Friday, July 17, 2020

Serenity Review

The very first film I had reviewed for the deceased HD-DVD format was Joss Whedon´s "Serenity." It was my introduction to the Universe of "Firefly" and to the world of high definition optical media. I have since become a fan of "Firefly" and have been slowly working through the full series over the past two weeks. I have been an ardent supporter of high definition media since that first review and seen my preferred format of HD-DVD fall by the wayside and give way to the slow-to-mature Blu-ray format. Between now and then Universal has become involved with the Blu-ray format and their product has matured as well. The following review was written during that first review, but I´ve provided a little George Lucas-like magic to it and performed some edits and updates. Enjoy!

Every great once in a while, fans are rewarded in one way or another. Whedon´s "Serenity" is a reward that fans of the "Firefly" television series may never have expected and a reward that is seldom given out in Hollywood. You see, "Firefly" was unceremoniously dropped after a short run of eleven episodes had aired. They were shown out of sequence and with little help from the marketing department. However, those eleven episodes were enough for the show to grab a solid cult following and incite a riot of sorts among the disappointed fan base who watched "Firefly" crash and burn after such a short flight across the airwaves. They made a lot of noise and that noise was heard by Universal, who green-lighted a feature film based upon the characters of the television show.

At the time I had first watched "Serenity," I had not previously seen a single episode of "Firefly." I was quite honest with that information and thankfully did not offend anybody who has a strong love for the series. When the film had played theatrically I had next to no interest in watching the film and it wasn´t until my HD-DVD screener arrived that I made any effort to watch that film. I had friends that loved the series, but the tale of an entire ship risking their lives and causing others to lose their lives for the sake of a somewhat attractive seventeen year old was just not appealing enough to me. Had they been trying to save Uma Thurman - maybe. Summer Glau - not interested. A coworker at the time consistently told me that the forthcoming "Serenity" would be the absolute best film of the year. I wrote his fanboyism off as sheer madness. Now, I am somewhat of a fan as well.

"Serenity" begins with Simon Tam (Sean Maher) rescuing his younger sister, River Tam (Summer Glau) from a science experiment of sorts. Just before they are captured, a starship rescues them from their would-be capturers. Of course, that starship is the Serenity. However, the escape witnessed on the screen was a security recording being viewed by a man with no name and rank (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and will stop at nothing to bring River back into Alliance custody. This person is a ruthless killer who has shaped some of his lifestyle to that of the ancient samurai warriors and feels his actions are for the greater good of mankind.

The crew of the Serenity is a band of space-pirates that are led by Captain Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion). "Mal" fought against the Alliance in the Serenity war and became a war hero. Now, he will take any job to earn a buck, but his crew has come across hard times and is having difficulty finding work. The rest of the crew consists of pilot Wash (Alan Tudyk), gun-happy merc Jayne (Adam Baldwin), sexy mechanic Kaylee (Jewel Staite) and Zoe Washburne (Gina Torres). Wash and Zoe are husband and wife and the sanest members of the crew. Kaylee is cute and easy going and doesn´t quite fit the mold of either a pirate or a starship mechanic. Jayne cares only for his own skin and how many weapons and grenades he can carry to any situation. Mal comes across as a hard-to-like individual that will do what he can to cover his own ass first, his crew and limited number of friend second and anybody else if they have money or he has some spare time.

Mal and Jayne are of the same mind that River and Simon do not belong on Serenity and they decide to drop them off at the first starport. However, at a bar at the starport, River goes from young and naïve to a killing machine in under a second and decimates the bar. In the process, she brutalizes Jayne and beats Mal to the draw. Simon conjures a few words that knock her out cold and prevents her from giving Mal another facial orifice. River is not what she appears and the crew takes her and Simon back aboard the Serenity and high tails it back into space.

As the film progresses, the crew of the Serenity find out that there is more to River and Simon and they discover more about themselves. They must travel through the deep space lair of the "Reavers", a band of cannibalistic psychopaths who bring back memories of the film "28 Days Later" and find the root of nightmares that River is having and discover why the Alliance assassin is trying so hard to get River back. Not having watched the series, I don´t know what loose ends from the series are tied in the two hour sci-fi epic, but there are definitely moments of closure for some of Serenity´s crew.

Once the film gets past the ´get re-acquainted with the crew´ storyline and offering enough background for the non-fan (like myself) to feel somewhat comfortable aboard the Serenity. There is a lot of history behind "Serenity" and there are a billion questions I wanted answered after the first half hour. For instance, is Mal always despicable? It is not an easy task to bring new viewers up-to-speed with just thirty minutes of background information. You risk alienating your veteran viewers by rehashing or giving too much ´we known this already´ type of info. Even though this is a film for the fans, one needs to make money and to do this, one needs to educate new viewers. "Serenity" does an admirable job attempting to do so.

"Serenity" is a very entertaining film and far better than I had initially expected. I am a "Star Wars" child and was brought up on the original George Lucas trilogy. "Star Trek" has always been a bore to me. I loved Kirk for all his bravado and alien arse-kicking charm. The rest of it put me to sleep. I expected "Serenity" to be much more like "Star Trek," but even though there are a lot of similarities, the show has its own appeal to it. Mal, I did not care for much until the end of the film. I wanted to see Jayne kick much "Reaver" tail. Kaylee is much easier on the eyes than Scotty. The film fast paced and its two hour running time moved quickly. I feel the creator could have made a much better picture had he focused more on the "Reavers" and the reavers always seemed to be slighted on camera time when they were part of the story. They were only seen in MTV-style cuts during the fights scenes.

The special effects are very good. This film surely looked better than something that came from television. I expected visual cheese. Aside from a landing sequence or two, "Serenity" looked solid; especially in High Definition. The film felt very polished and had the appeal of a high-budget Hollywood blockbuster and not the $40 million dollar film (as stated by In fact, the only cheese in the film was a couple lines by Mal, but if I was more familiar with the character, they may have been good lines. The sets were absolutely gorgeous. The commentary with Whedon stated a few shots were overhead, because they couldn´t afford the green screen effects, so I suppose a lot of credit goes to Whedon for knowing how to use his budget to make a bigger film.

After viewing "Serenity" the first time I did not become an instant "Firefly" fan. I have since watched the film three times and most of the original "Firefly" episodes and I have a far stronger appreciation for Joss Whedon´s creation. I had very low expectations for the movie and I ended up enjoying the "Firefly" Universe and the film. The whole 17-year old in distress by the creator of "Buffy" had me worried, but it was played well. This wasn´t a ´teenage romp in space´ and the characters were varied and had good depth. Granted, I still have no clue why River was dreaming of Reavers and if she had been on the planet before and I REALLY wanted to see more of the crazed cannibals from space, but "Serenity" entertained me. I have questions I still want answered. So, anytime a film leaves you wanting to know more could be considered a good thing.