Saturday, April 5, 2014

Serenity (2005): Let's Misbehave

Katie-Bar-The-Door and I continue to binge-watch cult television, following up three seasons of Veronica Mars with Joss Whedon's sci-fi western, Firefly. Set five hundred years in the future, the story centers on the Firefly-class spaceship Serenity and its crew of would-be pirates who smuggle contraband between the outlying worlds and their moons, some of them technologically advanced, others as primitive as the 19th century American West.

Nathan Fillion (TV's Castle) was the swashbuckling captain, Gina Torres his first officer, Adam Baldwin, the brawny but brainless hired muscle. The chief engineer was a fresh-face farm girl with no formal training, the pilot a loveable goof who played with toy dinosaurs.

To pay the freight, they also ferried passengers hither and yon, including a high-priced courtesan, a preacher with a shady past (Ron Glass of TV's Barney Miller), and a doctor and his mad-genius sister, the latter two fugitives from the law. A three-hour tour, it wasn't—there were no space zombie cannibals on Gilligan's Island that I can recall—but it was great fun, filled with action, witty dialogue, and more cows than you'd expect, considering how much of it took place in outer space, sort of a steampunk cross between Star Wars and The Wild, Wild West.

To say that the Fox executives who commissioned the project didn't get it would be an understatement. They took one look and promptly buried it on Friday nights where its core audience was unlikely to see it. To make matters worse, they refused to air the two-hour introductory episode, showed the rest of it out of order and pre-empted it frequently for the baseball playoffs. Premiering in September 2002, it was off the air for good by New Year's Eve.

And then like another misunderstood sci-fi classic, the show refused to die, eventually winding up in the theater as a movie. That it failed to spawn multiple sequels and spinoffs, ala Star Trek, is not to say it wasn't worthy.

The film begins six months after the television series ended. The Alliance—the not so much Evil as too well-meaning for its own good Empire that runs the known galaxy—is determined to keep its citizens happy whether they like it or not. And for reasons even she doesn't understand, the girl mad-genius is a threat to that stability. To track her down, the Alliance brings in "the Operative" (Oscar nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor), the worst kind of assassin, a true believer who wants to create a world so perfect there won't be any place in it for people like him.

This presents a problem for Captain Malcolm Reynolds. He fancies himself a hard-nosed cynic and would like to give the girl the boot, but like Humphrey Bogart in most of his good films, he always finds himself fighting for lost causes. "They'll swing back to the belief that they can make people better," he says of the Alliance. "And I do not hold to that. So no more runnin'. I aim to misbehave."

So guns blazing, he takes on the Alliance, the Operative and a horde of space zombies known as Reavers, and goes in search of an answer he's not sure he's going to like when he finds it.

If you haven't seen the series, don't fret—writer-director Joss Whedon wrote this as a stand-alone feature requiring no previous experience with the television show. Not that watching the series requires much of a commitment (there are only fourteen episodes) and doing so will add an extra layer of insight and understanding, but then maybe you aren't binge-watching fools and you're just looking for some top-notch fun-stupid. Serenity falls on the smart, fun, well-made end of the fun-stupid scale.

My ratings:
Firefly 4.5 stars out of 5
Serenity 4 stars out of 5

Note: I've written about Whedon before. Better known for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Avengers, his low-budget, modern dress production of William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing was one last year's best movies. You can read my review of that one here.


Who Am Us Anyway? said...

Yep! What Myth said. And Firefly is exhibit 17A in the people's case that Netflix, streaming at $8/month i think, is the best invention since Elvis discovered the fried peanut butter 'n 'nanner sandwich. Shows i've binge watched, besides Firefly, incl. Twin Peaks (yep, never saw it before; what a treat it was though); Breaking Bad; The Walking Dead (until left hanging waiting for the next season to be released on Netflix). All fine things! I heard a Podcast interview with either the head writer or the director of Firefly -- i forget which -- who said the cast and he got together and agreed that although they would love to get a 2nd season, odds were they'd only get 1, so they wanted to do a story arc that would make the 1 season something that would stand on its own & the test of time while it's at it. And i think they succeeded there.

Mythical Monkey said...

I have to say, for series that have a definite story arc (e.g., Justified), as opposed to a mostly one-off format (Castle, for example), I prefer to binge-watch them. It hangs together better, like reading a novel in a couple of sittings rather than reading one chapter a week.

Mythical Monkey said...

And speaking of The Walking Dead, my nephew worked on that one for a while. As a gaffer, I do believe.

Mythical Monkey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.