Jocelyn's Other Desk

The writings of Jocelyn Smith, aspiring author, soon-to-be lawyer, once and future politician, all-around opinionated twentysomething.

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Location: Orlando, Florida, United States

I'm a lawyer in Florida, working on three novels, a screenplay, and half a dozen pieces of fanfiction at any given moment.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Serenity: A Review

Joss Whedon and Universal Pictures have harnessed the power of the Blogs. I had the good fortune to attend a press screening of Serenity last night on condition that I and my fellow bloggers blog about the event. I fulfill my part of the bargain.

Short Review: See this movie. Sell your firstborn and/or your parents if you must, but see this movie. At least twice.

Long Review:
I am a huge fan of Joss Whedon's work. I loved Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel: The Series for years, and fell in love with Firefly last year. The man's wit and storytelling skill and ability to create nail-gnawing tension, fist-to-the-gut shock, and awww-inspiring moments knows no bounds.

So when I tell you that with Serenity, Mr. Whedon has outdone himself in a BIG way, I want you to comprehend my full meaning.

I also love movies. I love the moviegoing experience. Sci-fi is my favorite genre. I was raised on Star Wars and Star Trek. I fell in love with The Matrix and The Chronicles of Riddick. I love a good adventure, compelling characters, the theatrical epic. Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Spider Man, X-Men. I love them all. Give me a good story--not just special effects. Any good story is enhanced on the big screen. Give me characters whose fates I am compelled to care about. Give me drama, give me angst, give me armrest-gripping tension. Plot twists--give me plot twists! I love movies.

So when I tell you that Serenity is the best movie I have ever seen, I want you to comprehend my full meaning.

Drama-fans will eat it up. Adventure-lovers will be in for the ride of their lives. Sci-fi/fantasy buffs will be swept into a world of futuristic excitement and exploration--with that ever-present human nature to add intrigue and mystery. Comedy connoisseurs will laugh their heads off.

Serenity is a human story, an exploration of human nature and all the glory it inspires and the damage that it wreaks. It is a timely movie that warns of the hideous toll that power and corruption takes. Minor-and-vague spoiler here: Highlight to Read... There is intense tragedy, and yet it is still a feel-good movie. The characters are four-dimensional. The heroes are big damn heroes. The villains are...big damn villains. All are human.

No, there are no aliens in Serenity. Strange thing for a sci-fi flick, you say? Not at all. This universe does not need aliens. The humans in this story are more than weird enough to make up for it.

WARNING: There is violence. The movie is rated PG-13, but in my humble opinion, it should have been rated R. This in no way diminishes the power of the story--nor is the violence gratuitous in any way. There is just enough necessary to tell the story. It's realistic in the kind of violence you'd expect in a rough-cut colony universe and among power-hungry operatives, but leaves the really nasty stuff to the imagination.

That said, I have no criticism to offer this movie. It's that good.

Summary For Those Who Haven't Seen Firefly: Serenity is the "wagon-train to the stars" that Gene Roddenberry would have been proud of. It is the continuation of Joss Whedon's short-lived Firefly television series. The background is thus: Earth was used up by human overpopulation, and the human race discovered another solar system full of planets and moons. Terraforming ensued, and human population moved. There's no light speed here. The innermost planets formed the Alliance, and the outerlying planets were the Independents. Civil War ensued; the Alliance won, and brought the system under a parliamentary rule. Joss Whedon reportedly got his inspiration for the story from the Civil War novel, The Killer Angels.

The decisive battle in the war was the Battle of Serenity Valley. The heroes of this battle were Sargeant Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds and his subordinate, Zoey...something. The Independents lost in this battle, and Mal lost his faith in pretty much everything. Six years later, the Firefly series begins, where Mal and Zoey and their crew of miscreants and adventurers are living a life of outlaws/mercenaries, getting semi-legal and mostly dishonest work from other seedy folk.

