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October 1st, 2005
07:31 pm
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Serenity!
Sneaking in some Internet time to squee about Serenity, the first movie in many moons I've managed to see -- and wanted to see -- on opening night. Yay!

And I won't even talk about things like how the ship develops sentience -- er, should I have spoiler-tagged that? Hahaha, just joking, of course. Of course.

Spoiler-free review

Serenity is a good movie.

[Image: from SerenityMovie.com] Many people who see it will tell you that it could have been better, but they're going to disagree on how. Joss Whedon had to split the difference between making it a movie for Firefly fans and making it a movie for series newbies, and he pulls it off -- not in a way that will leave anyone overjoyed, but in a way that should leave everyone satisfied.

Fans and non-fans alike will find the elements that make Joss Whedon ... Joss Whedon, and they're a delight. The dialogue was tight and lively (although -- and this might have been my theater's sound system -- sometimes hard to hear). Wisecracks and deadpan visual jokes had the audience laughing out loud. There were a few "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" moments -- epic hand-to-hand melees. And Joss demonstrates that he can do epic space melees with the same panache, a pleasant discovery given that the TV show never really gave him a free enough rein to show full-scale ship war.

The scope of the movie is vast. Series fans will be pleasantly surprised to discover new elements to the backstory that Firefly introduced, including resolutions to some of the big unknowns that haunted the show. They will also be dismayed to realize that at least one long-running mystery will remain a mystery. Newbies will miss this subtext entirely, which may cause a few scenes to lose their depth.

However, newbies should not find themselves much more lost than their Firefly-fan friends. Aside from non-fans having a harder time keeping track of the ship's crew -- and I urge you to read the character summaries I linked before you go see the movie; it'll help you orient faster in the theater and is still spoiler-free -- everyone will find the rest of the movie equally new. None of the memorable guests from the TV show made it into the film. The pivotal non-crew characters, The Operative and Mr. Universe, both make their first appearances here. The important plot elements are given sufficient exposition, which is a blessing for series fans as well, since the physical layout of the setting is explained more clearly here than anywhere else.

One thing that surprised me about Serenity was that, in comparison with the TV show, it seemed unexpectedly grim. [Image: from SerenityMovie.com] The series was full of black humor -- how could it not be, when it's about a struggling underclass living at the ragged edge of a utopia that rejects them? -- but, at its heart, was a show about clinging to life and hope and friendship in the face of a brutal world. The movie was a war movie. It was about a grittier sort of survival, that of clinging to life in the face of unstoppable force -- or, at least, doing your duty as a soldier while the hammer drops. The characters see a lot of death in this movie ... but there is no sadness, only shock, numbness. There is no time to mourn. The actors do a great job of showing this; the horror and tension drips from certain parts of the script, and the characters bottle it down, trying to simply make it through their next scrape alive.

The only real complaint I could lodge against the film would be that it feels hurried. Firefly had a sense of grace, breadth, even languor -- the hour-long shows had a comfortable pace, and offered "down time" from the main plot that was used to build out the lives of the band of characters. It made the show feel rich in detail (well, that and the little touches like everyone cursing in Mandarin). There's none of that here, and it's the one thing holding it back from being a truly great film. The characters don't have time for the gradual development and unfolding that fans will have come to expect from the series; some of the scene transitions take on the feel of a plot device despite their embedding in a richly woven world. More foreshadowing, more interaction, maybe even a few flashbacks could have smoothed this out. A movie half again as long could have pulled it off easily. Unfortunately, that's not how it came out. It wasn't enough to affect my enjoyment of the film, but it's a flaw nonetheless.

Also, Firefly fans should make it a point to stay through the end credits.

I also have to say one thing that shouldn't make any sense unless you've seen the film, but I'm going to hide it because Firefly fans will probably have enough context to turn it into a spoiler. And it's a spoiler you do NOT want beforehand, trust me.

