Thursday, September 22, 2005

Serenity: Anything But Serene

Remember the first time you rode a roller coaster? You can usually predict that first big drop, because of the build-up and that moment you sit, suspended in midair, looking down at the track stretching below you, but after that... you are at the mercy of the coaster.

I am of the opinion that a good movie is like a roller coaster. There may be a predictable first drop, but the rest should be unexpected and thrilling, like a great Six Flags ride. Of course, it's even better when you can't even predict that first drop. And that's what Serenity delivers. Over and over until the very end.

Set 500 years into the future, Serenity follows the story of Captain Malcolm (Mal) Reynolds, a veteran of the galactic civil war that happened between two factions of humans: The Alliance and The Independents. Capt. Reynolds was a member of the Browncoats, Independent Faction soldiers who were opposed to the Alliance in the Unification War. Capt. Reynolds, played beautifully by Nathan Fillion, owns a ship called Serenity, named after the location of the Independent's final defeat. For Reynolds, Serenity is freedom. The ship allows him to take jobs (both legal and illegal) and stay as far from the strong arm of the Alliance as he possibly can. His crew is made up of similar (and not so similar) minded peole who have their own reasons for being on Serenity. These crew members include Zoe (Gina Torres), who fought with Reynolds in the war, and who also happens to be married to the pilot, Wash. Wash, played by Alan Tudyk (28 Days, A Knight's Tale, Dodgeball, Into the West, and Spamalot on Broadway) is the perfect everyman character who is always ready with a well-timed quip. He also plays with plastic dinosaurs in his free time. Kaylee (Jewel Staite) is a young, spunky mechanic who wants to see the universe. She is everyone's friend and brings out a very brotherly protection instinct in Reynolds. Jayne is an assassain, played hilariously by Adam Baldwin (Independence Day, The Patriot, The Inside). Other crew members include a companion named Inara (Morena Baccarin) and a preacher named Book (Ron Glass). Together, this crew makes up a kind of family for Reynolds, and he is fiercely protective of this family.

When Reynolds and his crew take on two passengers, everything changes. Simon (Sean Maher) and River (Summer Glau) are siblings with a secret that some would kill to keep and others would die to spread. Simon, a young and accomplished doctor, took River out of an Alliance facility, and they will stop at nothing to get her back.

The crew of Serenity faces an immense challenge in keeping River and Simon safe from The Alliance, but they face other threats as well. In their travels, they come across the real-life incarnation of camp fire villains called Reavers, canabalistic savages who are said to have gone crazy at the edge of space. Caught between the murderous Reavers and the unrelenting Alliance, Reynolds is not having his best day ever.

If the characters and premise sound a little familiar, you are probably one of the few who saw "Firefly," the television show that ran on the FOX network in 2002. Created by award-winning writer/director Joss Whedon and hailed by critics, the show was cancelled after the network aired the second episode first and the first episode last, pre-empting episodes in between for sports coverage and other events, and keeping it in a traditionally difficult time slot on Friday nights. Fans of the show were unwilling to give up on it, though, and they rallied together on the Internet and made their voices heard. A DVD set of the series, including three unaired episodes, was released and spent months in the #1 position on online retailers such as The active fan base decided the DVD wasn't enough, however, and began rallying for a movie to be made. Universal Pictures stepped up to the plate and greenlit the movie, and Whedon was able to get the entire original cast to return for the feature film. Whedon and the cast have even talked about making the film into a trilogy in the future, depending on how well the first film does. One important thing to note is that you do not have to know anything about the series before seeing the movie. An absolutely stunning opening sequence serves to refresh old viewers and to bring new viewers up to speed in a very elegant and interesting way. However, after seeing Serenity, you may want to purchase or rent the DVD set because you will want to know more about these characters.

Serenity is a blend of all genres: action, sci-fi, adventure, western, comedy, romance, and foreign (the characters speak a little Chinese as part of the blend of Chinese and English-speaking cultures in this version of the future). Though the sci-fi and adventure elements are prominent, the most promient feature is the humor. Whedon is a master of witty dialogue and the intelligent quips that go back and forth between characters is delightful. Character is a focus in this film, and that, in addition to the big explosions and cool space battles, is what makes the film work as well as it does.

Fillion owns the screen as Reynolds in a performance that rivals Harrison Ford's Han Solo. In fact, Serenity has been described as the story Star Wars would have been if it had been about Han instead of Luke. With better writing. And a more believable story. Summer Glau's River is psychotic and scared, vulnerable but extremely powerful. The origin of her abilities and the story behind the secret she carries will not disappoint even the most cynical moviegoer, and the outcome of the film cannot be predicted even by the most perceptive viewer.

In the grand tradition of great Sci-Fi, Serenity has fantastic special effects, spectacular space battles, beautiful scenery and complex, satisfying plots. It will engage every emotion and keep you guessing until the last second, just like a good roller coaster does.

Serenity is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense violence and action, and some sexual references. It is 119 minutes long and is coming to a theater near you on September 30.


  1. Anonymous6:31 AM

    Great review. I loved Serenity! It was fabulous. But then again, everything Joss does is fabulous ^_^


  2. Anonymous9:35 AM

    I agree, Serenity was fantastic.

    Great blog btw :-)

  3. Anonymous11:29 AM

    Thanks, guys! I really enjoyed the movie and will most likely see it a few more times before it leaves theaters. I just hope it makes enough money for a sequel!

  4. Anonymous9:58 PM

    Found a link to this site on the Browncoats site. Thought I would leave a msg because our nicks were similar. I am actually from alabama and am a journalist....wierd similarities huh?

    Browncoats forever!

  5. Anonymous11:40 PM

    Hello from Mobile!!!

    Big Scifi and Comic fan here!!

    Just wanted to stop by and say hi...