Characters: The pilot episode begins with our crew picking up some passengers to make themselves look legit, and of course, their job goes south. Our resulting character line-up is as follows:
  • Captain Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds: Poster boy for the phrase "scoundrel with a heart of gold," everything a sci-fi lead character ought to be. A flawed hero. A funny hero. Looks good with his shirt off. Looks better with his pants off. Played by Nathan Fillion.
  • First Mate Zoey...something (Washburn?): Played by the well-rounded Gina Torres. Not as sarcastic as our Han Solo-esque captain, but has her hysterically funny moments. Fiercely loyal to Mal. Has a wonderful, amusing relationship with her husband (see below.) Warrior woman. Strong woman. Every little girl's heroine.
  • Pilot...something Washburn "Wash": Comic relief. Damn good pilot. Played by Alan Tudyk. Funny-sexy. Xander-esque. Cute. A pilot genius. Married to Zoey. Less violent than many of his comrades, but has his brave-heroic moments. Like a "leaf in the wind."
  • Engineer/Mechanic Kaylee: The "kid" of the crew. Mechanical genius. Pretty/funny/sexy. Played by Jewel Staite. Not as innocent as she appears. Least violent of the crew, but not afraid to be outside the law. Very dear to them all. (No, not a Mary-Sue. Trust me.) Adventurous.
  • Jayne Cobb: The baddest of the bad. Badboy sexy. Funny as hell. Played by Adam Baldwin. Most violent of the crew, but has his "heart-of-gold" moments...sometimes. Has a soft spot for Kaylee. Not the brightest crayon in the box, but no slouch. Fun character.
  • Inara Sera: A "registered companion." (Open-minded: think geisha. Close-minded: think whore. Joss-minded: think SPACE HOOKER!) The group's "ambassador." Played by Morena Baccarin. She gives them legitimacy, ironically enough, grants them entry to areas that a seedy-looking ship wouldn't otherwise get to land. Mal's love/hate interest. Sexy sexy. Beautiful. Funny.
  • Shepherd Book: A futuristic Christian monk/missionary with a mysterious past. One of the passengers picked up in the pilot episode. Played by Ron Glass. Good taste in food. Gets on well with everyone in the crew, even Mal--most of the time. Weird hair. Obviously, has difficulties with the crew's work, especially when it gets violent.
  • Doctor Simon Tam: Another passenger who comes aboard in the pilot episode. Played by Sean Maher. Stud-muffin extraordinaire, in Kaylee's opinion. Rich-kid-gone-fugitive to rescue his little sister from an Alliance guinea-pig laboratory. Highly unprepared for the outlaw life, but risks everything to protect his sister. Much comic relief, usually in the form of Simon getting acquainted with the outlaw life. Pompous. Cute. Was a trauma surgeon in Alliance Capitol City, (very rich), very smart.
  • River Tam: everything. Nutty as a fruitcake, thanks to the Alliance Lab. Psychic. Played by Summer Glau. Whether she was psychic before the Alliance got into her head is anyone's guess. The Alliance wants her back. Walking weapon. Crazy funny. Crazy sexy. Good dancer. Better fighter. Weird. So crazy she nearly gets herself burned as a witch on a colony world. Life's never dull when River's around.

The Firefly/Serenity Universe: As said before, a solar system with multiple planets, dozens of moons, all terraformed. Innermost planets/moons Alliance capital worlds. Outermost planets are your western-style colonies. Full-blown wild wild West types. Some inhabited by religious characters not unlike Puritans.

Civilization is a blend of American/Chinese (two old Earth superpowers.) Characters cuss in Chinese. Christianity/Buddhism two primary religions.

No aliens, but there is much to fear from "Reavers"--humans gone savage/cannibal on the edges of the system who prey on colonies and ships. Alliance cruisers are city-ships. Serenity, our heroes' ship, is a Firefly-class freighter--a junker whose worth was discovered by Mal (think: Millenium Falcoln only more pointy.)

Do I need to watch Firefly before seeing Serenity?
No. The movie easily takes care of all the exposition you need,'ll enjoy the nuances of the plot/setting/characters much more. The series is available on DVD--there are only thirteen episodes. And it's a must-see for any sci-fi/fantasy/Western/adventure fans.


Blogger Claire said...

I had the the marathon on Sci Fi channel today while I worked. It didn't hold my interest. I'll skip the movie, I've a bad feeling it will be like that X-files flick in which one had to have watched X-files to 'get' it.

To be fair, Firefly had some cute moments. The guy playing the captain had good reactions to things, very human. Everybody else was filler.

Beyond that - I didn't understand the story. I liked the first LOTR movie. I'll stop what I'm doing to watch it, if my kids put on the DVD. I have the extended version of the second one - got to that stew scene and did a major eye roll. Saw the third one in the theater and ended up giving my kids a lesson on why spiders stun their prey before eating. By the time they got to the Denethor flame dive, I was doubled over in helpless laughter and I, along with the rest of the audience kept standing up to leave, then groaning when yet another ending presented itself.

Harry Potter - The first movies were cute - I saw them with the kids. No plans to see the next one. Kids are bored with it.

You know - I don't think I like sci fi or fantasy much. Used to read it as a teenager and young twenty-something, but it doesn't progress.

I'm getting old.

I'll come back if I can think of a sci fi/fantasy flick I liked.

I liked Alien. And...Blade Runner.

There have to be others. Give me a hand here, Jocelyn.

By the way, you look dynamite in those pictures. Those braids were to die for. I'm going to do my little girl's hair that way.

2:34 AM  
Blogger Jocelyn Smith said...

Eh, no accounting for taste. ;-)

But if you can manage to five-strand braid ANYBODY'S hair, you win at life.

I'm completely addicted to Faire. I'd go both days, every weekend if I had a car, as it is, anytime one of my transportation-endowed buddies goes, I hitch a ride.

12:43 PM  

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