Previous Entry Share Next Entry
Just back from Serenity
passion
bohemiancoast
Context: I haven't seen Firefly

Summary: if you want to have a conversation in a bar with an SF fan in the next month or so, you must see this movie.

Otherwise, it does have good points. Much of the dialogue is sharp; the sets are clever and there's plenty of spectacle. It's pretty entertaining. You will enjoy your two hours.

OK, so what's wrong. Top of the list: this isn't a movie; it's a 2-hour TV movie at best, and it feels a bit padded for that, to be honest. Bugger all character development, unless you count minor characters dying and one fairly unexplained miracle cure; you feel as if you've been dropped into a series at the two-episode season finale, with plenty left for next season.

Basic plot: bunch of renegades left over from the losing side of a war find themselves on the run from the Evil Empire. They bust out the sister of one of them, who has been 'enhanced' by EE scientists. She's now a mad, cute, psychic martial artist, and she has the guilty secret of the EE buried in her brain due to a piece of brainlessness that happens prior to the start of the film. So the EE want her back. EE's a pretty nasty bunch, but the captain of our renegade band has a heart of gold (stop me if you've heard this before), and doesn't airlock the girl at this point. So what do the EE do to find her? Deliberately trigger her behavioural conditioning. Brilliant; she now remembers something critical. The crew decide to find out what's going on despite the fact it's incredibly dangerous. They find out what's going on, and oh, yes, it is the sort of thing EE would want to keep secret (though frankly if that's their only guilty secret then they're not really very far up the EE league, because it was an accident), though a moment's thought will convince you that it's not the sort of thing that could possibly happen in the way described. Luckily there's a nice friendly infodump (think Princess Leia) waiting for them, which EE haven't destroyed. So the crew grabs it; thank heaven for common data standards because this is one, and then, after various shenanigans, tell everybody much like the parrot in a Child ballad. Once the secret is out, EE have the chance to turn crew into strawberry jam, and let them go instead. The crew mend the ship and set off on another adventure.

You will have realised that we are in an Idiot Plot. The plot of this movie only holds together because the EE and their representative consistently act like idiots, even when they deny it. Every so often, captain-with-a-heart-of-gold also acts like an idiot, but this is normally explained away as being a function of the heart-of-gold. It's also an action movie, with all that implies. This comes as a bit of a shock to those of us who've been watching Battlestar Galactica; this is a different sort of future world, one where people get stabbed in the gut and carry on fighting. That sort of thing.

So, here we are, it's a two hour tv movie with a stupid plot and lots of pretty action scenes. Is there anything else wrong? Well, there's a thin line between homage and theft, and this film, over and over again, is on the wrong side of it. Whedon steals content shamelessly from other sources in pursuit of his story. I am convinced there is a drinking game here. Once again, I think this is the fact that it's basically a TV show. If you're just doing one tv episode, nobody minds that your mindless evil zombie cannibals are exactly like everyone else's, or that your science fiction cities come in shiny utopia and Bladerunner varieties. If you're making a movie, you're normally expected to do a little bit more work.

No cliche is left unuttered. One example: the crew turn up at scene of massacre in their former haven (which is imaginitively called "Haven") to find Only Named Character Present is now the only person left alive, captain-with-heart-of-gold gets to tell him he's not going to die just in time for him to say his last words. Another: the crew are facing certain death. So one turns to another and explains they regret they didn't get it together, and the other say oh, now I've got something to live for.

If you have seen plenty of SF movies and read plenty of SF books, not one moment of this film will surprise you. All the major plot twists are well-telegraphed, normally so well that you would have to actually be mentally defective to not work out what was going to happen. Example of subtle foreshadowing dialogue: "so, you mean we have to outrun both Space Fleet A and opposing Space Fleet B?"

Of course, none of this matters if we're watching a cheesy SF action-adventure movie. But out there in cyberspace, half my friends' list are talking about how great it is, how philosophically deep, what a masterpiece. Now, you know, there are films that sort of get to grips with the interesting philosophical questions of SF, and there's even some TV that does. This doesn't, and if you think it does, perhaps you should be reading more books.

  • 1
Of course, none of this matters if we're watching a cheesy SF action-adventure movie. But out there in cyberspace, half my friends' list are talking about how great it is, how philosophically deep, what a masterpiece. Now, you know, there are films that sort of get to grips with the interesting philosophical questions of SF, and there's even some TV that does. This doesn't, and if you think it does, perhaps you should be reading more books.

