There are some films that are so amazing that people continue to talk about them and be enamored by them years after they were no longer the focus of attention. As you can guess as a result of that statement and the title, I’m referring in this instance to the movie Serenity, the follow-up and conclusion to the even longer passed television series Firefly.
Perhaps I should start at the beginning.
When Firefly debuted, I refused to watch it because I was seriously pissed at Fox for canceling Dark Angel, especially the way they canceled it. So I didn’t watch it. Friday night would roll around and I’d watch something else, play a game, read a book, or go out with my wife. Then something odd happened.
On a particular Friday night, just before the end of the year, I decided to watch Firefly to know my enemy. And I liked it. Well, I liked it enough to decide to watch another episode, which would’ve been early in the new year. My luck being what it is, Fox canceled the series and never showed another episode.
Part of me was satisfied. Part of me was pissed.
Time went by and I thought little of Firefly during that time. Then one day, I heard that Joss Whedon had obtained permission to release the entire series on DVD ; at the time, this was quite rare and I thought it was pretty cool. But what got me on the Whedon bandwagon was that I figured he was going to use money earned through the sale of the Firefly series to help finance the movie Serenity. That, excuse the expression, took some balls! And a lot of dedication to fans, cast, and story. I still may not be a Joss Whedon fan per se, but I have a ton of respect for the man from that alone.
Without going into a description of the Firefly TV series or the plot of Serenity, let’s talk about why I love this film. (We’re skipping plot and storyline because the series and movie are both a number of years old now, and if you’re reading this, you’re probably already quite familiar with them.) First of all, there’s the cast. You should already be familiar with how I feel about Nathan Fillion, but suffice it to say I love the guy. Add a bit of sexual tension between him and Captain Reynolds’ love interest Inara, played by the drop dead gorgeous Morena Baccarin, and there’s enough to make the movie worth watching already. Zoe, played by Gina Torres, whose loyalties to her ship, captain, crew, and especially her husband makes her the perfect first officer in the very best traditions. (I really want to make a Star Wars comparison here but people would get the wrong idea. )
Alan Tudyk as Wash, the ship’s pilot, and occasional comic relief was awesome. I still think he got some of the best lines in the film. Joss if you’re reading this, I want you to know I borrowed one of those lines for a short story for a class recently! Tudyk was and is an awesome actor, and I was excited to see him in another Whedon show that was prematurely cut short by Fox: Dollhouse. I’m beginning to understand that I hate Fox about as much as I hate Siffie.
Kaylee, Kaylee, Kaylee. I’m not usually into gingers, but I’d make an exception for you. That is, if the lovely Jewel Staite weren’t married. Kaylee came to represent the heart of the series and movie, and was the motherly figure the show needed. But it was Shepherd Book that represented the soul.
While the show never preached any particular moral code, Ron Glass’ Book gave credence to some moral compass and opportunity foe redemption that each character in their own way needed. At the same time, there was a lot of unspoken backstory to Book that we never properly explored. My suspicion is that Book was a high ranking officer in Independents’ military and was granted special immunity by the Alliance at the end of the war. In fact, as I think about it, he may have been responsible for the end of the war, perhaps negotiating the surrender of the brown coats.
While I could cover all the rest of the characters in similar loving ways, I will mention by name just two more. The first is River Tam played by Summer Glau. Although she seems to be typecast to play weird roles, Summer seems to be a young actress with a lot of potential. (I say she’s being typecast because of her roles on the Sarah Connor Chronicles and Dollhouse.) Between her acting, grace, and physical agility, she’s proven to me she can do anything. When I write a female character into my stories that I want to be a total badass, I need only think of River Tam’s stand against the Reavers.
The final character I want to highlight is known only as the Operative. For years I sought a villain that was self aware and cognizant of his role, and that was never fulfilled prior to Firefly. I say and mean Firefly and not Serenity because the Operative was a rebirth and reimagining of the bounty hunter Jubal Early in the TV series. Again, we have a character that is supremely capable physically and mentally, that has fully embraced their role in the larger story, and that makes him unique and special in my book.
After all of this, you should see that the character development in the film and TV series really was quite special. The characters each play a specific role, but blend together to be an amazing ensemble. But I’m still not done.
You can’t talk about a science fiction movie without talking about the special effects. Although the special effects were nearly all done with blue screens and computer generated imagery as expected with the modern sci-fi films, they were well above average. In fact, I’d compare 2005’s Serenity with 2009’s Avatar favorably any day, and remember, James Cameron spent hundreds of millions of dollars developing the technology to film Avatar the way he felt it should be done. That kind of coup is on par with what George Lucas did back in the 70s with Star Wars: do amazing work years ahead of everyone else trying to do the same, and in particular do it on a budget and better than those later attempts. In my opinion, the only things that Avatar did in a superior fashion to any thing in Serenity were the floating mountains and the huge color palette.
I loved the variety of spacecraft in Serenity and their various states of repair or disrepair. Some of the funniest lines in the film, in fact, center on the title ship’s state of decay. “Stuff don’t fall off my ship”, Mal states at one point, and at another complains to Kaylee “You promised me that buffer panel would last two weeks!” To which she responds, “That was six months ago.” Not to mention, slightly earlier, Wash’s response to Mal’s inquiry about landing without the buffer panel: “Oh god, oh god, we’re all going to die?” (Which, by the way, is the line I quoted in my short story.) Lots of awesomeness abounds. Hell, there’s something remarkable in Serenity that isn’t even significant to the storyline: when the crew goes to collect their pay for ripping off the bank at the start of the film, the ship is essentially grabbed out of mid-air by a docking arm, and brought to a birth. I’ve never seen anything even remotely close to as unique as that in either books or film.
In all honesty, I believe that Whedon’s Serenity should be considered among the best of modern science fiction films, and should be considered retroactively for an Oscar or two.