The Barenaked Archives: Serenity

From 2003 up until 2007, I was lucky enough to have “movie reviewer” as my job description. As such, I’ve built up a *lot* of reviews for just about every movie that came out during those years, as well as reviews of classic movies.

The Barenaked Archives are reviews that I did for two previous websites. Sadly, they are both gone, so this is now the only place online you can see these old columns.

Serenity movie posterI’m not a longtime, hardcore fan of “Firefly,”* Joss Whedon’s cult classic TV series, but the whole story behind the movie Serenity intrigued me from the beginning. Here, a futuristic space western of a TV show died an early and undeserved death, only to be resurrected as a feature length film thanks to DVD sales and the pleas of thousands of fans.

So, I rented and watched part of the “Firefly” series. It didn’t take me long at all to fall in love with the characters. The show was good but not perfect, but the characters were the kind you could really get behind.

And so I walked into Serenity as neither a diehard Whedonite nor a complete newcomer, but simply newly converted and eager to spend more time with these characters.

Serenity may not bring those who dislike sci-fi around to loving the genre, but Firefly fans and newbies alike should thoroughly enjoy this movie.

Serenity takes place 500 years in the future. Capt. Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) and his hodgepodge but undyingly faithful crew use their ship Serenity to smuggle goods and eke out a living under the radar of the Alliance that controls the galaxy. However, having taken in two fugitives from the Alliance puts Mal and his crew at the top of the most wanted list, and they’ll have to use all of their tricks to stay one step ahead.

All nine of the actors from the TV series reprise their roles, which is great because they already know these characters. It’s a tightly knit crew, almost like a family, and you get a sense of the history these people have together. Their relationships were the best thing about the TV show and translate well into the movie.

Mal is probably the coolest space pirate to grace any screen, silver or small, since Han Solo. Yes, he’s the archetypal rogue-with-a-heart-of-gold, but he looks after himself and his crew first, and everybody else second if he must.

The good thing (or bad thing, depending on your point of view) is that Whedon doesn’t protect his characters. Unlike most directors today, who will guard every person onscreen who may resonate with the audience (especially if there’s sequel potential), he has no qualms about killing off characters that fans like or even love.

On the one hand, this is good because you know nobody’s safe (which ups the tension tremendously), but on the other hand, it makes you want to beat Whedon and scream, “Bring them back!”

What’s surprising is that, unlike many TV shows that are turned into movies, Serenity doesn’t feel like an extra-long episode of the show. It feels like a movie. The pacing is right on for most of the movie, except at the very beginning when they have to cram in a lot of background and introduce a lot of characters for the uninitiated. It gets a little clunky, but smoothes out fast enough once the gang heads off for the first job. While the special effects are very, very good for the most part, occasionally they get a little off, but not so much that it detracts terribly from the movie.

For a long time there hasn’t been much worth watching on the weekends. However, this weekend you have an honest-to-goodness choice: A History of Violence or Serenity. Either way, you’ll get a great film more than worth the price of admission.

*Yes, at the time I wrote this, back in 2005, I could not be considered a hardcore fan. Now…perhaps moreso. 🙂

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