(After seeing the movie, highlight the next line of text to read it)
## ... I made it through most of the movie alright, but I very nearly lost it when I saw the dinosaurs at the end. ##


In conclusion -- I know I'm setting myself up to just be part of a viral marketing campaign here*, but this is a film worth seeing. The series was cut down far before its time, but this is a fitting conclusion to it (there's been talk of sequels or a return of the TV show, but the events of this film seem pretty final) -- and though it's not memorable on the same level as films like the original "Matrix," it is a worthy sci-fi event, well-realized and lovingly created.

Comments to this post will probably not be spoiler-safe.

--

* "Now obviously the studio will do its thing. There will be ads and trailers and all that joy, but this movie does not have stars. It doesn’t have a giant mega budget. It doesn’t even have a simple saleable premise. What it has is us -- the people who believed unreasonably. If this movie matters to you, let somebody know. Let everybody know. Make yourselves heard." -- Joss Whedon, to fans at the advance screenings

Current Mood: happymovieful
Current Music: Sonny Rhodes, "Ballad of Serenity" (Firefly theme)

(23 comments | Leave a comment)

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(Deleted comment)
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From:baxil
Date:October 2nd, 2005 03:13 am (UTC)
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We aim to please. Care to come back on Monday night and riff on it? :)
(Deleted comment)
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From:baxil
Date:October 2nd, 2005 08:11 am (UTC)
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Well, if it helps, I've got a collection of </fanboy>s I've been quietly taking for years from others who don't need them. Seeing as how my Serenity squeeing is largely over now, let me grab one from the collection for myself:

</fanboy>

There we go. And here's a few spares for you to throw at the rest of your friends list. ]B=8)

</fanboy> </fanboy> </fanboy></fanboy> </fanboy>
(Deleted comment)
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From:jinian
Date:October 2nd, 2005 03:40 am (UTC)
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We got nothing after the credits. I now know what you got, since your spoiler protection made the font the color I was using already (have you considered commenting them out of the HTML? that's the only thing that seems to work for everyone), but could you tell me more about it?
[User Picture]
From:baxil
Date:October 2nd, 2005 04:11 am (UTC)
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Actually, my spoiler wasn't discussing easter eggs. Think back a little further. It's not a reference to what it refers to, it's an oblique reference to something else that occurred. Sorry for the inevitable confusion. :)

I figured that the font-color protection scheme should work, since reading my post behind the cut tag should have kept it in my black-background style, but I added an extra layer to make sure. Does it black-box out for you now in whatever LJ style you're using? (If so, maybe I can clarify here in comments using that method.)

Just to confirm, there is nothing unexpected on the screen during or after the credits.
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From:jinian
Date:October 2nd, 2005 04:15 am (UTC)
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Works for me, and I consider anyone using Lynx to be adequately wanred about the comment section at least. Yes, if you could clarify, that would be helpful. I think I know which items you're talking about, but am at a loss to connect that to the credits.
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From:baxil
Date:October 2nd, 2005 04:42 am (UTC)
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Alright, it having been confirmed that black-on-black works, here:

SPOILER WARNING
##The dinosaurs on the control console at the end. (Did you see the series pilot?)##


(And you don't even have to highlight it, since you'll see this in the comment notification e-mail. ;))
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From:jinian
Date:October 2nd, 2005 04:50 am (UTC)
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I meant to ask you to clarify about your earlier spoiler-protected text, but now I'm really confused. Are you talking about two different things here, or what? If you don't mind, could you please tell me about both of them in no uncertain terms?
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From:baxil
Date:October 2nd, 2005 08:03 am (UTC)
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To clear things up, hopefully, once and for all: My mysterious spoiler and the suggestion to stay through the credits were totally unrelated. Yes, I was talking about two different things.

