Published Oct 01, 2005To quote the opening theme song of the worst Trek in relation to Joss Whedon's (Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel) feature-length directorial debut of his failed western-influenced sci-fi TV series, Firefly, turned feature film, Serenity: "It's been a long road, getting' from there to here. It's been a long time, but my time is finally here."
Dropped by Fox after the network aired just 11 of its 14 first season episodes, which were also shown confusingly and frustratingly out of order by said network, Firefly, despite critical acclaim and being one of the smartest, most entertaining sci-fi series of its time, was never given the chance to reach beyond the Whedon faithful. But even though Fox quickly gave up on the show, despite Whedon's successful track record with Buffy and Angel, its fans never gave up on it. And while their outcries weren't enough to bring back the show to television (yet), their loyalty, coupled with the strong sales of Firefly on DVD, opened the door for Serenity.
In somewhat of a role reversal, instead of a failed movie becoming a cult TV show (Buffy), a failed TV show now has the chance to reach a larger audience and resurrect the franchise. But, unlike the film version of Buffy (which Whedon wrote but didn't direct), Serenity (which Whedon did direct on top of writing) is an excellent piece of science fiction and a fitting end (new beginning?) to the Firefly legacy.
Set roughly 500 years in the future, after the Earth has been "used up" and mankind has fled to the stars, Serenity wastes little time with back-story or exposition, although it does make brief and smart attempts to let the uninitiated in. Canada's own Nathan Fillon plays Mal Reynolds, the rogue-ish (don't say Han Solo-ish) captain of a Firefly class transport spaceship called Serenity, on the run from the Alliance (kind of an evil "North" after an intergalactic civil war) due to two of its passengers/crew - the damaged, dangerous Alliance fugitive/test subject River (Summer Glau) and her brother/rescuer/doctor Simon (Sean Maher) - and desperately seeking "employment" to stay afloat (i.e., befitting the western slant, there's a bank robbery).
While the rest of Firefly's cast (hulking nimrod mercenary Jayne, comedic pilot Walsh, innocent engineer Kaylee, tough second in command Zoe, and peripherals like Shepherd Book, the conscious, and Inara, Mal's love interest) are here, the main arcs of Serenity revolve around the Alliance's attempt to recapture River and revealing the secret origin of the Reavers, barbaric/savage space raiders that terrorise the galaxy. Chock full of the humorous but razor smart writing Whedon is renowned for (when he's on, his knack for offbeat, unexpected comedic timing and quips is unparalleled), Serenity also benefits from the bigger budget (see the gigantic space battle towards its end).
However, Serenity isn't a watered down attempt to appeal to a commercial audience, first and foremost, it's for the fans who supported the series and brought it to the big screen through sheer demand. And while its lack of exposition and explaining of certain character relations (Mal and Inara) aren't a problem for the initiated, newcomers might be slightly confused, especially since some of the attributes established in the show (why in the future does everyone use normal guns instead of lasers? Because they're cheaper) are never explained on the big screen.
Fans familiar with Whedon's work know he likes to go out with a bang, and there are some character deaths here you'll see coming a mile away and others that shock, being totally out of the blue. Also, Chiwetel Ejiofor is simply great as the nameless Alliance operative hunting Serenity, taking a page from Richard Brooks's bounty hunter from the "Objects in Space" episode.
While it does play like a really good two-part episode with a larger budget (which is kind of unavoidable, coming from such an excellent TV series) and some of its characters (Book, Inara) aren't given room to shine in its roughly two-hour runtime, Serenity is unquestionably one of the best sci-fi films in years. The only question is, will it find an audience outside of those already in the know? Let's hope so. (Universal)