Serenity

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Rating: PG-13

Starring:
Nathan Fillion as Capt. Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds
Gina Torres as Zoë
Alan Tudyk as Hoban ‘Wash’ Washburn
Morena Baccarin as Inara Serra
Adam Baldwin as Jayne Cobb
Jewel Staite as Kaylee Frye
Sean Maher as Dr. Simon Tam
Summer Glau as River Tam
Ron Glass as Shepherd Derrial Book
David Krumholtz as Mr. Universe
Chiwetel Ejiofor as The Operative
Michael Hitchcock as Dr. Mathias
Sarah Paulson
Yan Feldman as Mingo
Raphael Feldman as Fanty

Special Features:
Commentary by: Writer/Director Joss Whedon

Deleted scenes and outtakes

Future History: The Story of Earth That Was

What’s in a Firefly

Re-Lighting the Firefly

Joss Whedon Introduction

Other Info:
Widescreen (2.35:1)
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
Spanish and French Languages
Spanish and French Subtitles
Running Time: 119 Minutes

Synopsis:
“Serenity” is a spinoff of the “Firefly” TV series by Joss Whedon that aired on Fox in 2002-2003. It was then was promptly cancelled. This film takes place six months after the events in the series.

Capt. Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds is a former soldier from a galactic civil war who now roams the galaxy as a thief and smuggler. Joining him on his ship, Serenity, is former fellow soldier Zoë, pilot Hoban ‘Wash’ Washburn, engineer and mechanic Kaylee Frye, and hired muscle Jayne Cobb. Still tagging along with the ragtag band is Dr. Simon Tam and his sister River Tam. River was experimented on by the Universal Alliance and they have now pursued our heroes across the galaxy to get her back. What secrets does her damaged mind hold?

The Alliance is finally close to catching River and Malcolm and a man named ‘The Operative’ leads the chase. As he steps up the stakes, Malcolm finds his comfortable world as a smuggler falling apart. Will he turn over River or stand up for his makeshift family? Or will River simply snap and kill them all first?

“Serenity” is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense violence and action, and some sexual references.

The Movie:
In anticipation of this movie being released, I bought the “Firefly” DVD set and watched all the episodes. It took a few episodes for me to get into it, but I finally ended up enjoying it quite a bit. But fortunately you don’t have to have seen the TV series in order to follow the movie. I believe it’s fairly easy to jump on board and understand what all is going on. For the uninitiated, I would describe “Serenity” as the early adventures of young Han Solo. Mal is essentially a younger version of our Star Wars hero. He’s a smuggler and thief with a gruff exterior and a heart of gold. He frequently finds himself in over his head. His bark is often bigger than his bite. The main difference between the characters is that Mal isn’t afraid to shoot first. I think if you’re a fan of Star Wars or Han Solo, “Serenity” is going to appeal to you. The other thing to note about “Serenity” is that it is a true space western. There are dusty mining towns, showdowns, and people saying, “I reckon”. This show takes the term “final frontier” literally. It’s sometimes cheesy, but it gives the show a unique feel. Finally, “Serenity” is really funny at times. Joss Whedon is great with funny or witty dialogue and it shows yet again in this movie. I know “Serenity” newbies who attended advance screenings and were taken off guard by just how funny it was.

Though the movie is light enough that “Serenity” newbies can join in the fun, there’s a lot to please veteran fans of the series, too. You finally get to see what the mysterious Reavers are. You get to see big, spectacular space battles thanks to the bigger film budget. You visit new worlds that are unique and impressive. But most notable is that Joss Whedon puts every single character in real jeopardy in the movie. The stakes are significantly raised and absolutely no character is safe. I found my jaw dropping on several occasions saying, “I can’t believe they just did that!” There is a definite shock factor here. If you have a lot of time and emotion invested in the characters, you’ll be moved by their ultimate fates a lot more than people that have never seen the series.

