Directed by Joss Whedon. USA. 2005.

Reviewed by Jen Johnston and Jamie Garwood

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Movie seasons swing to extremes.Summer is the season of fun. Escape movies. Superhero movies. (Who didn't love Batman Begins?) Action packed movies.  Sure the artistry and story levels are mostly quite low (here I am thinking mainly of Transporter 2)  but the summer movie season is always a blast. Welcome to fall. The season of movies that feature more explosions than plot points is over. No more movies with roman numerals in the title. No more acting performances with all the emotional savvy of a slab of formica. This is the season of great, uplifting stories. Movies with next year's academy award nominations smattered through. Movies that will move you, make you cry, and inspire you. The only problem with fall is that the fun disapears. I thought that finding a fall movie that blends the energy and excitement of a summer movie, with fall's great performances, and an engaging story, was about as likely as David Caruso showing up at my door, and sweeping me away for a month in Paris.

I'm going to start listening for my doorbell. Serenity is a great slice of entertainment.

Serenity (based on Joss Whedon's TV hit Firefly) is the story of a rag-tag group of mercenaries struggling to make their way through space while attempting to bring down an evil government (The Alliance), escape constant bombardment by cannabilistic monsters, make as much money as possible, while protecting a young, psychic torture victim with a secret that could bring down the government and save the entire universe. Serenity is fantastic fun new sci-fi.

Serenity. All rights reserved.Nathan Fillion (Saving Private Ryan) plays the beleagured ship captain Mal. Fillion is absolutely FABULOUS. In Mal, Fillion has created a loveable rogue unseen since Han Solo or Indiana Jones. Fillion is so charasmatic, and delivers (Firefly creator Joss) Whedon's tight dialogue with a effortless flair that makes his captain all the more genuine and fun. Fillion gives Mal a beautiful intensity, but blends it with a vunerability giving a character that rendered the majority of the men in the theatre totally invisible to their dates everytime he moved. Or spoke. Or sat down.  It got to the point that there was a collective intake of breath everytime the man stepped onscreen. Fillion is not only ruggedly handsome, but also has tremendous range. (To say nothing of the fact that I actually used the words "dreamy" when describing him to my boyfriend.) Harrison Ford best start looking over his shoulder.

Serenity's effects are wonderful. Everything from the space battle scenes, to wartorn worlds, to a gritty bar, to Serenity (the starship) itself have all been meticulously crafted. (Though I do wonder why I have never seen a starship in any sci fi environment that appeared to be in anyway aerodynamic.) 

The script is incredibly well written, with it's own languid and fun language. Sci-Fi scripts tend to focus on one or two characters; a captain red shirt, and a doctor/cohort of some kind and any other roles are speckled in as an afterthought. The wonderful thing about Whedon's script (aside from it's marvelous dialogue and great story) is that every character is vibrant, and complete. Whedon has made his characters genuine by making them regular people with regular, everyday problems, and then putting them in the extreme situations of the movie. (They also take on an INCREDIBLE amount of punishment throughout the story. No wonder they drink so heavily.)

I really enjoyed Serenity." I haven't been to a movie this fun in a long time. Serenity is fast paced, well written, beautifuly acted, energetic film that is well worth going to see. Joss Whedon has created a universe that really came to life for me, in a movie that proved that you don't have to ditch the heart of a story to make it fun. I loved it. A movie with summer fun, and fall skill. 

Appropriate Ages : 10 and up
Parental Warning Bells : Graphic Violence/Frightening Aliens/Swordplay/Graphic onscreen deaths/Torture scenes
Parental Film Barometer : If your child could handle "Star Trek : First Contact" they should have no problem with this one.

Jen Johnston

Joss Whedon's feature-length screen version of his cancelled television show Firefly is an intelligent, smart, entertaining small budget blockbuster which wears its cult status and independent spirit proudly on its spacesuit sleeve, but does not make it alien to newcomers. 

The story is a retread of a Firefly episode expanded with the addition of the Operative (our own Chiwetel Ejiofor), a government assassin who is on the trail of the ship Serenity, led by Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) and his motley crew.  The Operative wants River Tam (Summer Glau), a special forces weapon created by the government who has telekinesis and information meant only for the government lodged inside her brain.  All is explained in a very clever pre-credit sequence that has three beginnings but brings you up to speed and then starts with a well choreographed steadicam shot through the interior of Serenity providing exposition to the crew and a layout of the ship, itself a character. 

Whedon says the film script was the hardest thing he has ever written, and while he does hold it together in terms of characterisation - having a cast set in stone before you shot helps - the narrative does rely on the audience having the one thing Mal is asked to have, belief.  This is a familiar trait of science fiction in that if you can believe it, it works and by making the entire cast human helps.  There are no creatures, even the bad creatures are mutated humans so really a gestation of the worst human emotions; it is a plain good versus evil storyline which makes its heart closer to a western.  Here though the good guys can be as bad as the bad guys. 

Credit goes to a close knit cast who have good unity and Ejiofor who as the newest addition to the cast provides the proper evil stain on the film, which only British actors can do.  At times the action sequences are disrupted by dialogue scenes and the film does feel long (even without the over the top exposition which was cut and referenced to in Whedon's commentary).  The film is enjoyable and do not be put off if you have never heard of Firefly, the film is easily accessible to all.  A sequel appears to be on the cards and like the television show it will receive a bigger audience the second time round.  Finally Whedon will have his serenity. 

Jamie Garwood
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