Monday, October 03, 2005

I Have Seen Serenity

I have seen Serenity, and it is good. I mean really good. A couple of people, I won't say who in the non-spoiler portion of this review, seem a little out of character at first if you're familiar with Firefly, but that fairly quickly resolves itself, and everyone settles into the roles we know so well.

If you're not a Firefly fan, I'm really not sure how approachable you'll find this story. I daresay that you would find the "character immersion" in the early part of the film to be rather like learning to swim by being dumped into the Arctic Ocean. I have to wonder if you can generate enough sympathy for the characters to really respond to later events in the movie the way long-time fans will.

I think Joss Whedon is trying to say something about the nature of fanaticism in this film, but I don't want to go into details, yet.

In my opinion, though, this is definitely a film worth watching whether you're a Firefly fan or not. I was surprised that it was only on in one theater at the (Sh)Opry Mills multiplex, and with only four showings per day. If that's a typical schedule, then the fact that it made second place in theatre earnings against movies showing on multiple screens per theatre says a lot.

Spoilers will abound if you start reading the comments...


Lord Runolfr said...

OK, I said some things seemed a little out of character in the opening minutes of the film. In particular, the good will that River had acquired in the final episode of Firefly -- "Objects in Space" -- seemed to have dissolved somewhere. I can see Simon being angry that Mal put River in danger, but not to the point that he would throw a punch. On top of that, I can't see Mal taking a punch from Simon without swing back and laying him out.

We get some technical clarifications in the opening monologue of the movie, if you're a geek like me. The Firefly "'Verse" is actually contained in a single solar system with multiple planets that have multiple, inhabitable moons. Having that many planets in moons in the "green zone" around a star strains plausibility a bit for me -- even with terraforming -- but that's the way Joss sees it, and I'll just have to suspend some disbelief.

We learn the origin of the Reavers in this film, and that led my good lady wife to wonder how they maintain their numbers. It doesn't seem likely that such violent sociopaths can breed successfully, even if they do have some kind of social structure that allows them to cooperate to operate ships and organize raids. They're victims of a chemical imbalance, and I'd have to guess that it's somehow contagious, so they turn some of the people they capture into sociopaths like themselves.

Two of Firefly's main characters die in this movie. Joss likes to jerk the heartstrings of his audience, and he wants you to understand that even the stars are mortal. Both deaths are somewhat arbitrary and unexpected, which is the way most deaths are, I suppose. I'm about to tell you who dies, so run if you must.

Shepherd Book seems to have taken the secrets of his past to the grave with him, although I suppose there's some chance that they will become relevant in sequels somehow. I'm not sure how Joss would pull that off, but he does love surprises.

Wash's death came with now warning whatsoever. I don't think Zoe has felt the full impact yet; apart from a brief stint of berzerker fury, she seems to be trying to handle his loss with her usual stoicness.

We also get some very blunt explanation of just what the Alliance was doing with River. They were definitely trying to turn her into some kind of psychic assassin, and she was the prodigy of the whole program. She is unquestionably psychic to some degree, having telepathically learned a secret from a government official who visited her at the "school".

And finally, there's the villain... the Operative. This is the guy who exemplifies the fanatic for whom no immoral act is too awful if committed in the name of a cause. At least he was able to change when he saw his cause knocked off its pedestal; I have my doubts about whether the real fanatics of the modern world could manage that.

Serenity is good stuff, and I'm looking forward to the next installment in the story.

Tam said...

The many habitable planets and moons in the one solar system are stretching things a bit too far, but put it down to a little fantasy in your Sci-Fi, and all is well.

I was a bit confused by how the reavers stuck around so long, although I did really like the idea of how they were created. It made sense in Joss' Universe with Mal as the hero, that the Alliance has created the villains by "meddling".

I think Shepherd Book's story is gone. I think the story Joss wanted to tell for him, is the story he told for "the Operative." You notice Book knew a lot about the type of person the Alliance would send after River, and that he would not talk about it. I think he was once an "Operative" with the "belief" in the Alliance to match, and when he became disillusioned with the Alliance, he turned to religion.

You notice he kept on harping on to Mal about belief (even if it wasn't belief in his religion). I'm sure that the Operative, if he didn't fall on his sword, joined a similar organization to what Book did, since he probably couldn't believe in himself any more than Book did (how could he? He believed he was a bad person, who didn't belong in the "better" world he was trying to create).

If you think of the Operative and Book as basically the same person, separated only by time, you might be more willing to believe people like him actually exist. There are "believers" out there who would change their beliefs if they were proved wrong (proved wrong to them, which is not the same as proving their beliefs hold no sense or rational)... the trouble is, they will just find something else to blindly follow.

Anyway, I loved the movie too. I loved the one-liners Joss is great at ("There ain't been nothing 'tixt my neither that don't require batteries" or "Tell me again how Jayne got brought down by a 90 pound girl, cause that don't ever seem to get old" not the actual quotes as I don't have the movie to verify them against, but I'm sure you recognize them if you've seen it). The things you could actually see real people saying in that situation, which are just side-splitting. I loved that the thing Mal finally had "belief" in, was the truth. And I loved that River kicked ass. Joss does like the Teenage Girl Ass Kicker. :)

Lord Runolfr said...

The idea that Book was once an "operative" makes a heck of a lot of sense; thanks for bringing it to my attention. I wouldn't necessarily call the Shepherd's story completely closed, though; it's just his part in it that's come to an end. It may or may not come up, but you never know when Joss will pull something up out of the past and smack you in the face with it.

River does kick ass, but I think having her standing virtually untouched when the bulkhead doors opened at the end was just a bit excessive. I think the scene would actually have been more effective if she were cut up twenty different ways but still victorious. As it was, I had no doubt that she would have mowed through the Alliance troops that showed up just as easily as she had the Reavers, so I didn't feel any real tension in that scene.

"You can't make me angry."
"Please, spend an hour with him."
-- The Operative and Inarra, speaking about Mal