Dir: Joss Whedon

Patricia Ducey

Serenity is definitely this season’s best Friday night movie. You know the kind I mean—your brain is fried after a week of work, you meet up with friends for a glass of wine and a show—something not too deep, hopefully funny, with good dialogue and maybe a few starry-eyed lovers. I’m not a true sci-fi aficionado, but lured by the prospect of a free ticket to an advance screening, and on the advice of a friend who loved the TV version, I took a chance.

Joss Whedon wrote and directed Serenity, his first feature after several TV hits like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and based it on Firefly, his short-lived TV show based on the Serenity crew. Whedon is a third generation TV writer (father Tom wrote for many shows, including Golden Girls, grandfather John for the Dick Van Dyke Show) and has finally found a canvas big enough for his talents. (For those writers not so genetically blessed, I would recommend going to school on Whedon’s Emmy-nominated Buffy script Buffy, “Hush.”)

Serenity and its a crew of renegade space cowboys inhabit galaxy far, far away five centuries into the future. Whedon provides a superbly shot, lushly orchestrated opening sequence to bring the non-fans up to speed, and then introduces us to Mal (Nathan Fillion), the Jesse James/Robin Hood captain of the good ship Serenity. He helms his bucket of bolts and its loyal crew, misfits and remnants of his platoon in the doomed war against the Alliance, the fascist rulers of the extended universe. By far, the most compelling characters are River (Summer Glau), half waif, half weapon, and Alliance baddie The Operative, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, first seen in Dirty Pretty Things (rent this movie pronto). Ejiofor’s superior intellect, his crooked respect for his victims and, okay, his dreamy good looks and British accent, make him a villain to die for.

River’s brother has rescued her from the clutches of the Alliance in the middle of their dastardly plot to transform this fragile empath into a walking weapon, Manchurian Candidate-style. They safely stow away aboard the Serenity, but River attracts assassins like honey draws flies; her presence on the ship sets the chase and the plot in motion. Mal’s not quite sure she’s worth the bother, but could there still be something like honor or love ticking away inside his broken, cynical heart? Whedon skillfully keeps us guessing and, judging by the rapt attention of the audience, basically had us at hello.

Whedon these days must be twirling his smoking six-guns and slapping them back into his holster, because he has created a classic. Serenity pretty much defeats any pretenders or contenders to the space opera title. Whedon gives us battles and chases and plenty of futuristic hardware, but the movie is ultimately about the software: the human impulses that keep us chasing after love, or trying to figure out what it means to be a hero. See it on the big screen—it’s a big movie. Next Friday, for sure.

-- Patricia Ducey

Copyright Web del Sol, 2005

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