Serenity Midnight Movie Review
By Bret Dorman
No matter how mainstream sci-fi stuff gets, it will always be seen as a nerdy niche genre. That’s why when Firefly went off the air and a bunch of people made a fuss and went online and complained I didn’t pay too much attention. Well of course they like it, it’s a sci-fi show. And not one of those cheesy sci-fi channel original shows either.
Needless to say I never watched Firefly. Why would I? At that time I don’t think I really watched any show regularly except for 24 (Jack Bauer!). And it doesn’t help that Fox changed the airtimes and dates as well as running the show out of order. So I just assumed Firefly would be one of those shows that no matter how great it was I just would never see or watch.
And then they had to come out with the movie. And I watch movies. Any movie. Even movies based on TV shows I never watched. Especially since I was working at Blockbuster at the time this came out on DVD. So I gave it a shot. And it turns out that TV show Fox screwed up and cancelled and was turned into a movie… yeah, turns out its awesome and deserves all that praise the dedicated sci-fi nerds were giving it. And if my praise makes me one of those nerds? So be it. Oh, and we don’t like to be called nerds. We like to be called Browncoats, thank you very much.The Story: Captain Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) and crew escort Simon and his crazy sister River (Sean Maher and Summer Glau) across the verse and away from The Alliance. But sometimes your past catches up to you! Mal has to deal with An Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Inara the lovely Professional future-geisha of sorts (Morena Baccarin), and a bunch of flesh cutting crazies called Reavers. Also, if you’re like me and watched the movie first and are afraid you’ll feel lost, don’t worry, the show doesn’t help ‘explain’ that much about what’s going on, it just helps make you ‘familiar’ with the characters and the world (verse) building.
Right off the bat writer/director Joss Whedon starts playing with expectations and making things not quite as they seem. What opens on a standard voice over explaining ‘the verse’ and the backstory of war and The Alliance is spun in favor of The Alliance and seemlessly melds into a classroom lecture. From there we are thrust into River’s past as she is brainwashed (brainstabbed?) and then rescued. Show lovers will already be in on the Simon reveal while people unfamiliar will still get a kick out of his trickery. Then its revealed its not even the actual jailbreak, but a hologram recording! Whoa! Crazy! We end the pre-title sequence on the introduction of a new character (if you don’t count the comic series, which I don’t because I never read them). The Operative makes a pretty powerful entrance, choosing a badass way to let someone else honorably kill themselves. The whole opening is actually kind of brilliant.
Of course, if all this information is too much overload, you get just a few seconds to catch your breath. A heroic and grand moment of Serenity peacefully flying through the air during the opening credits is abruptly interrupted by the buffer panel falling off. As Mal makes his way through the ship, in one long take we see him interact with everyone on board. Whedon fills in newcomers on the backstories of the world of Serenity, introduces a new character as well as re-introduces its main cast while never making it tedious or dumbing it down for the fans. Its actually kind of brilliant.Some of the cast might seem a little overdone for the newcomers. Summer Glau’s crazy is a bit too crazy. William Baldwin’s uber machismo is a bit silly. Sean Maher might seem a bit too innocent and out of place. Gina Torres gets much more heavy lifting in the show. Jewel Staite is always charming and adorable no matter what. Some people might be confused by the Shepard, Ron Glass, and what his previous role may or may not have been. Morena Baccarin has that antagonistic love-hate relationship with Mal and one of their heart to hearts might seem a bit fake for firstimers. Yet in the midst of all this the main attraction, Nathan Fillion plays up the goofy lovable, never-has-a-plan Captain while also showcasing a bit of his darker side. Alan Tudyk, as always, is hilarious. The only thing the show itself does is allow you to get antiquated with these characters more, so when you do watch the movie, you actually can sit back a bit more and be in on the inside joke. For those fully antiquated with the show, the movie expands on the world and makes the mystery of River lead to another mystery we didn’t even know existed… the origin of the Reavers. This delicate balance act and how Whedon manages it is actually kind of brilliant. Serenity has its fair share of excitement and PG-13 violence. Even though Whedon could have slipped in more legit swear words he chose to keep the Chinese swear words, which is fun. Most of the action has that low budget fake CGI, Western punch throwing vibe and there’s a bit of cool martial arts thrown in for good measure. Not everyone is a master fighter and not ever battle looks like a George Lucas space dogfight. In keeping with the Firefly world, it feels like its own movie, although clearly inspired by some of the bigger sci-fi heavy hitters (namely Blade Runner). This movie feels like a big(ger) budget version of Joss Whedon playing with a bunch of action figures. Its actually kind of brilliant.
Not to get into Spoilers!, but once the last half hour hits, let’s just say not every single crew member makes it out unscathed. By doing this and taking that risk of killing off a major or likable character, Whedon is basically saying everyone is fair game now. Too many times I’ll see a movie and never feel like the main character is actually in danger because let’s face it, they’re the main character. They aren’t going to die. Serenity has its major players, but everyone feels like they’re part of the group (family/crew is a major theme) and any death has a tremendous amount of weight behind it. Not only did I actually feel danger and fear for some characters, but by advancing the story on others (Kaylee and Simon) I was actually rooting for them to stay alive. They can’t die. They just can’t. It would make me too sad. To be able to invoke this rare kind of emotional investment is actually kind of brilliant.
Why You Must See It At Midnight: The romance of the threshold of midnight and crossing over into a new day meets the romance of the threshold of space travel and crossing over into new worlds. The characters are funny while fighting for their beliefs. Themes of family (or crew) and the violent nature of man are explored while things explode and people punch people. One shot takes and characters delivering grand monologues with a halo of bright light behind them or finishing off a bunch of badguys and standing in a cool way over their bodies all up the ante while never losing that Firefly touch. And in a way Music Box Theatre is like a renegade ship sailing through the Hollywood system collecting its own group of quirky stowaways, so why not hop on board for the ride?
All in all, Serenity is not just (as some goofball said) “kind of brilliant.” Its completely brilliant.