Friday, October 17, 2008

Review - Serenity

2006 Hugo Winner for Best Long Form Dramatic Presentation
2005 Nebula Winner for Best Script

"Great news!" I said to my friends, "I got us tickets to the preview screening for Serenity!"

"What's Serenity?" one of them asked.

"The movie that continues Firefly!"


I lent them my box set of the series and the next week when I saw them the first words out of their mouth were, "Where's the rest of it?"

"That's it. There is no more. It was canceled after only a few episodes aired."

"We need to see more."

"Well fortunately there's a movie in development and I've got tickets to a very early screening..."

The movie was everything I wanted: a well made conclusion to the spectacular television series. Unfortunately it also made it clear just what a hard sell any high concept science fiction will be to a mass audience.

The crew of the interplanetary trading ship Serenity are just trying to get by doing whatever they can for money even if they have to bend the law a bit to do it. Among them are a brother and sister on the run from the authorities since she's been brainwashed to be their psychic assassin and is carrying a head full of secrets that could destroy the government. So they wind up trying to run from the amoral agent trying to capture her.

I'm not one of those people who give Josh Whedon a free pass on everything he does (I have seen Aliens: Resurection and there is no excuse for that), but the television series Firefly was one of the great cut short series of the past ten years. The blending of western motiffs and science fiction was hardly new even for media SF (see Outland) but it is rarely done as well. When it was cancelled after being bounced around the schedule more times than it actually aired it left behind many dangling plot threads and Serenity was designed to give some kind of conclusion to them.

Despite that the movie stands well on its own. It opens with a flash back to before the show began to fill in the back story and necessary exposition is handled quickly. While you'll get a lot more out of the movie if you've seen the teleivision series the film is not hostile to new viewers.

One aspect to the show and movie that I appreciated was the fact that nearly all of the cast are anti-heroes of some stripe. They're not upstanding citizens; at best some of them are less likely to sell out anyone they come across. It can make some viewers less likely to enjoy watching them but I found it make their reactions more interesting since it was tough to say which way things would go.

And that's one aspect to Serenity that I particularly enjoyed. The first time I watched it I had no idea how it would end. A pyrrich victory? The Butch Cassady and the Sundance Kid ending? It was a brutal movie in that sense; who would walk away at the end was strongly in doubt.

If you are a nerd on the Internet who somehow hasn't watched Firefly and Serenity I strongly recommend it. It's lively, witty, clever, and exciting in a way that other science fiction franchises only wish they could be. There isn't an SF fan out there who I wouldn't recommend it to.