Movies: Serenity

Josh Whedon’s Serenity is a ridiculous film. That’s what makes it work. Set hundreds of years in the future, Captain Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) commands a deteriorating ship, Serenity, manned by a small group of men and women. These space cowboys, whose expertise involves dealing contraband and other activities of the illegal nature, endure a series of sticky situations in a universe dominated by an evil empire dubbed “The Alliance.” After discovering that they possess something that the all-powerful Alliance will stop at nothing to find, Mal and his gun-slinging comrades attempt to defy the odds only to discover a shocking truth. Don’t make up your mind just yet; it’s much more than a cliché science fiction film. Whedon is no amateur when it comes to creating TV shows and movies for the mass media. His movie experience ranges from Toy Story to Alien: Resurrection. He ably combines witty dialogue and stylized characters with science-fiction, normally a bland genre. The plot of Serenity unfolds beautifully. The star pupil of the Alliance, River Tam (a master of hand-to-hand combat as well), is mentally unstable for reasons unknown. When he finally breaks out to escape the brutal mental conditioning, the Alliance brings out their most dangerous bounty hunters and assassins to locate this priceless resource. River Tam and her brother, a doctor, take refuge under Mal, who despises the Alliance more than anything. Before the Alliance assumes total control, a massive intergalactic civil war ensues. A highly decorated veteran of the war, Mal has a scarring past, which of course allows him to act irrationally. After losing the war, Mal goes on the run, carrying out illegal operations to sustain his junk ship. After Mal and the others discover the true nature of River Tam’s ability, they are constantly on the run to figure out why she is so important and to escape the wrath of the Alliance. Every time Mal’s ship flew over a grassy plain or over some dynamic environment, my eyes went wide. Not only does each blade of grass look real, but the shadow imposed by the ship reflects differently on each plant. It’s crazy. It’s perhaps some of the most realistic special effects I have ever seen. All of the actors in Serenity were great. Mal (Nathan Fillion) superbly mixed witty remarks with the serious grungy attitude that dominates his character. The majority of the actors in this film were not on the A-list, but to be honest, it was refreshing. For a movie as unique as this, I’m glad there was no Tom Cruise or Will Smith. Whedon’s choices regarding cinematography weren’t anything spectacular. Nothing new or snazzy was done with the camera – the movie’s shots were very similar to the TV series. The only difference was more special effects. The writer’s decision to not divulge everything about all the characters was intriguing. Despite this purposeful ambiguity, however, the film does introduce each crew member and elaborates on each character as needed. By the end of the film I found myself wanting to watch the entire TV series on DVD. It’s a dirty ploy. Clever though. George Lucas could learn a thing or two about proper character development from Whedon. I purposefully left a lot of the plot out of the movie in this review. Releasing anymore information about the plot would detract immensely from a movie like this. Serenity is a pretty straight forward film. Just as there wasn’t much of anything to detract from it, there wasn’t much of anything that made it spectacular. The plot, acting, cinematography, discography, and premise were all acceptable. This film, in my opinion, draws a lot of its ideas from movies already made. The concept of River Tam and her presentation parallels Milla Jovovich’s Leeloo from The Fifth Element. The futuristic technology and appearance seems to be a fusion of Minority Report and the Star Wars saga. The approach is a lot more balanced – not everyone has laser guns – and also highly stylized. The action sequences are pretty crazy in this movie as well. Forget George Lucas and his silly shields that everyone has in his movies. In this movie, Mal and his cast go old school by using crates and any other scraps they can for cover. The gun fights keep emulating old American western flicks (which rock) and the martial arts are outstanding. Bear in mind that this movie is based off a TV-series, so don’t except anything like the Matrix, but it’s impressive for what it is. It’s not common for one to see a girl beat up or kill almost everyone in a bar full of large drunk men. The most impressive aspects of Serenity were its acting, special effects, and action. However, nothing really stood out, for good or bad. Either way, the action sequences coupled with the obligatory one-liners are entertaining. I would definitely rent this movie, but I’d be hesitant to pay the $9.25 ticket and $10.00 taxi fare. Final Grade: 4+