## The "easter egg" in the credits is the Firefly theme they play over the last parts of it. What I am referring to with the dinosaur line is the dinosaur figures set up on Serenity's console in the final scene. Which isn't a reference to the dinosaur figures themselves, but what they represent (especially given the events of the movie). ##


I apologize again for the confusion. I reckon I was being too mysterious for my own good.
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From:nolly
Date:October 2nd, 2005 05:02 am (UTC)
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Ah! I didn't notice them; I was still processing the events. (I left toothmarks in my finger from biting my knuckle.)
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From:baxil
Date:October 2nd, 2005 04:44 am (UTC)
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Oh, you meant clarify about the Easter egg.

SPOILER
##The music over the last section of the credits. Has nothing to do with the dinosaurs.##
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From:jinian
Date:October 2nd, 2005 04:16 am (UTC)
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(In other clarifications, the spoiler section worked in that the text was hidden; the highlighting trick has never worked in OmniWeb or in the Opera version I've used. But I don't mind looking at source.)
From:holophote
Date:October 2nd, 2005 05:53 am (UTC)
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The dialogue was low in the mix, yes. I'm hoping that can be "fixed in post" for the DVD.

And the rushed pace was actually a draw for me; being new to FF, I found myself riveted to its 'hit the ground running' approach to exposition. Enjoyed it immensely, and I'm sure it'll just take on new depths when I familiarize myself with the show...
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From:baxil
Date:October 2nd, 2005 08:24 am (UTC)
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Actually, the series premiere took much the same approach to exposition, and it was equally a winner. Exposition did just fine in the film. But, somehow, to me the two-hour-minus-commercials of the first TV show seemed more coherent than the presumably-over-two-hours-but-I-didn't-actually-check of the movie.

SPOILER WARNING
## Things like their journey into Reaver space (in Serenity). For all the buildup they've given Reavers in both the series and the movie, the trip to Miranda cut from "Let's paste on the fake blood and whack the engines!" to ... surrounded by enemy ships. Whuh? They so skillfully built up tension elsewhere, that transition seemed artificially chopped, and it jolted me. There were other scenes like that, just often enough to keep me off balance. ##


Enjoy the TV episodes! ]B=8) I know I did.
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From:willyumtx
Date:October 2nd, 2005 07:48 am (UTC)
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I'm confused. We stayed through the credit roll. I didn't notice anything special there.

What did I miss???
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From:baxil
Date:October 2nd, 2005 08:26 am (UTC)
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Here's the hint, for those following along at home: It's not what's on the screen that's special about the credits.

The answer, for those sick of riddles: Highlight the spoiler in this comment.
From:raki
Date:October 2nd, 2005 08:41 am (UTC)
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YAYSERENITYSQUEEE!!!

I don't think Whedon could've done much better. I really liked it as it was.
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From:necama
Date:October 2nd, 2005 03:59 pm (UTC)
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Saw it last night; loved it.

Not sure what else to say. *sigh* Off to work now.
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From:dancinglights
Date:October 2nd, 2005 04:31 pm (UTC)
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They will also be dismayed to realize that at least one long-running mystery will remain a mystery.

Actually, I was very, very pleased by that. But I appreciate good mystery and ambiguity.

I knew we should have stayed through the credits. Oh Noes! I may have to see it again!
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From:lysana
Date:October 2nd, 2005 10:14 pm (UTC)
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And I'm one of the least bothered by the "changes" between series and movie as anyone. I'm perfectly willing to believe that lies were told for the sake of protecting others.
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From:wanderdragon
Date:October 3rd, 2005 04:39 am (UTC)
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I just got back from seeing it a second time, wherein I was able to take more time to analyze what I was seeing instead of just...reacting. Usually this results in nitpicking and less enjoyment, but this time that was not the case. I got to explain to my roommate my theory of how the Reavers continued exististing beyond just tearing each other apart. I kind of wish Simon had gotten more non-weenie screentime. I mean, he had the great breakout scene right at the start, but after that... I guess that's a little unfair, since they just showed him protecting River, which is all he ever did in the show, but it seemed to have more depth in the show. Which is still unfair, because there just wasn't time in the movie. Bah. I'm just going to geek out and write a comment longer than Bax's post.
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