I’m in a browncoat-mood at the moment having recently reviewed Firefly, so I felt it was a good moment to review Serenity as well. The film is the follow up to the television series, which was cut short when it was cancelled by the network. Here in lies one hint of just how special Firefly/Serenity is; TV shows that get cancelled don’t get movies.
Stargate is the only other show I can think of that got a movie, but after ten series they had an established fan base, and it was a TV movie. Firefly is only fourteen episodes long, and only eleven of them were aired originally in the states. And they got a movie so that some of the storylines established in the series could be resolved.
I have to admit that I came to be a browncoat via the film initially. I saw a teaser trailer for the cinema release on the television, and completely forgot about it. Then I saw the same trailer for the DVD release, and the words ‘I aim to misbehave’ caught my attention again. Aim to misbehave in whose eyes I thought, because the audience would surely agreed with whatever actions the characters would be undertaking.
In a sci-fi film, where the majority of my experience comes from watching Star Trek and Stargate where the established authority’s are the good guys, what would the story be like where the good guys aren’t the clean cut and polished officers of the utopian future?
In answer, EPIC. The plot, the visuals, the characters, the soundtrack: the whole package is epic. There is no other word.
Serenity is and probably always will be my all time favourite film. It is in my opinion heads and shoulders above the like of LOTR and the Hobbit, Harry Potter, Star Wars, Star Trek and Inception all of which had much bigger budgets etc. Even compared to other genres like the wonderfully quirky Amelie; the heartfelt and structural genius of Richard Curtis’ Four Wedding and a Funeral; the heartbreak of Never Let Me Go; and the beautiful setting and story of Under the Tuscan Sun, all of which have their places in my heart, Serenity tops them all.
I was hooked from the moment the opening scene finished. At the time when I first watched it I was learning a lot about how to write a screenplay, and how it differed from prose. From that scene alone, I learnt more about how script worked than I have in the eight or so years since I first saw it.
It opens with a very quick introduction of how the solar system the film is set in was formed via a classroom lesson where a younger version of the character of River is in attendance, being taught about the War that took place a few years before the TV series. It turns out this is only a dream that River is having whilst in a laboratory being experimented on under the observation of the Chief Scientist and her brother Simon, who’s come under cover to break her out. It then turns out that this is holographic security footage being watched by an Operative of the Parliament in charge of finding the wanted brother and sister fugitives. He establishes the peril the characters face by explaining why the authority is so desperate to get them back and how far he would go to get them.
In less than five minutes the back story, and the underlying threat and plot are outlined. In the next five minutes, you’re introduced to the crew of the Firefly-class ship called Serenity. It is a ‘walk though the entire ship’ scene reminiscence of Sorkin’s West Wing, which introduces most of the main characters, their relationships to each other, their role in the job they are preparing to carrying out, and the general tensions between Simon and the Captain that tie in with the threat proposed by the opening scene.
You don’t need to have seen the TV series to understand the film, because everything you need to know is laid out for you, but it’s not an information dump, it is a brilliantly structured set up for the film. None of the information you’re told is irrelevant; it’s good because not for a single second in any part of the film, is the audiences’ intelligent insulted by having obvious markers of ‘look at this’, ‘pay attention to this’, ‘this is relevant’ moments when key information is being conveyed. It is seamlessly structured, subtle, elegant, and entirely natural.
You learn information without realising that you’re been told something that turns out to be extremely important. When you watch the film again, like I have, you have moments where you go ‘aaahhh that’s important, that relates to what happens later on, oh how awesome is this script structured.’ I think I shouted that on my second viewing and gained a bemused look from my Dad, but I didn’t care, I was enjoying myself. The truth learnt in the film is hinted at throughout the entire film, and woven together beautifully. The only other example of such an elegant plot teaser is the ‘Bad Wolf’ of Doctor Who.
So when I say epic, I mean epic. It is the first film I have ever watched where I finished the film and immediately sat and watched through it again. And then I watched it again the next day. The only other film I’ve watched twice in one day was Never Let Me Go but there was a five hour gap between viewings not a five minute refill my teacup break.
If you are budding scriptwriter, or even just a writer in general, than you need to see this film to see a master at work, and Joss Whedon is one of the best to learn from. If you just want to see a sci-fi film that a little bit different, full of well rounded characters who go up against all the odds, then watch Serenity.