Serenity is a very, very satisfying movie, and that was a tough trick to pull. A movie based on a beloved (yet short lived) teevee series and written and directed by a man frequently called a genius has to be great to satisfy. I really don’t think that this movie would be any good if it was merely good. If that makes any sense at all.

(On the way to the theater I expressed this fear to my wife, and she said, “Of course it will be great! It’s Joss Whedon, he’s a genius!” I replied, “Ever seen Alien: Resurrection?”)

What really stood out was the writing, of course. The characters are mostly drawn from action film archetypes (there’s the amoral tough guy, the spunky woman [well, several spunky women], the conflicted leader) and they could have been cardboard flat. Instead they were all very human, reacting to situations and each other unpredictably but always in ways that make sense. There were also lots of classic Whedon bits: extremely funny lines in the middle of intense action, emotionally crushing blows, and lifting moments of victory. Sometimes all three in the same shot.

Afterwards Zombyboy (he’s got a review with links to other reviews posted here) mentioned that he saw a strong anarcho-libertarian thread running through the picture. He’s absolutely right. Mal, the captain of the Serenity, fought on the losing side of a rebellion against the autocratic Alliance. Now he thinks only of himself. Well, only of himself and his crew. Well, only of himself and his crew until the good of the entire universe gets in the way. That might seem like a contradiction, how can one be an anarcho-libertarian while trying to better the whole of humanity? In fact, at one point Mal says, “The Alliance is trying to make us better, and I don’t hold to that.” But Mal isn’t trying to make anyone better, he just wants the freedom for everyone to be better (assuming that’s what they choose). And he’s using the most powerful weapon he’s got to fight government control.

That weapon is information. One important character is a kind of hacker whose tagline is, “You can’t stop the signal.” It’s a great summary of the power of information disseminating technology, whether it’s the printing press, teevee, or blogging. (It’s also the title of Steve Green’s review, not-so-incidentally.) The idea that a small band of individuals working together, even though they have different and sometimes conflicting motives and goals, can manage to do more for the cause of freedom than an armed rebellion is very powerful, and is the real theme of Serenity.

That sounds really heavy (and boring) but trust me, the movie isn’t. It’s hilarious, moving, intense, and just plain wonderful. Please see it this weekend so they’ll make another.

Update: Here’s a funny review from dorkafork. Contains light spoilers. Also, I figure I should say just one negative thing about the movie: the great theme song from the teevee show was (almost) entirely missing.

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12 Comments on “Serenity

  1. Serenity

    Serenity achieves something that I wasn't sure was possible: it should end up appealing to fans of the show Firefly as much as it does to people who didn't even know that it was derived from an unfortunately short-lived TV show. The ea…

  2. Hey, that trackback thing actually worked this time.


  3. Really? And it only took like 17 edits!

  4. There, I hacked my MT installation to ignore autodiscovered trackback URLs from Expression Engine blogs. I was sick of it throwing an error every time.

    Now you need to go an convince the EE developers to fix their TB implementation.

  5. Carole

    Alien Resurrection’s failings were not Joss’ failings. The Powers That Be threw out huge parts of his script and wrote craptastic stuff to replace it (to his great dismay).

  6. Carole – Yes, thanks for the clarification.

    I did realize that he had no control over the final form of that movie, it was just the only thing on his resume that sucked, so it became my worst-case scenario.

  7. Carole – Also, I enjoyed your Angel reference. :)

  8. Carole

    At first I didn’t know what you meant by “Angel reference” because I’ve internalized that particular phrase (refering to the PTB as the PTB). Oops. I felt a little dim.

    I’ve seen ‘Serenity’ twice and am very much looking forward to seeing it one more time, this time with all the special effects and the score in place. You’ve written a fantastic, shiny review.

  9. My totally shameless plug for Serenity

    The special effects, fight scenes, battles, the movie kicks some serious ass. Joss couldn’t have put the movie together any better. With a comparatively shoe string budget he made magic.

  10. Sorry about not linking you yet, did the trackback at work then ran out the door before finishing. Linked in a minute or so:)

  11. Not a problem, Sean.

    Carole – Come back once you’ve seen the polished version. I’d like to know what’s different.

  12. Even More Serenity Reviews

    The bloggers' reviews of Serenity are slowing to a trickle, but the mainstream reviews are starting to turn up (it's running a respectable 80% Fresh over at Rottentomatoes). Ebert certainly seemed to like it, as did David Edelstein (of NPR …


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