By Sarah Carlson, Arts Editor
Starring Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk, Summer Glau, Sean Maher, Adam Baldwin, Jewel Staite; written and directed by Joss Whedon
Rated PG-13 (for sequences of intense violence and action, and some sexual references)
Anything labeled as science fiction gets a bad rap from anyone who’s skeptical of the genre. While some sci-fi flicks deal with aliens or time travel, not all films pigeon-holed with the title carry the same clunky dialogue, cheesy outfits and outlandish plotlines as do many of their predecessors, a la anything from the 1960s through the 1980s.
“Serenity” is not your run-of-the-mill sci-fi film: Set about 500 years in the future, the plot embraces the idea of technology increasing so rapidly along with population size, that humans branch out into the universe, creating planets to live on and spaceships to fly.
The film is a follow-up to the little TV-series-that-could: “Firefly.” The show ran in 2002 on Friday nights on Fox but was cancelled after 11 episodes. But, because of popular demand from loyal fans and DVD sales of 500,000 and counting, it’s revived in movie format.
The story follows Capt. Malcolm Reynolds (Fillion), a hardened veteran from the losing side of a galactic civil war known as the Browncoats, and his shipmates as they travel through space on their ship named Serenity (Firefly is the type of ship). The crew harbors fugitives, Simon and River Tan, siblings on the run from the Alliance, a government seeking a utopian form of society where one’s thoughts and actions, or basically sin, can be controlled. The crew is reluctant to bring such danger on board, but Simon’s skills as a doctor prove invaluable considering the shipmates’ knack for getting shot or stabbed by whomever they’re battling at the time.
The ragtag crew consists of Wash (Tudyk), the self-deprecating funny guy who’s married to Zoe (Torres), a tough-as-nails first mate who served alongside Malcolm in the war for independence against the Alliance; Jayne (Baldwin), a crude and slightly simple-minded mercenary; and Kaylee (Staite), a sweet engineer with eyes for Simon.
“Serenity” picks up where “Firefly” left off, but those new to the story and characters can easily jump in and know what’s going on, something creator, writer and director Joss Whedon made sure of. It’s been six months since Simon boarded Serenity with psychic sister River, who he had smuggled on board after sneaking her out of the Alliance’s headquarters.
The Alliance experimented on River’s brain, turning her into a sleeper agent to be used at their disposal. Her captivity has made her somewhat socially awkward, and she sees and hears things no one else can, leaving her troubled and unable to fully rest.
Now searching the skies for River is a man called The Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a person who kills without remorse and will stop at nothing to retrieve her. River’s psychic abilities exposed her to some of the Alliance’s dirty tricks, and it’s up to Simon, who’ll stop at nothing to care for her and save her life, and the rest of the crew to discover what’s troubling her before the Alliance’s hit man can catch up.
The crew endures its share of obstacles and hard times, living on the outskirts of the poorest planets, picking up random jobs of transporting goods here and there, whether they’re honest jobs or not.
The TV show and film are the brainchild of Joss Whedon, creator and writer behind the cult-TV hits “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel.” Whedon likes to think outside the box when conjuring plot lines and characters, leaving his shows more than just vampire stories or spaceship battles. The wit and style of his writing bring his characters to life, sucking the viewers in and making them fans before they know what hit them.
Despite a cast of relative unknowns, the actors each carry their respective roles with ease and believability. Fillion easily fills the shoes of a leading man with the entire cast delivering strong and at times heart-wrenching performances.
The concept of “Firefly” and now “Serenity” is unique, molding various customs and cultures to form a society similar to that of the Old West, where outlaws roam free, and brothels are considered commonplace.
“Serenity” is not only a sci-fi film, but a Western, where characters talk right nicely and wear gun holsters and vests. The combination is unique but entirely plausible, as is the concept of Chinese culture being interwoven throughout their lives. If a crew member swears, it’s in Chinese. Considering the Chinese make up about one-sixth of the world’s population now, it only makes sense that in 500 years the culture will have spread into all other cultures.
“Serenity” is fast-paced and engaging with memorable characters and convincing conflict. The action seqences and space battles are intense at times, as are the plot twists and hard lessons learned by the crew members. While the film may not be as polished as a George Lucas production, Whedon captures what Lucas can’t: believable characters and dialogue that don’t need special effects to be impressive.
If the thought of anything set in space puts you in a comatose state, this film might not be for you. Nevertheless, it’s one of the best sci-fi movies as of late and is worth the devoted following it’s earned. Settings, costumes and props don’t add up to anything in a film or theatre production without a great story behind them. No matter the genre, without intriguing plots and characters a story doesn’t add up to anything.
Fans of the TV show were appeased with “Serenity,” a clever and entertaining film worth seeing. Rumors of a sequel have swirled among Whedon’s fans, which would only happen if the film rakes in at least enough to cover its $40 million price tag.
Regardless of a sequel or a continuation of the series, “Serenity” stands on its own as an impressive directorial debut from Whedon and a creative reimagining of a genre often misunderstood.