Posted on 1/08/06 11:04 AM
Folks, I wanna tell ya. It ain't often a new movie can crack my top ten. It's even more rare that one can trump (and easily!) my Sacred Holy Trinity that is Blazing Saddles, Blues Brothers, and Ghostbusters.
I'm sure there aren't too many people out there who don't already know the history of the FOX show, Firefly, that Serenity was based on, but I gotta think there are more than a few FOX executives shaking their heads at the missed opportunity of keeping this franchise. The inept mishandling of the show from the beginning pretty much guaranteed it a doomed and limited existence on prime time TV. That didn't stop the millions of rabid Firefly fans who organized one of the largest petitions to save a TV show in history, forcing FOX to quickly release the collected series onto DVD, which became one of the top selling DVDs of 2003.
One of the bright points for this film is, thanks to Joss Whedon's writing and directing and the performances of the cast, you really don't have to have watched the series to understand what's going on, but it helps. I highly recommend both. As for the movie itself, it's, well, I'll say it: it's what Star Wars SHOULD have been. OK, perhaps not the original trilogy, but decidedly the second. The film is a witty, daring, thrilling, scary, fun time with gasp out loud moments and a hold-on-to-your-seat climax. After seeing it I was buzzing on adrenaline for two hours! The talented Mr. Whedon has more than proven he's the master of ANY medium and can deftly handle a feature film as well as TV or comic books. Here, he has pulls off a seemless transition from small screen to big, keeping the characters, premise, and superb writing of the series all in tact. Guys, I have to let you know, it's really not that easy.
Joss has never shied away from challenges, though. For instance, in the first place, pitching an outer space-based show with no aliens (or how about a high school cheerleader who fights vampires, for that matter)? And a Western outer space-based show at that! Still, his vision and talent were strong enough to make it work. As for the transition to the big screen, any other neophyte director would have cringed in terror of using an establishing 10-minute continuous camera shot following Captain Mal through the entire ship set, interacting with various crew members as he went. Any other director, period, would have serious qualms about working with a cast which had collectively little feature film experience. That speaks volumes for how well Joss knows and trusts his crew.
As for the crew of the Firefly-class transport ship, Serenity, rarely does an ensemble cast ever get so individualy defined and developed, yet interact so well together. From Nathan Fillion's battle-weary curmudeon with a heart, Captain Mal Reynolds to Summer Glau's enigmatic ass-kicking River Tam, to Adam Baldwin's (he of the most big screen experience) gun-loving, muscle-for-hire, wise cracking Jane Cobb, you end up caring about each and every one of the characters. Something not easily accomplished with such a large cast.
The film starts out with the political intrigue of a secret government experiment (Glau) escaping containment and we meet the agent in charge of bringing her back (played excellently low-key by Chiwetel Ejiofor from Dirty Pretty Things). We're then introduced to the space-faring crew (rounded out by Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk, and Jewel Staite) Glau and her brother, Simon (Sean Maher) attach themselves to for protection, and, thanks to the aforementioned 10-minute continuous establishing shot, the entirety of the ship's set. We soon find out these guys are up to no good, but we're also made aware of their motives and begin to sympatize with their charaters, and we soon find out there's far, far worse things in the galazy than bank robbers. From there, it's a white knuckle ride of chase scenes, space mutants, cyberninjas, and whores (OK, the proper term is "companion" (played by Morena Baccarin), which, in Wheedon's version of 500 years in the future, is an honorable profession).
All-in-all, a very entertaining popcorn flick at the very least. At the very most, one of the best films you'll ever see.