Film review: Serenity



It’s not every day you get to enjoy Joss Whedon’s work on the big screen, so we did this one in style by seeing it ‘La Premiere’. For those of you who aren’t local that means large lounge seats, alcohol in the cinema, a tray of Turkish dips, and all the gold you can eat—well, not that last one.

You all know the back story by now … Joss Whedon creates scifi slash western series Firefly only to have it rudely pulled by brainless Fox executives before a single season is out; DVD goes on to sell truckloads; Whedon gets to make film version with the same cast. For those of you who for some bizarre reason have yet to make it to the cinema, let me place your minds at rest; the result is a bloody entertaining scifi flick that plays like a big finale to the series and will leave Firefly fans satisfied and, of course, clambering for more.

In fact that smooth transition to the big screen from the small is probably responsible for the film’s few flaws which, in the interest of impartial reviewing, I feel I should report. Those movie-goers not conversant with the fifteen episode backstory may find some of the characters don’t get as much development as they’d like, but then there’s a lot to squeeze into 119 minutes. The series fans can of course fill in the gaps and sit back and enjoy the further adventures of some of the best characters ever developed for TV, characters that have very quickly become like close friends. Also, Whedon has had to do a lot with a relatively small budget, so some scenes feel smaller than what we’re used to on the big screen, some of the sets feel a bit cramped, and not every effects shot is faultless (though Zoic Studios do sterling work, as ever). The Reavers—space zombies, basically—don’t come across as threatening as they did on television, and perhaps could have been better realised.

Small quibbles though. Basically, if you’re a fan of Whedon’s snappy, witty writing, you’ll love this film. It amazes me that reviews persist in comparing it with the latest Star Wars, which is like comparing a gourmet dining experience with MacDonalds drive-through. If you never ‘got’ Buffy and Angel and still think it’s some kind of 90210-meets-Charmed, you probably won’t like it it. I immediately suggest you get thee to the video store and start from Buffy Season 1, Episode 1. You’ve got a lot of wonderful viewing ahead of you that culminates in this film.

So what’s next Joss? Surprise us, we can’t wait.

Four badly translated Chinese curses out of five.

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. anaglyph
    Oct 06, 2005 @ 09:54:49

    I really liked it. I think Joss has made a worthwhile step to the big screen, but being honest, his material still (at this stage) works better on tv.
    I agree with you about the Reavers – they just came across as lumbering zombies. Pretty full-on teeth-and-fur zombies for sure, but my mental picture of the Reavers from the series gave them a lot more intelligence. Those cat & mouse games they seemed to play in their ships don’t translate to their one-on-one behaviour. I think they would be much scarier of they had some brains as well as brawn.
    My biggest criticism by far (and I feel this is my area so I’ll let loose) is that the sound was terrible. My bet is that the film was mixed by television people. The dialogue was sharp and ear-wrenching, and the the dynamics were virtually non-existant. There was just loud and louder. Film sound is SO good now, that you really want to spend your money on getting good film mixers to do your stuff. It’s a real shame, because the actual design of the sound was very clever, with some ideas that I might even pinch myself (!). It was just poorly executed.
    I was also MEGA disappointed that they didn’t use the Firefly theme (the four bars buried in the end credits doesn’t count…) I was just waiting for them to spin it in at some great moment (when they crashed the Alliance barricade, for instance – how amazing would that have been!) I assume there must have been IP problems or something with using it. I certainly hope that it wasn’t some numbskull studio decision.
    All that being said, I really enjoyed the movie though, and I hope it propels Joss even further into the Firefly saga. And I will be buying the Serenity DVD.

  2. UniversalHead
    Oct 06, 2005 @ 10:00:08

    I completely agree with you Pete – and I recall now at some point of the film thinking ‘this sound is really sub-par’. The whole film did have a bit of a TV finale feel, which I suppose we can attribute both to Joss’s lack of film experience and the lowish budget. He’s done so much stuff it’s still hard to believe this is his first feature.
    Chalk me up for the DVD without a doubt!

  3. Pil
    Oct 13, 2005 @ 20:34:00

    I read a couple of days ago that Joss based Capt Mal Reynolds on Han Solo and the idea of “what would Solo be doing if he never met Luke and never heard about the force?” He’d just be running contraband, trying to make a living, trying to be a good guy against all odds… Thanks Joss, Lucas let Han down but you didn’t!