Monday, October 10, 2005

MOVIES: Serenity

I don't know what else they could've done for Serenity. They promoted the hell out of it. They previewed the hell out of it, to an unprecedented extent. It was scheduled well, up against nothing that should've given a sci-fi action adventure any competition. It had a slew of good-to-great reviews (81% on the "Tomatometer," as opposed to 36% for Flightplan), many of which make a point of touting its superiority to the recent Star Wars films. It had the support of seemingly every blogger in the world. And best of all, it was actually good. In fact, it was great.

And yet, its performance at the box office can be described as nothing other than a failure. It came in second to Flightplan on its opening weekend; on this, its second weekend, it came in 9th, while Flightplan held at #2 in its third week. Seriously, what is the deal with Flightplan? I haven't seen it, so I don't want to make any uninformed negative judgments about it, but I will say this: it's stupid and I hate it. I mean, come on! You know it's gonna be dumb! Why are you all going to see it? Just so you can say, "Yep, it sure was dumb, all right"?

Anyhoo. I can imagine a couple reasons why it might not have caught on with the general public -- not least of which is its lack of any name actors. But they're outweighed by so many positive factors, I still can't believe it's not a blockbuster. I saw it this Saturday, and I loved it. It's absolutely one of my favorites of the year.

No spoilers ahead, not that it matters. If you're going to see it, I'm sure you have by now.

The cast may be a bunch of no-names, but they work together well, and they fill the screen with winning charisma. Nathan Fillion, as Capt. Mal Reynolds, takes most of the big moments, and Adam Baldwin's Jayne gets some big laughs, but most every member of the large crew gets some memorable screentime.

And the action is creative and thrilling, both in space and on the ground. Summer Glau (who plays River) puts her ballet training to use in one incredible bar fight, and the climactic battle with the Reavers is tremendous and terrifying. One good thing about the fighting here is that it actually feels like something is at risk. It feels as though the crew is genuinely in danger; there's no sense, as there generally is in action movies, that this is an inconsequential hurdle to be overcome in rote fashion.

I like that the final goal of the crew isn't just to blow something big to pieces, as it usually is in sci-fi (like, I don't know, a Death Star, maybe?). They're putting their lives on the line not to destroy a super-weapon, but to distribute information that will have a similar devastating effect.

The writing is sharp, filled with Joss Whedon's usual humor and a lot of nice character moments, and the direction by Whedon is also superb, peppered with a certain amount of visual flair, but anchored in allowing the viewer to follow what's happening at any given moment, whether it's an epic space battle or the complicated backstory of River, which is certainly easier to follow for fans of Firefly, but accessible to newbies as well.

It's a fantastic ride, with twists that haven't been done to death in other genre films, and it goes to surprisingly dark places for a film filled with so much humor. The box office doesn't bode well for a sequel, but hey, the TV show's cancellation didn't bode well for a movie continuation, either. Maybe some big DVD sales will once again save the day.

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