A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 269 – Serenity

Serenity – November 24th, 2010

Sadly, we’ve had to give up on the bad-movies-in-sympathy-for-the-Desert-Bus-crew, what with Andy being ill and my need to bake tonight. And oh, I have baked. Pie is a wonderful thing. And so I have pie and an excellent movie and hopefully tomorrow we’ll have a Thanksgiving miracle and Andy will not be sick. In the meantime, we watched this movie while my pie baked (it looks so good and is in my fridge right now) and I found myself actually paying attention to it instead of paying attention to Desert Bus. I know it fairly well. Well enough that I could have easily let it run on the television while I paid attention to other stuff. And yet I found myself getting sucked back into it rather quickly whenever my attention wandered. It’s just not a movie I can let go in the background.

This movie had a hard job. For one, because it was a theatrical film following up a much-beloved and widely-believed-to-be-prematurely-canceled television show, it had to live up to that show for the fans. This is a difficult task for any film. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But it’s got to hit all the right notes and refer back to the show without making it feel like everything is just an inside reference or callback. It has to add something to the world and characters and appease the fans. And seeing as the fans of Firefly were and are particularly vocal, and rather internet-savvy, this was very important. And then on the other side of things, it being a theatrical release of a show that was canceled after a single season, there has to be the assumption that some people who might come to see it wouldn’t have necessarily seen all of the show. So it had to present the world and the characters – both rich and detailed – in a clear and concise manner for any potential new viewers in the audience. Granted, I don’t know if that was a real priority, and having seen all the existing episodes of the show myself before seeing the movie I can’t speak to how successful it was on that front.

If I’m going to be totally honest, I don’t really care how successful the movie is in introducing its content to new viewers. Chances were always slim to none that the show would come back, so this was sort of a capper on the world. Joss Whedon has stated that had the show gone to a second season the crew of the Serenity would have discovered part of this movie’s plot near the end of the season. So really, this movie is taking a season’s worth of backstory, another unwritten season’s worth of mid-story, and then condensing what would likely have been a large chunk of another season and pressing it into the compact space of two hours. It’s resulted in a remarkably tight movie full of action and twists and Joss Whedon messing with his fans, but it also means there’s a lot that happens. Enough so that I’m honestly not sure how well I’m going to do when it comes to summarizing. In order to summarize I feel like I need to go through the series too. And I really don’t have time or space for that, so let’s just assume anyone reading knows the setup.

The crew of the Serenity are a bit of a rag-tag group, which is much of their appeal as a group. And if the show appealed to you on their basis then the movie will too, because they’re all there. The movie starts out about six months after the end of the series, with Inara and Book off the ship and Simon threatening to take River off as well, thanks to Captain Mal’s insistence that she help them out on jobs. The opening bit with the ship making a rough entry and landing while Mal walks through the ship talking to each of his crewmembers in turn. The introductions are short and sweet, establishing characteristics and relationships within a line or two. And everything seems to be rather tame at first, with a heist and all, but soon the stakes get raised quite high with the introduction of the Reavers, a group of berserker types who eat people alive. They are wonderfully menacing, and are a key plot point for the whole movie.

The larger plot of the movie involves the good intentions of the Alliance (the big government-type organization of inner planets) and their desperate need to regain control of River Tam. River, being psychic and conditioned by the government to be a killer, is a risk the Alliance just can’t have running loose. She knows things. And so the Operative shows up, determined to find her and either recover her or kill her for the greater good. And we all know how things done For The Greater Good tend to turn out, right? The crew uncovers secrets the Alliance doesn’t want known and so doom is rained down upon the crew and those they count as friends.

It’s a brutal movie in places. People die. Joss Whedon doesn’t pull punches when it comes to killing off characters and he likes to twist that knife in. There’s a lot of effort made towards making it clear just how bad things have gotten. Bleak does not begin to describe things. Going into the climax of the movie it definitely feels as though anyone else could go down at any moment. I can’t say I like what happens and who dies. I don’t like it at all. But at the same time, I understand the point. I get it. And the mood it creates at the end is excellent. It’s grim and desperate and stark. The humor that marks the show as a Whedon production is much pared down and the characters all know there’s only a slim chance that they’re going to live through the final fight.

