(some spoilers, so be warned)
I came to the preview screening of this uber-hyped movie cold. Unlike the excited morass of bobble hat wearing fans around me at the Vue cinema in the West End, I knew little of the films background or of the short-lived series that preceded it. I? seen one and half episodes in reruns on the Skiffy channel, barely taking in what appeared to be just another rerun of a failed series, cut-price cowboys in space complete with dodgy gee-tar twangs.
This was not the case with Joss Wheldon, who wrote the script and makes his directorial debut with this movie. About him I knew plenty, but then so would most people with an Internet connection. However, as someone who got turned off Buffy by the smart dialogue (why does everyone have to be that sharp / funny / kooky? I? not, neither are my friendsu, never bothered much with Angel (too much posing and premonitions) and has never quite forgiven the man for Alien Resurrection (I know the studio interfered, but even soU) I was airing on the side of the sceptical. I always saw Toy Story as something of a one-off, toys are allowed to be funny, geeks aren?.
In brief, Serenity revolves around a crew of inter-galactic malcontents aboard an independent trade ship called Serenity, on the run at the edge of the law fighting against an overbearing dictatorship called the Alliance. Think of Blake? Seven crossed with Gunsmoke and you are almost there. It revolves around the kookiest member of the crew who is in reality a super-conditioned psychic weapon on the run with her handsome Dr brother from said Alliance. She is almost out-kooked by the cute kooky engineer, but not quite. Its?largely predictable if you are used to this type of plot, but has enough twists to keep you entertained.
So what did I not like about this? Well, the pacing at the beginning, seemed rather off-kilter at first, too much jumping around between planets just to see new faces. As a newcomer, the film made a good attempt to introduce you to the ships crew and their complex inter-relations that the fans love to preach about on message boards (actually, its just another case of someone loves someone, someone loves some-one else etc, nothing more complex than Home and Away). What it lost was the background of the universe, and in particular what could be interesting supporting characters, especially the character of Shepard. I suspect some of them were included mainly to keep fans of the show happy, but they felt a little rushed and forced into the plot. Whelons?direction will hopefully be given time to mature in film. At times we saw a lot of simple TV face on shots, whilst at other times he was wildly intuitive in his camera work with tracking shots making full use of the opulent sets. The action sequences were somewhat blurred and played out too fast though, some of the chick-combat scenes were almost painfully aping Buffy.
What did I like? Well, pretty much all of the rest! Great effects for one thing, with a space battle that takes the dull overlong one at the start of Revenge of the Sith, stamps all over its face, kicks it into the corner and triumphantly wees all over it. It really is that good, as are all of the other shots. Pure space-ship porn. The production design is also incredible, far beyond that of what I saw in the series, in terms of scope. This extends way down to the building designs and costumes. I love the sets of the ship and its unparalleled levels of clutter. This proves triumphantly that low budget sci-fi movies can be made well these days. Now all we need is for Warner Brothers to wake up and give us a Babylon 5 movie.
The plot, despite its aforementioned predictability, is great. At heart, its not much beyond your average sci-fi series and at times it feels like a two parter at the end of a season, but provides an excellent set of villains in the form of the Reapers (demented faceless cannibal space rapists) and a great series of macguffins and set sequences. The acting is also excellent. The capable cast can handle all the kookiness and witty dialogue that Joss can throw at them with great skill; they clearly love their characters. I did. I even grew to like the kooky, oh so witty dialogue and the annoyingly cute ever so kooky girls, especially the lovely Jewel Staite as Kaylee. Sean Maher was also a highlight as the out of place Doctor. Nathan Fillon deserves his own lead role in a TV series. He is pure concentrated alpha male with a rough edge that Boranez never quite managed as Angel. In fact, In many ways, the characters are evolutions of the archetypes we saw in Buffy.
Along with Batman Begins and War of the Worlds, 2005 has been a good year for sci-fi fans. Serenity is a great way to end it off. Unreservedly recommended to even passing fans of the genre. What can Hollywood learn? Don? cancel series too quickly! Make more sci-fi for fans (Babylon 5 is a good prospect now we have no Trek..) Wheldons?future in Hollywood as a writer and hopefully as a director is now assured. With a bit of luck, some of the excellent young cast will also go on to do great things. Who knows, this may even get a sequel.