I'd seen the film "Serenity" something like ten times in the seven weeks it was released, so I thought I'd share my reactions to it. Especially since there isn't anything in the theaters right now or coming up soon that I care to fork over some money to watch.
First off, I will say that I like SF, but I'd never watched "Firefly"when it was aired on Fox. I caught part of one episode on the SCI FI cable channel a few months ago and was hooked. Blast the Fox executives who cancelled "Firefly"!
Anyhow, in this viewer's opinion, "Serenity" displays superior characterization, dialogue, and story structure line for line and scene for scene than George Lucas' prequel Star Wars trilogy. In fact, it's one of the best-written and directed films in any category that I've seen in the last several years.
The film lives by its wits rather than CGI. Joss Whedon cobbles together elements of Westerns, space epics, zombie horror movies, and new age mysticism into a cohesive whole within the context of "Serenity." He travels a well worn chase plot with great dialogue, characterization, and wit.
"Serenity" is what "Star Wars: New Hope" would've been if Han Solo was the protagonist and there were no noble Jedi knights to give everyone inferiority complexes. Nathan Fillion aimed for and nailed the character in his portrayal of Malcolm (Mal) Reynolds, captain of the cargo ship "Serenity" and a work-for-hire crew willing to do any job.
Mal is a guy who would've shot Greedo first. In the wake of fighting for the Independents (the losing side) in a galactic civil war, Mal has lost his belief in the decency of human nature. Despite his cynicism, he cares more for other people than he lets on and is fanatically loyal to his crew, the only family he has left in the 'verse (universe). Summer Glau, who plays River Tam, stands impressively behind Nathan Fillion as the film's second lead. She portrays with convincing angst a tortured girl with no emotional rock and carries on Joss Whedon's penchant for showcasing young women with ungodly martial arts ability. Her background as a dancer put her in good stead when she trained with a Hong Kong fight choreographer, adding uncanny grace to her fight scenes.
All the Firefly characters have their moments: Simon Tam (Sean Maher) whose only concern is River's safety; Kaylee (Jewel Staite) the ship's adorable 20 something genius engineer with a torch for Simon; Shepherd Book (Ron Glass) the enigmatic preacher with a likely government past; Jayne (Adam Baldwin) mercenary muscle for hire with deeply denied feelings of affection for the rest of the crew; Wash(Alan Tudyk) the peace-loving ship's ace pilot and huband to Zoe (Gina Torres), Mal's amazon wartime buddy; and Inara (Morena Baccarin) the companion/geisha whom Mal has bears a cross for.
The film's villain, Operative (no name), played by British actor Chjwetel Ejiofor (unpronounceable :-)) very nearly steals the show.He plays the ultimate anti Darth Vader: noble, idealistic,thoughtful, and ruthless. The Reavers, cannabilistic humans, serve as the perfect foil to the Alliance, a utopian society bent on making everyone over into itsmold and staying in power. Unlike most series creators, Whedon's willing to put his pet characters through the wringer. Two die before the film's end andthe rest look likely to join them before things finally turnaround. The dialogue sizzles, having bits of Chinese slang, character building moments, and lines from "Bonanza":
Mal (to Inara): Kaylee's been missing you sumpin' fierce.
Mal: Chicken's come home to roost.
Mal: I aim to misbehave.
Jayne: Let's be bad guys.
Operative (stabs Mal in stomach with a sword): Do you know what your sin is?
Mal (head butts bad guy): Hell, I'm a fan of all seven. (Pulls sword out of his stomach) I'd have to go with wrath right now. (Stabs at Operative who dodges and disarms him.)
By the end of the film, Mal finds new strength in having struck ablow against the Alliance's utopian agenda and River begins to find the strength in her character and her place among the crew. Having said that "Serenity" is a trim picture of epic proportions, it was marketed horribly.
TV ads were shown on the SCIFI channel for months, but on broadcast networks only the week before release. I remember seeing one theater trailer, which was a miracle in hindsight. A producer/screenwriting teacher I queried had no idea the film was coming out on its day of release. It seems the main effort was put into a grass roots campaign of showing the film to fans in periodic screenings I didn't hear of.
The cast, who are great in their roles, are unknowns and thus unable to bring in the mass of moviegoers that come with star power to offset Joss Whedon's meager marketing attempts. Hopefully, DVD sales and Whedon's clout will get Universal to greenlight more sequels to "Serenity" in the years to come.
This writer will line up to watch them.