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Serenity (2005) Print E-mail
Friday, 30 September 2005
As the creator of the passionately beloved series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel” (with David Greenwalt) and “Firefly,” Joss Whedon enjoys a following second to few. The thing is, even if one knew nothing else about the filmmaker who is making his feature directorial debut with his own script here, “Serenity” would justify Whedon’s reputation and popularity – it’s an immensely satisfying and entertaining science-fiction yarn that also has elements of comedy, horror, sober drama and political allegory. Remember when really intelligent writers and directors used the genre not just to blow things up (although “Serenity” doesn’t shy away from that) but also to get people to think? “Serenity” is a return to that rightfully honored tradition.

The beginning of “Serenity” gets us up to speed very quickly. It’s 600 years in the future, and overpopulation on Earth has led to humanity expanding into another solar system, where the governing Alliance has won a war against a rebellion by the less well-off and less civilized outer planets, which are endangered by space-faring cannibals known as Reavers. Captain Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) of the small ship Serenity fought on the losing side of the war and has become a smuggler and small-time thief. Among the seven-person crew on Serenity are young doctor Simon Tam (Sean Maher) and his 17-year-old sister River (Summer Glau). Simon rescued River from an Alliance lab, where they were performing torturous tests on her. River is psychic, but also borderline psychotic – the Alliance wants her back very badly and have put a seriously dangerous Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor) in charge of retrieving her. Without giving too much away, it turns out that River unknowingly holds the key to an extraordinary secret.

Here’s where the political allegory comes in, although Whedon has the great sense to make it a show – indeed, kickass, shoot and detonate – rather than tell sort of allegory. His points, however, are well-taken. He also writes some of the best dialogue to be heard in any genre and most of his actors inhabit their roles with intense naturalism. Fillion brings troubled conviction and a gravelly thorniness to Mal, and Glau displays breathtaking physicality, doing most of her own fighting (of which there is a good deal) as the weaponlike River. Ejiofor has disarming warmth, intelligence and authority as the murderously certain Operative and Adam Baldwin and Alan Tudyk contribute two very different but equally potent flavors of humor as, respectively, the most warlike and most pacifistic members of the Serenity crew.

The sound in “Serenity” is extremely good, with big, dimensional gunfights and volleys between spaceships sounding off all over the theatre. The sound mix courteously makes sure we can hear what’s being said when there’s dialogue during the battles without blowing our ears off in the quieter sections. David Newman’s spare, handsome score favors acoustic guitar, giving “Serenity” a sonic personality quite distinct from most other space-faring films.

“Serenity” has pretty much everything one could want from science-fiction – good special effects, strong action, fine performances, quotable dialogue, characters we enjoy spending time with and some actual ideas on its mind, conveyed with clarity and intelligence. Absolutely recommended.

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