Saturday, May 15, 2010

Serenity

My Netflix account does this profile match up thingy that is supposed to know what kind of film I would like and suggest them to me. One day I was browsing through and it brought up this movie called Serenity which was a few years old but I had never heard of it. I figured any sci-fi flick that had completely passed my radar must not be all that interesting, especially since its origin was somehow connected to a TV series. The series, called Firefly, got so little initial viewers that it was cancelled before the first season was up. The history of it is a bit fascinating so I've linked it to the Wikipedia entry which, in this case, offers up an excellent treatment.

Still, Netflix said I would love it, so I did some further digging and found that it had developed quite a following over the years and the reviews were very good. Well, this was something I had to check out for myself, so I rented it. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. It was a first grade sci-fi action film.

It's hard to pinpoint any one element that makes this movie work so well, so perhaps its a combination of several things. First, the characters and their relationships are both unique, well developed, and real. Since you travel with them through the entire film you really get to know the crew of the ship named Serenity. Even the main plot centers around a very strong brother-sister bond. Second, there is the larger context of a big government cover up which is revealed in pieces, adding an element of mystery. Then there is a pretty formidable bad guy and some truly scary humans gone bad called Reavers who's origin is unknown until it ties in at the end along with several other things. As a matter of fact, every character in the film is human. This is science fiction with no aliens or alien creatures. Imagine that! And it incorporates a good deal of humor which is skillfully integrated into the story line. Finally, the fights and conflicts are as interesting as you might see in a film like The Matrix but without any gimmicks.

There is some basis for the chemistry because the movie was based on the TV series, but the movie was not a simple continuation of it. It was definitely a new story concept developed by Joss Whedon, the creator of Firefly. The writing and directing of the movie, both done by Whedon, was quite good, so I decided to do some digging on the guy and found myself very impressed. He seems to be a student of classic fiction and has a particular affinity to Westerns. He was able to incorporate the fundamental elements that make Western films work while seemlessly replacing the look and feel with a futuristic setting. For example, there is one chase scene where the ships fly low over the ground in a setting that looks like a dry Western frontier and you don't even realize you could be watching a stage coach chase.

I've never seen a fan base as giddy as this one. In my research, I found a recent poll of all time favorite sci-fi movies, and Serenity was number one! I imagine it somehow hits a nerve with the younger audiences today. In some ways, its overall theme is similar to that of the original Star Wars - a small band of rebels assisted by outlaws fighting against a powerful empire. But while the Star Wars villians were just plain evil, the ones in Serenity are our own corrupt government entities. It reflects this generation's greater distrust of government than the one I grew up in.

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