Hurrah to that! I was beginning to suspect I was brain dead or something.

Actually, coming from having seen Johnny Depp breathe life into tim Burton's wonderful eye candy of a movie, I thought that as sci-fi action flick Serenity was inferior to some Babylon 5 I've seen, and I'm speaking first series, here.

Whereas I was far from impressed by Charlie, myself. Or, rather, highly impressed by Charlie, but not very impressed by most of the rest of the movie. It was entertaining. I'm glad I didn't pay for my ticket (in-laws treated us). Don't intend to see again. Depp was basically playing "Standard Johnny Depp Character #2, With Extra Nuts On Top." Finding Neverland was a much more impressive piece of acting AND writing.

Now, you know, there are films that sort of get to grips with the interesting philosophical questions of SF, and there's even some TV that does. This doesn't, and if you think it does, perhaps you should be reading more books.

Now that's _exactly_ how I felt after I saw The Matrix.

I think possibly you had Serenity oversold to you. It's fun genre pulp. And as that, I think it succeeds admirably. But that's all it really is.

Oh, yes, I totally had Serenity oversold to me. No kidding. And I did enjoy it. But, you know, it's currently no. 114 in the IMDB's 'top movies of all time' list. Orson Scott Card thinks it one of the best SF movies ever made because character choices are grounded in moral questions. I'm just calling that sort of attitude.

I did like the fact that there were moral issues, but they aren't terribly deeply gone into. Well, compared to most action movies, I suppose they are, but not compared to, say, a book.

To quote you

I've seen Serenity.
I was expecting to be slightly let down.
I almost cried.
I'll be catching it again when it gets a proper release

Whereas my reaction was more like

I've seen Serenity
I enjoyed it but felt rather let down after the hype
There was insufficient character development
in the movie to make me cry, which is unusual
I might watch Firefly, because a series format may do better

I did almost cry. Things happened to characters I cared about that made me want to cry.

However... that doesn't make it one of the best movies of all time - it just makes it a very good ending to one of my favourite TV series.

Hell - I cried when I saw The Iron Giant, and that's a kids film. (Oh, and The Lion King).

you've been dropped into a series at the two-episode season finale, with plenty left for next season.

I think that's exactly the situation. There's a gap of several months between the end of the screened episodes and the main action of the film and a lot of the character development (not all, I disagree with you there) happens in the gap. Compared to the TV series, it felt extremely fast-paced, as if Whedon was trying to stuff as much as possible into it. And yes, Idiot Plotting, if not to the same level of idiocy as some Battlestar Galactica episodes.

Much of my fondness for Fireflycomes from its slow revelation of character, which there wasn't time for in the film, especially with such a large cast. I could hard breathe for fear during much of the fim because I was already so attached to the characters that I didn't want them to die.

I really enjoyed Serenity but not for its skiffy trappings.

though frankly if that's their only guilty secret then they're not really very far up the EE league, because it was an accident


That's a point in this story, found both in Firefly and now in Serenity.

In Firefly there was an episode which was never made in which the Alliance (supposedly bad guys) built a medical care centre on a planet in order to help the local population and remnants of the Independence (supposedly good guys) blew it up, thus meaning the local populace weren't getting the medical attentions they needed.

Now, in Serenity the bad guys are bad because they were trying to create a better world and the other bad guys are bad because of that. It's not just because they want power (in the case of the Alliance it's almost certainly a big factor, but in the case of the Reavers, their condition is not their fault).

The idea that the Alliance isn't evil, just arrogant and misguided, is in the film somewhere, because I've seen other reviews from non-Firefly viewers that have picked up on it. I agree it's a shame that it's not as clear as it was in the series.

Actually, you know, EEs never actually think they're evil, not ever, so I rather took that as given. Here in the real world we count "involuntary radical medical experiments on people" as a practical working definition of 'evil'. So I don't think this is a particularly finely balanced case.

Serenity (remember I haven't seen Firefly) would be substantially improved if viewers never, ever felt comfortable that they were watching the good guys.

Having the Reavers being mindless flesh-eating zombie types is a total copout; they're undead (think, for example, Robin Hobb's Forged; they're very similar), and River is Buffy, and honestly, doesn't Whedon have any new ideas ever?

(Deleted comment)
no no River is Willow with a bit of Dawnie .. MAL is Buffy ..more when i'm back with internet stuff..

Nah, Kaylee is Willow. River is Drusilla, with some Buffy mixed in for the movie.

