I Am John's Stomach Pains.

On The Precipice of Mediocrity, Teetering

Monday, May 09, 2005

That Makes Us Mighty  

So, here it is, finally. Sorry for the delay, no real excuse other than had plenty of TV to catch up on from the past week. Keep in mind I'm going to keep this as spoiler-free as possible, if you want spoilers, there's a couple reviews over at AICN that have some big ones.

Little set-up before I get to the Serenity review. While I am a die-hard Buffy fan, and will most likely ingest anything Joss Whedon is involved in, I'm not one would consider a die-hard browncoat, a salivating fan of the TV show Firefly. I enjoyed the show for what it was, but was not too torn up when it was cancelled... the show was treated like shit by Fox, so it's truly amazing the fan support was as dedicated as it was. It was only after I watched the entire run of the show (in the correct order) on DVD that I realized how special and unique the show was. So, as I've said many times before: fuck you, Fox.

Now, the version I saw was billed as a rough cut. What this meant was that the movie was a tad grainy throughout (the almost high-def crispness of the trailer is nowhere to be found), the music in some scenes are placeholders, or non-existent (one particular scene has no music in the background... you can almost expect the "it" rock song of the summer will fill it's place, but for me, the silence worked as-is), and there was no final credits. Other than that, it was a full movie.
Before the flick started (after one of those annoying Fandango bag-commercials), Joss Whedon appeared on screen, and the whole place erupted... you expect anything less from the Whorde [sic] of Whedon? Thankfully, everyone shut up really quick so they could listen, and we were given a hilarious confession on the trials and tribulations of Firefly, and a heartfelt history on just how Serenity - a movie that had absolutely no right being made - defied all odds. Joss is as hilarious as ever in this segment... Damn, do I hope this is included online somewhere... and it best be on the DVD.

Onto the movie. Since it's a rough cut, I won't talk too much about the effects, but I will say, from what's already up there, this does not look like a $45 million dollar movie. The space battles, of which there are a few, are beautiful; think Babylon 5 inspired, but with another decade to improve the style.

For any fans of Joss, we've come to expect certain... trappings. The man can write perfect dialogue, but his fight scenes leave something to be desired. Sadly, while he has improved from previous outings substantially, there's still too much jump-cutting during these fights, and the audience doesn't get a sense of the villain's actions as much as the hero's. He also seems to have added another arsenal to his directing-faults, and that's the oddly-chosen POV shot, like a conversation with the gang being seen from what appears to be a video-camera in the upper corner of a room. Thankfully, I only noticed this twice, the other being when Joss decided to light Mal angelically during an impressive speech to his crew. That scene was Joss to a T: great lines, overwrought framing.

I do want to say one glowing piece of praise on Joss's direction though: the opening scene on Serenity is a beautiful seamless one-shot, a good couple-of-minutes long, that takes us through the entire ship, and introduces the cast perfectly, as well as giving a nice sense of setting for the audience.

But, aside from effects, dialogue, and directing, what this movie is about is the cast. This is a movie that has to juggle not only the 9 core cast members, but an additional two players. Do they succeed? While not a homerun, they come about as close as I imagine possible.

Captain Malcolm Reynolds - In my opinion, this movie would only work if Mal came across as a rogue, not an asshole, and I'm happy to say Fillion pulls it off amazingly. I'd say this was the role he was born to play, but seeing as the only other two notches in his belt are as a sadistic preacher and That Guy From The Pizza Show, that doesn't really sell how much ass he kicks here. Fillion conveys Mal's inner conflict between hero/pirate perfectly, and is sure to enter the movie-going populace's radar as a leading man. Fillion's best strength in the film though is how he interacts with every character in a unique way, whether is be as boss, friend, lover, father, or enemy, each gets a different aspect of the character's personality.

Zoe - One of the biggest complaints of the short run of the show was that Gina Torres was never really able to showcase her range. Probably the strongest member of the crew, she always seemed second-fiddle. The first half of the movie, I was afraid that was just going to remain, but I was pleasantly surprised to see some great moments with her in the second half. As a fan of the show, her relationship with the rest of the crew, and her actions throughout, are excellent, however I don't think enough exposition was given into the history between her and Mal, and even her and Wash, which could detract from some pathos.

Wash - Alan Tudyk is one of my favorite supporting actors today, whether it be as a modern-day pirate, or a futuristic robot. As expected, Wash gets some of the best lines, and his miming skills in piloting are sure to make the audience crack up. The "barnswallow" scene early on is particularly fun, and he's going to have some great teaser line's that are sure to be used in the commercials.

Inara - Sadly, Morena Baccarin's role is fairly small in this flick, but that shouldn't be too much of a surprise. When making a wide-ranging space saga, there isn't much for a prostitute to do. Still, her relationship with Malcolm is a nice subplot running throughout. I think fans of the show will like how it ends. If I see any problems, it's the "new" audience grasping the concept of a Companion without any explanation. I'm sure the religious right will have something to say about it... although did they say anything when the show was on the air? Not sure.

Jayne - What can be said about Jayne? Easily the best character from the show, and it carries over into the movie. Adam Baldwin is given the funniest lines, the best outfits, and some fun action scenes. Only fault I found was that he didn't get any one-on-one fight scenes... sure, the guy is a more of a munitions man (his love of grenades makes for some particularly funny scenes throughout) but I wanted to see Jayne give a beat down.

Shephard Book - Like Inara, Book's role in the flick is pretty slim, but the scenes he is in provide some great dramatic pieces. The problem I see with the role, is that the character is not going to resonate with a new audience at all. Studio execs may see his scenes to be the first to fall to the cutting room floor, which will be a shame, because they work perfectly for a fan of the show. I did appreciate, however, that the mysteries of the character aren't answered here, a point the movie pokes a bit of fun at subtlely.