I’m not doing this movie justice, really, and I apologize for that. It’s the sort of movie I wish I had more time to work on a review for, because there’s a lot to it that makes it really fantastic. Sure, some people who aren’t big on Joss Whedon’s style won’t like it, but I happen to like his style. His writing is snappy and his characters are interesting and he came up with a heck of a world here, so I’m thrilled that he got a chance to present more of the story he had planned on before the show was canceled, and I’m thrilled it came out so amazingly well.

November 24, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Serenity

November 24, 2010

Serenity

Yes, once again this is not a bad movie. We’re still watching Desert Bus but I couldn’t handle another bad movie today. So instead we’re watching a great movie. I’d like to start today with a story. Earlier this year, near the beginning of our movie-a-day project Amanda and I attended the first Pax East. It was a glorious coming together of geeks and nerds from all over the East Coast and parts beyond. At one point Amanda and I attended a late-night screening of sketch comedy by the people behind Desert Bus, LoadingReadyRun. This was around one in the morning, just before everybody was set to be kicked out of the convention hall, and when we arrived at the theater we found that a group of enforcers were already there watching episodes of Firefly. None of us, not the small audience who had shown up to see LRR and not the crew themselves, could bring ourselves to make them stop watching. Before we started our viewing we reverently allowed them to finish watching the episode they had been watching when we arrived. I tell this story to illustrate a point. Within the circles of people I respect and enjoy spending my time with there’s a kind of sacred quality to Firefly. Everybody knows that it was a great show that should have been given more of a chance to shine. Everybody knows that it was a sin that Fox cancelled the program before they had even broadcast all the episodes Joss had in the can.

This is that epic and legendary film that was made to rectify some of these grave sins. It’s a mighty task to undertake, but one that Joss Whedon pulled off with a great deal of class. The challenge is that there are so many things to be accomplished in a single film. He needs to re-introduce all the characters and the world they’re in for anybody watching the movie who was unfamiliar with the show. He needs a story worthy of this crew and this ship. And he needs to present some closure for those of us who were crushed by the show’s abortion and want to know how things were supposed to turn out.

In every way this movie is a success, at least for me. It has a huge, epic, sweeping feel to it. It has probably the most apologetically and brutally lawful evil character ever created. It has a few wonderfully cinematic moments that could not have been accomplished within the restraints of a television show. And all throughout it is clearly a Joss Whedon film in every way.

By far my favorite part of the entire film is the adversary that represents the oppressive government of the Firefly universe. Chiwetel Ejiofor plays the part with such complete dedication that it’s impossible not to get caught up in the battle of wills between Mal and the Operative. Here’s a man who freely admits that he is a monster, capable of killing innocent women and children in the pursuit of his goals. So dedicated is he to his cause that he is all the more terrifying because of it. He is not an evil man, he’s just a man absorbed by his faith. (I’m pretty pleased that he does not have the hokey blue hands of the agents in the television show.)

What do you want out of a sci-fi epic? A scrappy crew of mismatched people thrown together by circumstances battling a massive and oppressive government with unlimited resources? An awesome space battle? A totally kick-ass girl with psychic powers? Space-zombies? They’re ALL HERE!

My one word of warning would be that this is a Joss Whedon film. Of course this means that it has creative, snappy dialog that charms you and sticks in your head, which is good. But it also means that every character is mortal and could die at any moment, which can be slightly traumatic. If you, like me, are the sort of person who had to stop watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer when Tara was capriciously gunned down and cry for a week then you may have problems with some events near the conclusion of this movie. I fully understand the reasoning behind these plot choices – it’s important to ramp up the tension for the climax and drive home the point that in a Joss movie anybody is fair game – but that doesn’t make me like it.

I love the movie over all though. It does everything I wanted it to do and more. It is one of those movies I took great delight in recommending to my patrons at Blockbuster. It is a movie I would unreservedly recommend to anybody who reads this blog who enjoys the same kinds of movies I enjoy. Indeed I’d be kind of shocked to find that any of my friends reading this blog haven’t seen this movie already.

November 24, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment