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Sunday, December 7, 2014

My Film Review of Serenity from 2010

I watched the Blockbuster Buster's review of Firefly and Serenity, and remembered that I wrote a review of Serenity in 2010. It is still one of my favorite science-fiction films ever, and I am re-posting it here. Since I wrote the review, I did watch Firefly in 2011, and really enjoyed it, and appreciated the movie much more.

January 26, 2010

Science fiction has had many interpretations of the future. There’s the future where the world is controlled by strict eugenics (Gattaca), where people are persecuted for crimes they haven’t committed yet (Minority Report), and the ever-popular dystopian future (Blade Runner, Children of Men, The Road Warrior). Often the science fiction genre takes itself very seriously, warning its audience of the dangers of relying on technology, the consequences of racism, and the inner destruction of humanity. While science fiction can tackle these issues with intelligence and gravitas, the manner leaves little space for humor or brevity, which can sour a sci-fi fan where everything is life and death and nothing in between.

Joss Whedon, the celebrated creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, created characters that were intelligent, witty, and unique in a slightly quirky way, portrayed by actors who, while all physically attractive, got the oddball outsider sensibility of their characters, and played it up with grace and humor. Whedon’s characters gave viewers heroes who weren’t perfect, were personally conflicted, and while possessing a quick tongue and amazing hand-to-hand combat skills, were just regular people in extraordinary situations.

In 2002, Whedon created the now cult-classic Firefly, a TV show on Fox about a spaceship crew on the ship Serenity who had lost a civil war and were now living on the outskirts of society. It closely resembled a Western, with an Appalachian bluegrass song as the theme and an outlaw hero in Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), a former sergeant with a Southwestern accent, a long browncoat, and guns at his holsters. The Serenity crew fights criminals, the combined U.S./China government known as the Alliance, and the dangerous Reavers, a cannibalistic group of nomadic humans that have turned savage and monstrous. The show was unique for its mismatched cast of unusual but interesting characters, a sense of wry humor, and not being as heavy-handed as its precursors in sci-fi, as stated in the opening paragraph.

Unfortunately, due to low ratings, Firefly was cancelled after one season,despite fans’ attempts to keep the show on the air. But its cult status grew somuch that, as a gift to the fans and as a season finale, Whedon wrote and directed the feature film version of Firefly in 2005, entitled Serenity.

Serenity works as an introduction to those who did not see the show, detailing the civil war that happened five hundred years into the future, where Earth’s resources have been used up, and humanity has moved into living in space and on other planets. The Alliance controls all of the planets, yet there is a rogue justice league that operates far from the core planets, where the Serenity crew survive. Their world is put into jeopardy when a young girl named River Tam(Summer Glau), who is a pupil of the Alliance and holds dangerous secrets that she obtains through psychic abilities, escapes with her brother Simon (Sean Maher) to Serenity, hiding away from the Alliance, including a dignified but ruthless agent (Chiwetel Ejiofor). River’s abilities make her a deadly weapon for the Alliance, and her allegiance to the Serenity crew is questioned, if she is truly one of them or if she will turn based on her government programming.

The language of Serenity is very sharp and smart-alecky, keeping with the Western motif. Both Mal and Jayne Cobb (Adam Baldwin) are very much like cowboys, quick with a pistol and a one-liner, men who have seen death and destruction firsthand. If they’re not being movie heroes, they are tech-savvy intellectual nerds, in the forms of shy mechanic Kaylee Frye (Jewel Staite) and pilot Hoban (Alan Tudyk). Zoe (Gina Torres), the first mate and Hoban’s wife,holds this loyalty and deadly strength, thinking with her head and following Mal’s orders with “Yes, sir.”

Serenity undoubtly pays homage to its sci-fi predecessors, for their grungy and rough exteriors recall the crew of Alien, just regular people with intellectual and technical skills who eke out a living working on a ship. They band together when they fight, laugh over drinks, and just take it as hard, tough work, like average working class joes.

Serenity stands out as one of the most original and interesting sci-fi films to come along, simply because it has talented and unique actors, compelling characterizations, and a closer sense of modernity than other sci-fi films overly concerned with the future and not the present.

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