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Serenity

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So there’s this film Serenity. Apparently it’s based on a TV series that was excellent. So excellent, that Americas smartest TV station needed to ban it despite having lots of viewers. And I read numerous recommendations to see the film as well – which supposedly can’t match the TV series but is still quite good.

Hm, I saw it now, and I remain unconvinced. To me it looked like an average science fiction flick (and those aren’t exactly good by definition or so) that looked cheaper than an average StarTrek episode and – while amusing at times – is absolutely uncontroversial. Or, to put this in another way, if anything about this film, like, erm, saying that killing, manipulation or cover ups are bad thing, is controversial over in the U.S. by now, people there might just need to start being a bit worried about their country.

It’s not like the film didn’t have its moments. Who doesn’t appreciate chicks fixing broken spaceships in antique designs or slaying hordes of cannibals? And – in today’s filmscape at least – who doesn’t appreciate silly jokes in films showing that the makers aren’t all that serious about their story? That stuff is entertaining and at 30 to 40 minutes less of it, I might have even be amused throughout. But clocking in at a full two hours, it felt like too many snippets came over you for no good reason.

In short: I am not impressed. It’s not a bad film. But it’s not particularly clever either. Its strong moments seem to be those of piss-taking anyway. I just love how there are loads of junk – like plastic palms and dinosaurs – sitting around the pilot’s seat and elsewhere around the ship – and of course not in the danger of falling down.

Palms around the pilot - shot from the film

Sure, it might be better than Star Wars story-wise… but what kind of comparison would that be? The only Star Wars film that wasn’t incredibly boring was Spaceballs… and – eek, I shouldn’t get into this, I suppose.

Finally, enjoy one of the shots that has been used for advertising the film. Unamusingly it’s one the very few shots in the whole film where both the focusing and lighting are good and / or interesting:

River in interesting light situation.

P.S. I just saw that the film was directed by the same guy who did the Buffy and Angel crap. Not that I’ve actually seen whole episodes of those… but I guess I would’ve been more reserved vis-à-vis this film, had I known about that before.

[Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

December 14, 2005, 2:44

Tagged as film, firefly, serenity.

Comments

Comment by Gummi: User icon

Judging how your entries on ‘Making Viruses’ and ‘Religion’ have attracted the odd nutballs; be prepared for a slow trickle to deluge of people who will find your summation offensive.

Buffy is like Jesus. Joss Whedon is, supposedly, the Golden God of Art in the new Century. And Serenity… it’s been imbued with the kind of traits a pet dog or cat would love — and I liked the TV show.

December 14, 2005, 7:45

Comment by Tobias: User icon

With a lot of people I know this has been dangerous to say, but I didn’t like the film either. One thing was that I couldn’t laugh a single time. All the funny scenes were given away in the trailer(s) I’d seen (one in the cinema and maybe another one on apple.com), and just weren’t good enough to laugh again. The mix of Western Clichees and asian (I hear it’s supposed to be chinese) culture was just silly, and the use of Japanese gibberish for the displays seems careless. But maybe I’m just spoiled by the one american SF series I watched more than a few episodes of: Futurama.

December 14, 2005, 9:03

Comment by mt: User icon

it was cancelled, not banned. there’s a difference, at least in america. i didn’t like the tv show, so i didn’t see the movie. i’ve never been a big fan of the “cowboys in space” genre although its pretty huge here in the US, due to, I think, the whole Frontier complex. Space: The Final Frontier & all that. Futurama is awesome but I wouldn’t call it science-fiction per se. it’s more like a parody of the SF genre and pop culture in general.

December 14, 2005, 10:29

Comment by d.w.: User icon

There are precious few Serenity reviews from people who aren’t in the Whedon cult, so thanks for this one. :)

December 14, 2005, 13:51

Comment by ssp: User icon

Huh, I wasn’t aware that there could be such a ‘following’ associated to this film/director. I didn’t pay much attention in advance.

December 14, 2005, 14:11

Comment by Scott: User icon

Oh man. You’ve done it now. I posted an academic paper on Buffy on my blog and I’m STILL getting comments about my faculties.

FWIW, I didn’t “get” Firefly (the original series Serenity is based upon) either. I didn’t particularly care for the guy who plays the captain and the cowboy thing weirded me out.

