Sci-Fi Movie Month: "Serenity" Review

Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

Sci-Fi Movie Month: "Serenity" Review

-- Rating: PG 13 (violence, intense action, and sexual references)
Length: 119 minutes
Release Date: Sept. 30, 2005
Directed by: Joss Whedon
Genre: Science fiction, action, and adventure

When science fiction fans are asked what television show they feel was canceled way too soon, an overwhelming majority of them enthusiastically answer "Firefly," often followed by a curse on FOX Broadcasting. Joss Whedon's ("Buff the Vampire Slayer," "Dollhouse, and "The Avengers") epic western-like space opera suffered from poor scheduling, out-of-order episode airings, and an impatient network that canceled the show after airing only 11 episodes of the 14 produced. For most shows, this results in a fade to oblivion. However, this was not the end for this tale of a captain, his ship, and its motley crew of "big damn heroes." Whedon was able to convince Universal Pictures to produce a theatrical movie release: "Serenity."

Although the intent was that anyone could see the film without seeing any of "Firefly," there is really no way that it can be fully enjoyed without some prior knowledge of this fictional universe and the characters who inhabit it. For the show's fans who had grown to love it from its DVD release, this is a relief, because little time is spent on background and origins. Instead, an amazing new adventure unfolds for Serenity's captain, Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion).

Whedon, as creator and director, took this project seriously by the horns and made it truly cinematic. Television shows are often difficult to translate to the big screen, and as a result, Whedon switched things up a bit. For one thing, this background is more space-oriented, and less focus is placed on the Asian-Western cultural aspects featured in the show. The themes are also a lot grittier, and the violence is at a level that could not be shown on primetime broadcast networks. The word Reavers will forever make you shudder after you see this movie.

It's the distant future, and Earth's population has spread out to settle other worlds. Our so-called heroes are introduced with a bank robbery. In this scene, the viewer is shown that they are essentially space pirates for hire. Mal, as Captain Reynolds is known, makes a living selling the services of his ship, Serenity. He bears a strong resemblance to Han Solo from "Star Wars." The crew of misfits and Alliance fugitives have become like a family.

As the story progresses, it's difficult not to fall in love with all of them. The banter and sharp dialogue right in the middle of the action give insight into each one's personality. This is right where Whedon wants you, because the emotional payoff in the middle of everything else that is going on is the crowning achievement of the film. Viewers do not expect to be so profoundly affected by several events that won't be spoiled here, but there will be lots of cursing and tears. Here's a hint: "Game of Thrones" author George R.R. Martin has nothing on Joss Whedon when it comes to ripping your heart out.

The misfits consist of Mal's former war comrade-in-arms, Zoe (Gina Torres); her pilot husband, Hoban Washburne (Alan Tudyk); engineer Kaylee Frye (Jewel Staite); and gunman Jayne Cobb (Adam Baldwin). The film alludes to the fact that at some point, Mal took on surgeon Simon Tam (Sean Maher) and his younger sister, River (Summer Glau) as fugitives from the ruling Alliance government. The Alliance finally catches up to the Tams and wants them back-dead. River was an experiment; she was being molded into the ultimate killing machine, but she managed to get a message to her brother to help her, and he forfeited a promising and lucrative career to rescue her. This ensemble cast is rich and balanced in its own right but is also enhanced by other characters from the show, such as Inara (Morena Baccarin) and Shepherd Book (Ron Glass.) The main antagonist, the Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor), is a deep villain who wasn't pulled from a random bad-guy generator. His actions are truly loathsome, and he serves as a cautionary tale about becoming a zealot for any cause.

The film uses a great deal of CGI, and viewers will definitely notice a huge contrast between the detailed designs of interior shots versus the fake feeling for outside views of Serenity. Much of that can be forgiven, however, because the story is the real star here. Serenity is truly a film for those who root for the most unlikely of people to do amazing things. This is the reason why the tagline "Can't stop the signal" means so much to the fans of this fictional universe. It is, in essence, the heart of the film.

Rated: 4 of 5 stars