Shiny Shelf


By Jim Smith on 22 October 2005

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

‘Serenity’ is ‘Firefly – The Movie’, except in the sense that it sort of isn’t. A hugely clever and enjoyable spin-off from/adaptation of Joss Whedon’s splendid, but swiftly cancelled, SF Western TV show it succeeds in reuniting all of the regular cast and tying up plotlines that were largely only glimpsed in embryonic form during the series 13 hour run. Its very existence is a minor miracle of consumer tastes over network whim of the kind not seen since ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’ emerged ever-so-slowly into cinemas a quarter of a century ago.

Witty, pretty, fast and beautifully played ‘Firefly’ works tremendously well in story terms whether one has seen the TV series once, ten times or not at all. However, while it goes out of its way to introduce every single one of its large ensemble cast as people, I’m not entirely sure that an audience unfamiliar with the show’s leads will perhaps care as much as they ought about what are some of the biggest events in the characters’ lives. Nor do I think that certain elements of the characters’ pasts are made as clear as they perhaps could be.

That Mal Reynolds (the brilliant Nathan Fillion) was a volunteer soldier on the losing side in a civil war is mentioned, but I doubt the implications for, and consequences of, this for his personality are as clear here as they were on the small screen. Another example: two of the leads, Zoe (Gina Torres, of ‘Hercules’ and ‘The Matrix’ sequels) and Wash (Alan ‘I, Robot’ Tudyk) are a married couple. We are told this in their first scene in the movie, but the TV show created a very solid relationship between the two, a complex mystery of positive and negative emotions, shared history (and lack of shared history) desire and love. I don’t really get that feeling here even though I’ve carried my knowledge of the TV show into the cinema with me.

There are also ways in which ‘Serenity’ feels a bit too much like TV, rather than not enough. The plot is episodic to the point of near abstraction, a result perhaps of the storyline being adapted from synopses, or even vague plans, for a number of successive TV episodes. There is even the odd moment which feels so like the suspended enigma of the end of a ‘Buffy’ episode you almost expect the words ‘To Be Continued…’ to cross the screen. (Mind you, I got that near the end of ‘X-2′ so what do I know?).

It is also a little bit cheaper than one might expect. It is, of course, unfair in a ‘Star Wars’ year to even look at anything else set in space, as the chances of the effects and design work being at even 10% of the scale of Lucas’s Galaxy far, far Away are mathematically absurd. In terms of the shots of the ship itself, the beautiful titular Serenity and the scrapes it gets itself involved in, your eyes do occasionally want to see the other 99% of the picture which seems to be off of frame – especially when she (essentially) leads a charge of Reaver ships towards a blockade.

In terms of the general aesthetic there are also elements of the TV show’s appeal which have gone walkies; there’s less or no livestock (cattle and horses) than there was on TV and the 19th century elements of the costumes and weapons have receded slightly, while still being present – a concession, perhaps, to the larger, more casual audience Mal and co will find in the multiplex; the audience which the anticipation of has given their adventures life again.

Looking back through what I’ve written above I notice that it’s largely negative – and that seems wrong to me, because I think ‘Serenity’ in every way a triumph, but that’s a fan’s review of something for you, I suppose, some grumbles, whimpers and moans and the veiled suggestion that it’s not as good as it used to be. Combined together in text these tiny issues obscure a truth, so I’ll state it here for ease of reference – ‘Serenity’ is brilliant, tremendously good, I loved it; I’m in awe of the mere fact that it exists, I have a poster, shall buy the DVD and am desperate for there to be a sequel – and not only so that in it Jayne will get more to do.

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