March 10, 2006
Starring: Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk, Morena Baccarin, Adam Baldwin, Jewel Staite, Sean Maher, Summer Glau, Ron Glass, Chiwetel Ejiofor, David Krumholtz, Michael Hitchcock, Sarah Paulson,
Can’t Stop The Signal is the tagline for Serenity, the directorial debut of TV favourite Joss Whedon of Buffyand Angel fame, and it has a clever double meaning. To begin with, the story of Serenityoriginated with a cult TV show from 2002 called Firefly, a sci-fi western about the ragtag crew of a smuggling ship in the future who fought the fascist ways of the Alliance. The show was cancelled by Fox after showing 11 of the 14 episodes but such was its popularity that when it arrived on DVD it immediately sold over 200,000 copies in the US alone. The show was dead but not forgotten and Whedon vowed to bring it back in some shape or form.
Cut to 2005 and not only were the Serenitycrew back, they’d made it onto the big screen with a multi-million dollar budget: a pretty big risk when you consider the film has no big name actors. It’s a shame then that it’s so hideously…brilliant. Whedon has done the impossible and not only created a movie the fans (known as Browncoats) will enjoy, but one that is sure to draw in a whole other audience that may never have discovered his talent for sarcastic dialogue on TV. (Upon opening a near-empty bank safe, Zoe deadpans: “At last. We can retire and give up this life of crime”).
The story surrounds a mysterious young girl named River Tam, whose psychic abilities have made her a hot property with the military-based Alliance. Her brother Simon helps her escape from their lab and they travel in secret aboard the ship Serenity, captained by ex-soldier Malcolm Reynolds (Fillion). His gang consists of second-in-command Zoe, her goofy pilot husband Wash, naive mechanic Kaylee and selfish mercenary Jayne. As well as trying to pull off a daring heist, dodge the Alliance and their assassin, there’s the ongoing fear of a Reaver attack – cannibals who roam the galaxy raping and murdering at will.
This is the Firefly gang we know and love – the one-liners come thick and fast – but it’s also much darker. As in VERY dark, especially in the second half. Whedon isn’t afraid to beat up his characters for the greater good. His skill in writing both plot and character only highlight how cliched and safe other movies have become. He zigs when you think he’ll zag and before you’ve had a chance to laugh at a joke he’s thrown something horrific in your face to make you choke on said laugh. Product placement or focus group influence are not the driving forces here (The Island anyone?). Story is.
If there’s a failing it’s that, as good as it is, we still don’t get all the answers left hanging from the TV series (Mal and Inara’s relationship doesn’t get much of a look in), but that’s a very minor quibble and one that will hopefully be addressed in the future. The lack of box-office is more a sign of audience apathy and poor marketing rather than actual quality of product, and like its TV predecessor Serenity is sure to soar on DVD so a sequel isn’t impossible. Laughter, horror, fighting, ships with rotting corpses on the front – it’s all here, and it’s very shiny indeed. Please sir, we want some more.
We start off with a neat introduction by the man himself, Joss Whedon, filmed for the first preview screenings in America, giving his thanks to the dedicated fans. Though the R1 DVD has been out for some time, take comfort in the fact us limeys get a bonus feature: ‘A Filmmaker’s Journey’, charting the actual production and showing just how much fun the cast have on set together, once again making you boggle that Firefly ever got cancelled. There are also deleted scenes which show Inara’s scenes were longer, and a hilarious gag with her and Mal in the shuttle. The fun outtakes continue the trend for on-set buffoonery.
‘Future History: The Earth That Was’ is a five minute featurette on the setting of the show in the future after a great war.
‘What’s In A Firefly’ is backstory about Firefly, while ‘Re-Lighting The Firefly’ details how and why the feature film got made.
Finally we have a funny and insightful commentary by Whedon, who talks candidly about his experiences on and off set. Serenity is one of the best films of 2005 and everyone should have a copy in their home.