Saturday, May 07, 2005

Serenity Review (No Spoilers)

Because I feel strongly that you should not allow yourself to be spoiled for this film. You want the full impact, don't you? You want the true-believer collective experience of spontaneous gasping, laughing, and blood-curdling screaming, right? And you want the full HSQ that you know Joss is going to deliver, right? Of course you do. So I'm going to talk about this without giving out any plot points, at least nothing you won't know if you've seen the trailer. It's going to be a bit of a tightrope walk, but you will thank me for it, because there are big shocks in this movie. So get away from those spoiler-y links. You'll like yourself better come September 30.

Thursday night. Ms. Bowen and I arrive minutes before the screening is due to begin. The theatre is filled to the brim, as theatres which sell out often are. They don't even have any poster cards left (dammit), or comment cards, or golf pencils. (Well, they might have had golf pencils, but without the comment cards, I'm not sure there's much point.) No matter; I got a keychain, and I'm fine watching my movies without filling out evaluation forms. (Although I would have liked the chance, if there were a question like "What would you have liked to see more of in the film?", to write down "Monkeys." Not because it's true, but because it should be said often.)

There are people in costume. Uff da. This is--hm. I see a woman in a ridiculous getup that I guess means she's trying to be Inara, only without Morena Baccarin's bone structure. Or lips. Or eyes. Sigh. Where was I? Oh, yeah, costumes. Mostly I'm wandering around looking for a seat, but I do notice a guy in a suit with blue latex gloves on, but he's alone, which makes me think he wasn't paying very close attention to the whole "Two by two, hands of blue" bit. I wasn't expecting this; I guess I underestimated the feedback loop of geekly anticipation. Honestly, I haven't felt a collective buzz like this since I was twelve and went to the opening day show of Return of the Jedi. Still, I thank god for the fact that there were no aliens on Firefly. Else I might be forced to openly scorn a fellow fan.

Eventually we find seats--in the front row, and not together. The lights go dim, and I am a geek. I'm all giggly with anticipation. And suddenly another geek is on the screen. It's Joss, and when I call him that I mean it in the best possible way, because he's clearly geeked about his movie and proud and amazed that it got made at all and that any of us care. We care, Joss. He says this movie shouldn't have been made, that it only was because the people involved in the series couldn't let go of it. He says that the fans made the movie possible. In fact, he says that we, the fans, made the movie, and if it sucks it's our fault. Hee. He says the movie is going to need help to be a big hit, and we need to get the word out (Jeez, what do you think I'm doing here?) about how much we loved the movie, assuming that we do. If we don't love the movie, Joss says this is a good time for quiet contemplation. Everyone laughs. He says, in a line from one of the episodes which I have seen meta-quoted a couple of times already, that "We" (the collective we, encompassing the filmmakers and the fans and, I don't know, the concession stand worker who sold me the M&M's) "have done the impossible, and that makes us mighty." He looks really proud and possibly teary when he says this. Sniff. Aww. People cheer and laugh and clap all throughout Joss's little speech. Me, I'm still waiting for Jewel Staite to show up and kick the guy with the nachos out of the seat next to me. (Other cities got celebrities, dammit. Why not Chicago?)

Now this was an advance print, so keep in mind that the picture was a teensy bit grainy, and the sound wasn't full earwax-crumbling digital surround. There wasn't much music, and I suspect the opening credits will be much flashier, and that the closing credits will exist. The theme song wasn't there. I hope it will show up in the final print; I really like that song. Joss also said there were effects placeholders, although to be honest I didn't really notice any. And yet despite the unfinished-ness, I want to see the movie again right now. You must understand, I am not a repeat moviegoer, or I haven't been since Army of Darkness came out. Not that I won't watch a movie multiple times, but I usually wait for the video. So this is high praise.

Here's the first genius thing about the film. There's a world galaxy universe lot of information to give out to the newbies, right? Not to mention thirteen episodes of backstory. But you don't want to bore the fans, either. And for a moment as the film begins I fear the exposition, because as far as I know Cate Blanchett hasn't signed on to narrate. But Joss manages to take not one, not two, but three clichéd expository devices and explode them, transitioning from one to the next with such vertiginous precision that by the time the first three (maybe four?) minutes have passed, a huge amount of character and world information has been conveyed, and it's not boring. It pulls you in even if you already know it, and if you didn't, it gives you the exact amount you need to understand what's going on. And at the same time he's doing this, he's making fun of what he's doing, and showing off just a bit, but not in a pretentious way. The sense of fun came right off the screen and pasted a big smile on my face and said "This is going to be a ride." That opening is freaking genius.

