Friday, July 2, 2010

Serenity

One of the reasons television is having a renaissance lately is that people have finally figured out the strengths of the medium. Free from having to deliver everything, all of the time, TV shows can often have entirely character-centric episodes, a slow burn of a story, subplots that anchor the show and are never quite revealed, and so on. In a movie, you have to begin and end in two hours, and while subplots don't hurt they generally have to be wrapped up unless you're ludicrously confident that a sequel is going to happen. Even telling the same story, it's a completely different pace, and one which necessitates taking a very different approach to storytelling. As a result, it's always interesting when a TV show takes to the big screen, and in the case of Serenity, tell a season's worth of story in about two hours.

Serenity picks up where the beloved, short lived, and mishandled TV series Firefly left off. Mal (Nathan Fillon) is still the captain of the Serenity, old war hero for the losing side, and general enjoyable screen presence - albeit with the dick meter pegged a bit higher here. His crew is still a lovable cast of characters which everyone became fond of during the show's run, but the story itself focuses squarely on River Tam (Summer Glau), everyone's favorite slightly crazy young psychic girl who can absolutely, positively, kill every motherfucker in the room if triggered. There's also Chiwetel Ejiofor as the cold operative who is trying to kill her.

There are two pieces of the show's mythology that have never been explained that the movie tries to wrap up. The story of how River got to be so crazy, and that of the reavers, people who eat people. Here, they neatly align, so we can get some of the mysteries explained just in case the movie didn't get the series renewed. Given that part of the story is about the reavers, we also have an excuse for a lot of action, which seems to be the law for sci-fi films.

Serenity had a pretty much impossible job, reaching out to old fans and yet attracting new ones, which is pretty hard at the best of times. It didn't work at the box office, since Firefly is now truly dead, but I wonder if it could have. Characters are introduced briefly, but this is all about Mal and River, meaning the supporting characters are not given nearly as much to do. If something happens to a character, while a fan might be crushed, someone just wandering in might be curious why they're supposed to care. It relies of those 13 original episodes to give some moments of emotional resonance, which is a shame if you're not a fan of the show.

I was a fan of the show though, and it's nice to see what amounts to a really big series finale. It does feel like a double length episode at points, but that's really no bad thing, as the show was consistently witty and heartfelt, and anyone who liked it would just want more. Serenity fills that need, but I worry that in doing so it might have been alienating to people who never watched Firefly first.

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