Serenity

This weekend we got a visit from Anna, Kurt, and Sophia, and high on our list of priorities was seeing Serenity, the movie version of Joss Whedon’s doomed TV series, Firefly. We went in two waves, so that Sophia could have someone familiar at hand, but by Friday evening we’d all been Serenitized.

We all liked it very much, save for one problem that bothered all of us a great deal, but I’ll talk about that in the spoiler section. I really miss the TV show, untimely ripp’d from the schedule in the flower of its youth. In fact, we all went in as seasoned veterans of the show, so I can’t really comment on how much it would appeal to non-viewers. It seemed to me, however, that they retold just enough of the story to set up the action without doing a tiresome retread of previous events.

The plot, which, honestly, was nothing special, focused primarily on River Tam, the girl with a head full of equal parts knowledge and crazy. River was my least favorite part of the TV show, and the only good part about focusing on her is that future movies or TV series have now gotten her out of the way to make room for other characters. Fortunately, although the plot centers around River, the other characters (for the most part) are all given things to do, and the camaraderie and banter that was the trademark of the show persists. The action comes fast and furious, and though the story is a little by-the-numbers Hollywood actioner, it’s all kept very true to the spirit of the show.

Honestly, there’s a lot to roll your eyes at for the movie. Of course a lot of the dialogue done in a faux-western style is hokey and silly. The bad guy still had the Stock Villain #135 tag hanging off of him. The final confrontation between Mal and this guy is straight out of a million other action movies. And yet, despite all this, the movie succeeded for me. I guess I drank too much of the Firefly Kool-Aid and can’t really approach it objectively. Again, I’d like to hear reactions from viewers not familiar with the show at all. It’s quite possible that they’d find it trite and tedious.

But then there’s the big problem, so let’s put up a warning, shall we?

SPOILER — SPOILER — SPOILER

The major problem we had was how the character of Shepherd Book was handled. Book went from being an interesting and enigmatic character to being relegated to the generic wise man mentor role, and then killed off. We’ll never know his backstory. We’ll never see him develop. There was absolutely no reason for the character to even be in the movie. Non-fans won’t know who he is and fans certainly won’t be satisfied. And I don’t care what the background story regarding the actor was, it’s the movie, the story, and the character that’s important, and this character was powerfully mishandled.

In addition, there’s his message to Mal about “belief”. Has Joss Whedon not watched his own show? Captain Malcolm Reynolds has nothing but belief. He returned stolen medicine against his best interest. He sheltered the Tams against his own interests. He fought in the war for his beliefs and continued afterwards as an outlaw so he could remain true to his beliefs. He has unshakable belief in his crew, and in doing what’s right. Nothing I’ve ever seen from Mal has been otherwise. To suggest that he needs to believe in something is to ignore the fundamental element of his character.

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One Response to Serenity

  1. David Thiel says:

    I was late to the party, but Vicky and I finally got to see Serenity last night. We both enjoyed it quite a lot, and it was not only good to see these characters again, but to achieve a sense of closure for a good TV show that died with its boots still on.

    Absolutely agreed about Book’s role in the movie, though I haven’t heard anything about Ron Glass’ “background story.” He was peripheral in the movie, but then I always thought he was underdeveloped in the TV show as well. I imagine that his presumably shady past would eventually come out, as did Rupert Giles’ on Buffy, but the series didn’t last long enough. When I heard that a major character would bite the bullet in this film, I had him pegged as the odds-on favorite.

    Unfortunately, two major characters bought the homestead, and it was the second one that was both unexpected and upsetting, and left us at the end of the film feeling a bit let down. I know that it was just Joss Whedon attempting to raise the stakes in the final confrontation–he has a history of killing off beloved characters just to prove that no one has script immunity–and it worked in that there was a point at which I thought, “Jesus Christ, is he going to kill off everyone I like?” The death was sudden, shocking and did its job in terms of the overall drama, and I suppose the fact that I’m still feeling sad about it the next day is a testament to the personality Whedon invests in characters that aren’t played by Ron Glass, but dammit, I wish that he hadn’t done that.

    Still, excellent film, and even if we never get another one, I’m glad that I was able to make one last journey with the crew of Serenity.