But I got my hands on the 1st season on DVD and watched it straight through, just to see what the fuss was about, and I have to say that it’s pretty damned good. It took a couple of episodes to get into, but it really was up to something, I thought.

And as for Buffy: watch it. The whole series. All 7 years.

December 14, 2005, 18:21

Comment by ssp: User icon

Ah, well done, Scott. Academic papers on Buffy… while I’m sure there might actually be things to write about in there my first intuition would be to make fun of you as well ;) Possibly for different reasons than the the others.

I’m afraid, I have seen a few moments of Buffy as one of my flatmates was struck with a Buffy obsession. And I just didn’t like it. Not my type of thing.

December 14, 2005, 18:31

Comment by Terry: User icon

I just saw the film tonight on DVD (never got around to seeing it on the “big screen”).

I guess I gotta disagree with y’all. I really enjoyed it. I’m not part part of the Whedon cult groupies, I thought Buffy and Angel were ok for mindless entertainment and while I liked the TV series Firefly while it was on the air, I wasn’t a dedicated fan.

The movie Serenity, however, hit just the right note with me. It ain’t a great film and if folk think it is, they’ve got problems that require professional help.

Thing is, it’s a very American movie. Sure, it’s essentially formulaic and all the classic stereotypical gimmicks are used (squared jaw leader, unattainable love, duty in the face of certain death, silly humor to both increase and lighten the tension etc..) but the movie makes all of them work real well while adding good touches of its own (e.g. the main villain being a lot more spiritual than your classic brilliant bad guy).

It may sound strange but there’s a lot of John Ford’s old cavalry trilogy in this movie (the old black and white John Wayne westerns like “she wore a yellow ribbon’). The type of self deprecating humor, the reaching for honor, a governement that is so removed from the realities of the frontier that it arrogantly decides what is right, the various heroes that fought for the wrong side in the Civil War, finding love in a hostile world, etc..

A word about the Civil War is in order here. In the South (I’m a southerner), it often ain’t called that. We, jokingly, refer to it as the War of Northern Aggression. Economic imperatives aside, the rightfullness of getting rid of slavery aside, most Southerners fought for their own independence. I ain’t saying that the South should’ve won. It should have lost. But, the average trooper in the Confederate army wasn’t fighting for slavery. Hell, their lives weren’t any better, economically, than that of slaves. They were folk who believed rich people in places like Boston and New York were trying to dictate to them how to live. The actual truth is not the important part here, the beliefs of those soldiers is what’s important here. What matters is that those folk believed they were fighting for their way of life. They were in the wrong but they didn’t believe it at the time.

This is part of the theme of “Serenity” that resonates with a lot of Americans and surely is an integral part of American culture. It’s something you can still see reflected in American politics (whatever side you take).

Some notes that are essentially American are: “the underdog is gonna make things near right” not totally right but close enough. “Standing up and dying for what you believe in the face of certain death” -sure it’s kinda universal but I refer you back to my comments about the Civil War, for most Americans it’s about their great grandad. “The government can’t be trusted”; it’s a more recent theme for Europe but it is an old one for the US; paradoxically it does explain in part the reelection of Bush but the US is a different place. “All you got are those who stand with you when things go to hell” -self explanatory. “Faith (in God or whatever) brings strength”. “Walking in to certain death for the cause and/or the woman you love”. And there are more but it’s getting late for me and I can’t come up with more right now.

Of course, what is more American than the Western. This movie is essentially that. Take away the spaceships, replace the laser blasters with sixguns, turn Malcolm Reynolds into Jesse James (who was a Civil War veteran and rode with a particularly sociopathic crew but became a Robin Hood myth anyway), turn the Reavers into movie Comanches etc.. and what do ya got? :-)

Then again, Star Wars ain’t so different. I throughly disliked the whole Star Wars series by the way. It made serious and haughty what ought to have remained humorous. “Serenity” doesn’t make that mistake.

These are typical themes, stereotypes. This movie doesn’t make a study of them. It doesn’t sublimate them. It doesn’t do anything new or intellectually sophisticated with them. It just brings them to the fore, makes the audience react viscerally and turns them into an entertaining story.

The characters connect to each other along these themes as well as very human ones and the audience goes along for the ride.

It’s a well done Hollywood story. It’s not complicated, it’s not deep but it works.

December 27, 2005, 7:36

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