show escape since The X Files made the leap to Sunday’s. The show, focusing on an ensemble cast aboard the transport ship Serenity (Firefly-class) opened up the world of the future to the mind of Buffy and Angel creator Joss Whedon, who is known for taking chances in both his writing and direction of shows. I’m happy to say that Whedon successfully makes his feature film debut in what is, quite possibly, the best science fiction film in a decade or longer.
For the uninitiated Serenity focuses on the same ensemble crew from the television series still flying about, breaking the law, pillaging Alliance goods, and generally having a good time. The crew is composed of captain Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), his first mate Zoe (Gina Torres), her husband and pilot Wash (Alan Tudyk), engineer Kaylee (Jewel Staite), mercenary Jayne (Adam Baldwin) as well as fugitive passengers Simon (Sean Maher) and River (Summer Glau). The latter is the focus of the film’s story as her back story is analyzed a bit more than Whedon was able to in the TV show. For fans of the show the movie serves as both a proper series finale as well as a jumping point into a series of films.
One of Firefly‘s, and Buffy and Angel before it, greatest achievements was in the show’s writing. The film inherits this trait and builds upon it. Whedon seems incredibly comfortable crafting a bigger, more intricate episode of the show with an added budget for special effects and set design, both places Serenity excels beyond the competition. Similarly to Sci-Fi Channel’s Battlestar Galactica, Serenity is a piece of entertainment written around the characters, almost as though it was written for them instead of a viewing audience. Each one is fleshed out and entirely human in the way they act, behave, and react to the situations meeting them head on. This all comes into play fully as the film’s climax begins to really play with your emotional heartstrings as Whedon, once again, shows he is fearless when it comes to his characters and their mortality. While I won’t give anything away, prepare to be shocked.
You’d never be able to tell that Whedon has never directed a big screen production before, as his skills from the small screen transfer to the silver one with incredibly finesse. The movement of the camera is especially awesome as the opening scene of the film is a continuous shot for a matter of minutes without an obvious cut. Many first time directors, with or without previous TV or music video experience, can easily be overwhelmed when put at the helm of a feature film, not Whedon.
While the director should receive a lot of the praise for this wonderful film, the cast isn’t without accommodation as well. Each and every actor has shown the ability to create a memorable character that melds perfectly with the rest of the cast. Whether it is Mal and Jayne playfully arguing or Inara (Morena Baccarin) and Mal fighting their feelings for each other, the dialog is crisp, witty, and full of life. Whedon’s script is the film’s strongest point and can easily be considered for Oscar nomination if the tool’s within the Academy would acknowledge something besides the usual art-house cinema.
Whether or not the masses are ready for a new franchise built upon a sly wit, great characters, and an imaginative take on the future is beyond me, but for those enjoying excellent, award-caliber cinema, Serenity is a no-brainer. Easily better than George Lucas’ prequel trilogy, more alive than the excellent Battlestar Galactica, and more real than reality TV, Serenity is the kind of film that really makes you think about the sci-fi genre in a different light as it breaks the mold we’ve grown so accustom to over the years.