But who cares, right? I want my story, and I want to see these great characters put through their paces. And they are here, never fear. Fear for them, because they're in a Joss Whedon film (sorry, I just have to type that again: A Joss Whedon Film. That's a pretty sight). Some get more emphasis than others, and Mal and River are the focus here, but everyone gets their moment. These actors--they are so good. Hilarious, heartbreaking, sexy, smart, but most of all committed to the spirits of these characters. OK, some are better than others, and some of the weaknesses are still there, but Joss really has gotten the best out of everyone. And that goes triple for the breakout star of the film, Chiwetel Ejiofor. Whedon is so good at villains--the Mayor is my personal fave--that perhaps it should go without saying, but I'm saying it. A Whedon fable needs a good villain, and Ejiofor is better than good. He's ruthless and scary and complex and I want to see him in more movies. (And I know about Love Actually, thanks, I get told to see that movie a dozen times a day and one of these days I will actually take that advice.)

There is of course, a bittersweet quality to this film, because rather than a two-hour film we could have had these events unfold over the course of two or three seasons of television. Don't mistake me; Serenity is a satisfying film, and it has nuanced character moments and it has grace and it has subtlety. (It also has guns and crashes and blood and explosions, so it's an all-around crowd pleaser.) But there were points at which I thought to myself, "I would have loved it if this were the season 1 finale," or "This character conflict could have been so much more deeply explored over the course of two or three episodes." Except in my head those phrases sounded less pedantic. The point being, I watched this with a tinge of sadness for what can never be.

But oh, what it is. I'd estimate that I spent fully half of the film with my mouth hanging open, from shock or awe or worry. The story pays off some of the series' subplots handsomely, and although I must admit that half an hour in I had figured out the essence of where it was headed, I couldn't see the path, and the rule of Surprising Yet Inevitable was not violated for me. Some mysteries are solved, while others, it seems, never will be. Serenity herself--much like another SF ship, Moya--is still propelled as much by the intersections of the characters' varying agendas as it is by Kaylee's engineering genius. (Kaylee, by the way, gets some of the very best lines in the film.) Yes, Mal is the captain, and much of the journey of Serenity is a trip into his dark places; but it's also a film about a dysfunctional but loving little family, which is, I think the secret to so much of its appeal.

If I may speak for the crowd for a moment? We loved it. We laughed so much we missed lines of dialogue, and then we gasped, and then we cheered and then we sat in stunned silence, some of us near tears, and then we were laughing again. I remember that Jedi screening way back when, and how the entire theatre cheered when Darth Vader threw the Emperor off the precipice. That was a great moment, and there were similar moments at the screening. It was a good feeling to share this film with people who are as passionate about it as I am. I hadn't been a fan like this since that first Star Wars trilogy, until Buffy came along. Because Whedon--gloriously manipulative bastard that he is--never forgot, unlike Unca George, that it was about the story. What a beautiful thing.

I can't wait for September 30.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

>Although I would have liked the chance, if there were a question like "What would you have liked to see more of in the film?", to write down "Monkeys." Not because it's true...

You expect me to believe that you _wouldn't_ have liked to see more monkeys in the film? That if there had in fact been a monkey present, you would have turned away in rage and disgust?

Good sir, I don't believe it.

I didn't notice any of the people in costumes, which makes me--strangely sorry.

Ditto that on the theme song. I hoped, when it wasn't there in the beginning, that maybe they'd play it over the closing credits. P'raps when there are closing credits.


- H

10:22 PM  
Blogger Dave said...

I would have applauded the monkeys had they served the plot. Say, if they had _______ _______ in order to _______ _______ and prevent _____ from ______ _______. (Spoiler-free!)

RE: The costumes. Meh. I realize the "Browncoats" designation has been widely adopted, but I'm uncomfortable with the Trekkie associations the costumes bring up. Because, you know, except for a few episodes of Next Gen and a fair portion of Deep Space Nine, Trek really sucks.

1:47 AM  

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