The acting is pretty much the same as it was in the TV series. Everyone remains very true to character (though Ron Glass gets a fraction of the screentime as Shepherd Derrial Book). I think the cast member that is going to get the most out of this big screen debut is Nathan Fillion as Capt. Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds. He’s handsome, funny, and tough as Mal. It’s a breakout role in much the same way Han Solo was for Harrison Ford. It could be big for him if people will be willing to come out and see a movie spun off of a TV series. I was also impressed with Chiwetel Ejiofor as The Operative. I really liked him in “Dirty Pretty Things” and didn’t even realize he was the same actor until I started writing this review. His performance is rather understated, but his villain is probably more realistic than most shown on the big screen. The Operative is essentially a good guy that believes in his cause and that makes him a most dangerous opponent. Summer Glau also steps up her performance as River Tam. She gets a lot more to do emotionally and also demonstrates quite a knack for action sequences.

On the down side, it takes quite a while to get rolling. There are a few good action sequences here and there, but there are long stretches where things slow down significantly before the explosive finale. I also have to add that I was disappointed by the Reavers. They were played up to be very terrifying, horrible creatures from space that had rarely been seen. When they are finally revealed, they seem more like Mad Max rejects than the scourge of the universe.

In the end, “Serenity” was a lot of fun and a nice dose of sci-fi to keep me happy now that Star Wars has gone back into carbon freeze. “Firefly” fans should really enjoy it and new fans should hopefully find it accessible enough to jump on board.

The Extras:
Despite being a genre film, this DVD is surprisingly light on the bonus features. Here’s what you’ll find:

Commentary by: Writer/Director Joss Whedon – Unfortunately the advance review copy sent to me didn’t include the commentary. You’ll have to check that out for yourself.

Deleted scenes – There’s a rather large batch of deleted scenes and they range in length and significance. For example, one scene introduces Inara earlier in the film. It shows her training some other Star Whores…er…companions. Another scene explains how Shepherd Book left them a while before the film started. Another scene shows the Operative looking up the history of Mal. In short, all of these scenes have one thing in common – they give back story that fans of the series already know. It seems like Whedon removed them because of time and the fact that they provided unnecessary exposition. Another deleted scene shows Mal and Inara sneaking out of the harem or whatever it is and scaring some guards with a fake grenade. Finally, there’s a slightly extended closing scene between the Operative and Mal where the Operative wonders what he’ll do with his life, then Mal (in true Whedon fashion) says, “What a whiner.”

Outtakes – The language in these outtakes is R rated, but they contain your usual flubbed lines, prop malfunctions, and other hilarity. One funny scene shows Mal and River dueling with the controls on the ship. Another scene shows Wash getting fed up with everyone criticizing his flying and getting up and walking away in the middle of the climactic battle scene.

Future History: The Story of Earth That Was – In this short featurette, Whedon talks about his vision of the future, the Western frontier theme, and the combination of Chinese and American culture. It’s stuff you already know if you followed the series.

What’s in a Firefly – I thought this was going to be a tour of the ship set, but it wasn’t. Instead it’s a feature on the special effects. They show the Mule and how they tried to do as much as they could with practical effects. They also show the final battle scene and the room where the big fight between Mal and the Operative takes place. I actually would have liked to see more on the special effects.

Re-Lighting the Firefly – This discusses how the film went from cancelled TV series to movie. They also show a LOT of footage from Comic Con and show the reactions of Whedon and the cast to the big audience turn out.

Joss Whedon Introduction – As “Serenity” was being played at sneak peeks around the country months before the release, this introduction was placed before it. Whedon, with his dry sense of humor, thanks the fans for making the movie happen and begging them to tell everyone they could if they liked it. If you didn’t like it, he said it was a time for quiet contemplation. It’s fun to have for the sake of completion, but a little sad to see considering the poor showing the film had in theaters. Maybe it will have a better life on DVD.

The Bottom Line:
Great humor, good special effects, and entertaining performances by the cast make”Serenity” a great dose of sci-fi now that Star Wars has come and gone. It’s essentially the adventures of young Han Solo and crew. Fans of the “Firefly” TV series should especially enjoy it since no character is safe in this big screen revival.

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