Also, Shepherd Book is Giles, Simon is Wesley, Wash is Zander, and Mal is Angel. Or maybe Han Solo.

Kylee is *Fred*! Isn't that obvious???

Surely River is Faith, with a few lines from Drusilla?

No actually on a bit more thought RIver is clearly ELEKTRA - Whedon is eclectic about what sources he rips off as well as his own!

And further to Alison, belatedly what I meantt to say when in Dom Rep, but with better access to an actual keyboard..:-)

TO accuse Serenity of being a poor film for not being ground breaking skiffy , and for ripping off and re-using tried out genre tropes, is like accusing sheep of not being more original goats. Firefly is genre fiction pure and simple, indeed its genre/soap opera, but of very high class. That's why I like it and yes, that's why I DID cry (as opposed to nearly think about it) (at the scene where Mal asks Zoe post-bereavement if the ship will fly). Whedon is very very good at creating characters you care about, and dialogue that makes you laugh and think and pause, and he likes to set this against an sf genre background. End of story. Joss has admitted as much - he LIKES vamps and zombies and spaceships and the like and has no ambition to re invent the novel of ideas in the 31st century. I think he was asked in Edinburgh if he;d think of doing a plain naturalistic non genre project and he basically said no - he likes the scope and the glitter sf gives you as granted. Serenity is a great if you've seen the series, love the character interaction already: given all that it's funny, moving, shiny and engrossing but it is not and never was meant to be original. I imagine watching it without having seen the series first is indeed a bit like seeing a superior two part TV series - fun but very unfulfilling.

The only place Joss gets near original is in *how* he re-uses sources in fact. Making the obligatory Wild West whore with a golden heart the honorable and upmarket member of the crew for example, I really liked (in the original series - she gets almost no airspace in Serenity.) Joss is sort of the Alan Moore of genre TV - takes old tropes, rubs the rust of, gives them a stir, makes them re-shiny. What if the virgin blonde screamer was actually the vampire killer? What if the bad guy vamp was actually a poet with a romantic soul? It's very pleasurable to be near. But it is not and is not meant to be high art.



It's an odd thought in retrospect, but I was as shocked by what Whedon puts Serenity through as much as what he does to the cast. I actually care for the ship as a character.

Whedon = Moore. I really think that hits it on the nail.

They're the zombies from 28-days later. Fast and very, very angry.

Well, as I say, I've seen several other reviews from non-fans that felt it was less black and white than you did. *shrug* In the series, there are, as mentioned, instances where Mal et al steal medical supplies the Alliance is in the process of supplying to problem areas, or there are discussions like one in 'War Stories':
SIMON
The government did this to her.

BOOK
A government is a body of people, usually notably ungoverned.
External to the show, the canonical view of the Alliance comes from something Whedon said in a 2002 NYT interview:
"Mal’s politics are very reactionary and ‘Big government is bad’ and ‘Don’t interfere with my life,’" Whedon explains. "And sometimes he’s wrong--because sometimes the Alliance is America, this beautiful shining light of democracy. But sometimes the Alliance is America in Vietnam: we have a lot of petty politics, we are way out of our league and we have no right to control these people. And yet! Sometimes the Alliance is America in Nazi Germany. And Mal can’t see that, because he[’s like] a Vietnamese [person]."
So ... yeah. I *didn't* feel like I was automatically watching the good guys, and I didn't feel the Alliance was entirely evil. Parts of the Alliance, yes. The Alliance as an institution? No.

Mal does something early in the film which might strike some as amorally self-preservational; those of use who've seen the tv series will know to doubt Jayne's motives; River's actions in the bar aren't exactly benevolent. Compared to most film characters, their white hats are going a little grey.

(says he, just back from B'ham Cineworld and now able to catch up with the spoilers)

I disagree that the Reavers are mindless, but the brief glimpse you get from this film might well leave you with that impression.

Oh yes, the movie must not work nearly as well if you come to it as a newbie, purely because in the TV series the blurring between the lines is a lot clearer (that makes sense in my head) whereas in the movie they do appear to just be plain evil.

And plus you don't understand the dinosaur toys on the console in the last shots, which takes away from the movie loads. ;-)

*shrugs* I just thought that the dead guy (I can NEVER remember the names of characters from films!) collected them or something. I thought it might be a poigniant 'memory of the dead' moment.

They were cute...

  • 1
?

Log in

No account? Create an account