Observing from beyond the solar system, a cultural outsider looks in.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Flicks Files: Serenity (2005)

River Tam's mind has been stolen from her and locked behind closed doors in her brain. It's guarded by the assassin she has become, trained to kill at a word. Her brother, Simon, has freed her body from the secret Alliance facility where she is kept, but not even he can interpret her mad, psychic ramblings sometimes.

They are fugitives on an outlaw ship, Serenity. Mal is Serenity's Captain, a rebel and a wanted man, who just wants to stay free, but must live at the edges of law and civilized space to do so.

Now, a dangerous Alliance operative is coming after River --- a man who believes to his core that the right thing to do is to kill her --- and River's presence has become a danger to Serenity and her crew.

Mal is tempted to dump River and Simon on the next civilized planet and let them take their chances, but it wouldn't be right. For all his swaggering cynicism, Mal is a decent guy. Besides, whatever information is encoded in River's brain, the Alliance desperately wants to cover it up. Mal wants to find out what makes them feel so threatened. It might be useful to him.

There is some opposition to the idea of keeping River and Simon aboard. Jayne thinks the crew should be well rid of them, and he swaggers even more than Mal. In fact, Jayne swaggers so much you have to assume that all the brain energy he uses for controlling the swaggering muscles keeps his mind from functioning.

Fortunately, cooler, kinder, and smarter heads prevail, and the crew sets off to figure out why the Alliance wants River so badly.

To unravel the riddle, the crew of Serenity must evade the Alliance operative, while outrunning the Reavers, humans who have descended into madness, violence, self-mutilation, and cannibalism.

Joss Whedon's Serenity (2005) is a wild science fiction ride with a sharply witty script. Whedon is known for quirky, humorous, and original shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the recent Internet-based hit, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog.

Serenity is based on his short-lived series, Firefly, which ran on Fox for one season before being canceled. Though it didn't last long, the show's fresh writing, sarcasm, and stellar ensemble cast inspired a devoted following of fans, strong enough to pressure Universal Studios into making the movie anyway.

Fortunately for anyone who likes science-fiction adventure with a giant dose of snappy snark, both movie and show are available on DVD. If you missed this the first time, don't miss it now.

This exchange between Captain Mal and First Mate Wash comes near the beginning of the film, and gives a sample of the humor:

Wash: "... this landing is gonna get pretty interesting."

Mal: "Define interesting."

Wash: "Oh God, oh God, we're all gonna die?"

Mal: (over speaker to the crew) "This is the captain. We have a little problem with our entry sequence, so we may experience some slight turbulence and then explode."

Mal leaves the cabin and encounters Jayne.

Jayne: “We’re gonna explode? I don’t wanna explode.”

The film’s cast members play off each other wonderfully. The stars include Nathan Fillion (Desperate Housewives, Waitress) as Mal, Summer Glau as River, and Alan Tudyk (3:10 to Yuma) as Wash, Gina Torres (I Think I Love My Wife) as Zoe, as well as several other actors in key roles.

Serenity is rated PG-13 for scenes of violence and some minor sexual references. The on-screen violence isn't terribly graphic, but the implications are disturbing. This film is not appropriate for young children.

Serenity earns the coveted “edge of my seat” rating in the black cat rating system.

The Flicks Files is an occasional column reviewing movies both new and old, to increase your viewing pleasure both at home and in the theater. This is the first installment.

Previously posted on Associated Content.



Here's an article I consulted in writing this review: http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/10490/joss_whedon_hits_the_big_screen_in.html?cat=40

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