October 01, 2005

Running On Empty

Ok, this is the review of a fan, so take whatever grains of salt now. The way that I know that this is a fantastic movie is that I don't exactly know how I feel about it. On the one hand it packed everything I thought I wanted into a few hours and made me bite my nails more than once. On the other hand I hated moments of the film, and it wasn't necessarily because I disagreed with the direction the story took. The best way I can sum up my feelings is in relation to what some of us were talking about after the film: comic books. There is a strain of comics where the goal is to entice the visual sense; to show the most visually appealing characters and to portray the most exciting scenes. On the other hand there are comics that appeal more to the people that are struck by the characters presented and the words they say. Serenity is of the second category. Sure, there's plenty of visual pornography and it's done rather admirably, but the core of the movie is in the complex and often troubling characters and situations that the movie shows you.

Like all Joss Whedon works, nothing comes out the way you would think it would or would want it to. Nothing is clean; everything is messy. Every triumph is met with equal loss. You walk out of the theater thinking that you won but troubled by the thought in the back of your mind that you might have actually lost and just don't know it yet.

This is the mark of a true masterpiece. When you walk out of Forrest Gump you know how you're supposed to feel and how you actually feel. The same is true of Schindler's List or Titanic. When you watch Good Fellas you're not necessarily sure how you're supposed to feel, and that's what Serenity gives you; uncertainty. I love this movie and hate it. That's how I know it's good.

"Love is always the verb / When the moments have gone / From our creation / All over the world tonight / The young fires have burned / And now the heat is on / With this frustration"


Dan Brottman said...

Strange Fruit - All Over The World

Noumena said...

Oh sure, just post your review in a separate thread, forcing me to double-comment mine! Damn you, MosBen!

My Serenity Review
by Noumena

Short review: Serenity kicks much ass if you're a Firefly fan.

Long review: If you're already well-immersed in the Fireflyverse, then Serenity will be almost exactly what you wanted. The writing and acting are, of course, exactly what we got from Firefly, and in two hours the plot lines left open by Firefly's untimely cancellation are tied up, more or less. Most, if not all, of the film was devoted to telling the story of River Tam, as this was the most substantial arc left unfilfilled in Firefly.

This does mean, however, that very little time is spent on character development: it appears Joss simply didn't have the time (in terms of the length of the film) to really dive into the dynamics of the group. In spirit and style, Serenity is closer to the Firefly episodes The Train Job or Ariel than, say, Out of Gas or The Message. This isn't a bad thing, of course, but it does mean that, like The Train Job, this is not the first thing one's Firefly-deprived friend should see for the best possible impression.

If you wanted to get a friend up to speed before taking them to Serenity, I'd recommend watching at least the pilot (the episodes Serenity), Ariel, Heart of Gold, and Objects in Space.

One thing I dearly missed was the particular style of the CGI shots. The CGI in Firefly was usually done in a style that made it look much more realistic than anything in Lucas: the camera vibrates and bounces, zooms in and out suddenly, and the action is rarely perfectly framed. We do get some of this, towards the end, in the largest single CGI sequence, but by then many opportunities have been passed over.

Also, the Ballad of Serenity never shows up. Indeed, there isn't even a real credit sequence; they're simply shown over the first scene set in Serenity.

Joss showed early and fairly often in Buffy and Angel that he was not squeamish about killing off important characters. I think the death of Wash is significant, however, in its pointlessness. Every death in Buffy had either an efficient or final cause -- Jenny Calender is killed by Angelus to prevent the restoration of Angel, Joyce dies and leaves Buffy with all the responsibilities of adulthood, and Tara's death is the catalyst for Willow's transformation. Wash is killed almost accidentally, certainly not personally, and his death doesn't really spurn anyone to do anything different. It serves to differentiate this film from just about any other action film around, with the possible exception of Quentin Tarantino's work (where he does almost the exact opposite to the same end): this portrayal of death serves to ground all the violence, leading the viewer to realize how unbearably tragic all of these events are. It's entertaining and viscerally cool to watch River beat up every single person in a crowded bar -- but, in the context of the film world, how many good people accidentally lost their lives there?

Drew said...

MosBen, great post. Noumena, great comment.

The thing about Firefly/Serenity is that it is a Western. It's about frontier life, and life is cheap. I really like the idea of characters dying for no specific dramatic reason. The death is dramatic, because the character is loved, but it doesn't move the plot. In fact, it simply results from it.

Characters die in Firefly because they do dangerous things, and people who dangerous things sometimes die.

I loved the movie, absolutely loved it. The pacing was perfect, and incredibly tricky. There are plenty of passages that need to take a slow, deliberate approach. But it is, in part, an action movie. When necessary, the film runs like a rabbit. Sometimes, it's almost too much, with the frenetic editing and direction creating moments of near total chaos. ANd yet, it's tightly controlled.

Being a Joss Whedon fan, I expected a brilliantly written film, and I got it. I didn't expect the film to be so brilliantly directed.

Drew said...


Noumena said...

Drew gets the points for his second post in this thread, the one that's 'Rabbit!' all by itself.

MosBen said...

I think it's worth saying that I wrote this post after coming home extremely drunk and did not remember writing a word of it the following morning. Pretty stong work for being completely out of my mind I'd say.

Dan Brottman said...

I just saw Serenity last night. I thought it was OK. As someone who never watched the TV series, it was somewhat difficult to get over the sensation that I was just watching a really long episode of a show in the middle of the season.

My roomate said he thought it was really bad. He cited poor acting, poor dialog (he absolutely couldn't stand the western-esque style of speech), and couldn't get past the fact that the Reavers share the same flaw as many "bad guys" in speculative fiction. "Why haven't they killed each other off by now?"

I mean, what possible sense of community could they have, given their origins? Their heightened aggression should have made them kill off each other... if a reason for this was presented in the show, it never was in the movie.

As I said, my impression of the film was that it was OK. Not great, not bad. I love Sci-Fi/Fantasy, so I'm going in a little biased. On the other hand, the movie was talked up a lot, so I had high expectations.

Unlike my roomate, I didn't find the acting to be that poor. I felt the characters were likable, the pacing of the film was fine - at no point did I feel like it was dragging. I liked the space-western feel, including the style of speech. The bad guy was pretty cool (my roomate's first words out of the theater, "Is it wrong that my favorite character was the bad guy?").

My main problem with it was that I felt that I was missing something. Normally this is fine, because as a viewer you want to step into a world that exists on its own, before you started watching, but, in this movie, I just couldn't fully immerse myself. Maybe it's just because I KNEW that the show existed.

I will say this: the movie in no way lessened my interest in checking out the tv show.

Ed said...


I respect your luke-warm opinion of the film. I don't know how I would have felt seeing that film without the benefit of seeing the show. However, I can't understand how your roommmate hated it. He sounds like a gay.