Kaylee - The cute one of the group, Jewel Staite gets to deliver alot of the Firefly-esque words, which may turn off a few people. Oh well, their loss, I love the way her face lights up when she says 'Shiny'. Her subplot is intrinsically linked with Simon, the romantic edge of the piece, which worked for me. You can't interest a movie-going audience with mechanics work. Of course, she does have a particularly gut-busting scene discussing a certain type of machine that's certain to be one of the most memorable of the movie.

Dr. Simon Tam - For a character that has no story of his own, Sean Maher is pretty prevalent throughout the flick. He's got some choice scenes, particularly with Mal and Kaylee, but if I had a critique, it would be his brother-sister scenes with River don't really stack up to those within the series. Not a harsh critique, and it doesn't detract from the flick much, but it certainly doesn't add to it.

River Tam - And finally, we have the second-star of the flick, played by Summer Glau. My friend MC was worried that she would become Buffy X, but in fact, if the character is molded out of any previous hero, I'd say it'd be a mix of Jason Bourne and Neo. Her fight scenes are fairly fluid and graceful, which given Glau's ballet past, makes perfect sense. One thing that I question how the audience will feel on is the over-abundance of jump-scare cuts that River is involved in, primarily her hallucinations. Some may find them a tad cheap, but let it not be said they don't have their effect. River is featured prominently, as we're given her origin, her purpose, and why she's feared by The Parliament (although the Blue Sun group doesn't even make an appearance), and Glaur delivers for such an acting novice.

We also have two new characters, to the 'verse, both fresh additions:

Mr. Universe - I absolutely love David Krumholtz, and his character here is a nice combination of agoraphobia, nerd dementia, and egotistical entitlement. I would've liked to see some actual interaction with the crew, but the basic premise of who the guy is kinda negates that. Still, I love the idea of a single guy out there sucking in all the information available in the 'verse.

The Operative - This was the character I was most worried about, mainly because I had never seen anything Chiwetel Ejiofor had been in before, not to mention I thought he would be a carbon copy of the Richard Brooks' character, Jubal Early, from the series. Thankfully, my fears were for naught, as this is one of my favorite antagonists to grace the screen in years. He's got an interesting philosophical take on life and honor, while also coming across Terminator-like in his determination and drive.

Final thing to talk about is whether the main plot of the film works, and how the Reavers come into play. Here, I can give nothing but overwhelming praise to Joss and the entire crew. While there may faults in the little areas, the sum of the parts far exceeds any of those problems. The Reavers are an imposing foe, and will be appreciated by anyone who's a fan of the new-fangled fast-moving zombies of the modern era. I do wish we could have focused some more on the make-up job though, the few glimpses we see are f'n scary.

Discounting a somewhat slow (but in no way boring) opening Act , the final hour was just non-stop balls-to-the-wall intensity. Remember the final moments of Angel, a small group against certain death? Well, stretch that over half and hour, and you have Serenity's climax. There's an overwhelming sense of doom throughout the final act, as this 'rag-tag' gang of rebels is striving to do the impossible, and the question of whether they even should will be brought up by many viewers. There's a nice parallel to what's going on in politics today that I can't wait to see disected and discussed by the viewers.

Fans of the show are going to be ecstatic, as it's probably beyond their expectations. I have no doubt this will convince new viewers to pick up the DVD, simply to get more exposure to these characters... honestly though, as a love letter to the fans, some of the interaction is just gonna be lost on those who've never caught it before.

As is now, I'm giving the movie 4 and half out of 5 stars. The good thing is, seeing as this is a rough cut, if they just tighten up some of the fight scenes (in particular, the Mal / Inara / Operative rumble), and make the space battle a bit crisper in appearance (which looking at the preview, I think they've already been able to do), this could be a 5 star. If I hadn't been hearing such great things about Sith, I'd say Lucas was gonna have a run for his money in the sci-fi department this year.

posted by Holz | 4:01 PM | Rant & Rave, Bitches! (3)


Thanks. Worth waiting for.

By Blogger Manchild, at 5/09/2005 4:08 PM  

excellent! Appreciate the effort in writing this so spoiler - lite. I hope that this movie rock SF flicks.

By Blogger amnachaidh, at 5/09/2005 5:01 PM  


By Blogger Manchild, at 5/10/2005 7:14 AM  

Post a Comment

Right Now I'm Probably...
Lost, Heroes, 24, Criminal Minds
Brobdingnagian Bards
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Final Fantasy XII
Running... hopefully
My Amazon.com Wish List
Comic Quote of the Week
"It's trying to end the suffering of everything. Do you want to discuss our options? Maybe together we can, you know, workshop?"

"Okay, best way to stop a ten-story godlike monster from destroying existence? I'm gonna go with hitting, you have anything?"

"You took mine."

Wesley and Angel, Angel: After The Fall #15

Who Am I?
Name: Holz
Home: Sonoma County, California
About Me: I'm a comfortador.
See my complete profile

Ozymandias, DrOzymandias, Darth Angelus, Darque Feonix, Trip McNeely
Kicking ass for:
29 years
UWing Systems Design Specialist
Walking Theme:
Believe It Or Not by Joey Scarbury
Most watched movie:
The Princess Bride
Most read book:
The Dark Tower Series by Stephen King

Where Do I Go?
Blogs I Will Most Likely Steal Ideas From
The Past
Some of My Favorite Entries
"Let a man get away with fuckin' you once, you stay bent over so's he can fuck you again whenever he damn well pleases. An' if one man can do it? Another will too. An' another, an' another still. So's being fucked, that's yer life. 'Til who you were, you ain't. 'Cause all you are is an asshole."
100 Bullets #42