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Serenity: Does the big Firefly sequel work on its own?

The acclaimed but cancelled 'Firefly' series led to a cult favorite, big dang film: 'Serenity.' But is it a good film without the series behind it? Or at all?

Serenity Cast Photo

It’s Firefly week at CliqueClack ya’ll, and we’re aiming to misbehave. In support of this noble effort, over here at Flicks we’ll be discussing the movie that was the last hurrah of the Firefly show: Serenity.

Those out there unfamiliar with the series or just plain haven’t seen it may wonder if the movie is the type that relies on extensive fan knowledge to appreciate or enjoy — or is the film for everyone, Firefly neophytes included?

I actually saw the film first — I was only marginally aware of the television show, which aired on an inconvenient night and wasn’t promoted that well. At the time, I had seen only bits and pieces of Joss Whedon‘s other shows, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel – and I found them lightly enjoyable, but nothing earth shattering. Even so, I still completely missed the film while in theaters, and only happened to come across it a year later as a “Hmm, this looks like it might be interesting” thing. A friend and I sat down to watch what we presumed to be yet another sci-fi paint by numbers movie — and we were highly impressed and even a bit surprised by what we saw.

Those more familiar with the Whedon style would probably see a few of those twists and turns coming, and they had probably seen his genre subversions in other media — or in Firefly earlier. We didn’t have that background, so the movie seemed undeniably fresh and original, unlike any other science fiction movie in recent memory. The approach seemed fresh and unique — a sci-fi Western that didn’t pull punches and incorporated intriguing elements of international culture? An odd future where the US and China are both the primary cultural influences? Yes, the Chinese wasn’t quite perfect — though in fairness it’s not an easy language to speak. It was still quite cool to see it nonetheless.

This was a movie with fully realized and fascinating characters, and a plot that we could honestly not predict. A movie that tweaked the conceptions and expectations of the sci-fi medium while simultaneously embracing them. But how could I guess that the movie was even better after having watched the series? Probably I should have realized that, especially as I began to hear many different people recommending it. There are a few things that you’ll miss out on if you only see the movie — without spoiling it, some of the minor characters get very little development in the film. In the show, even those minor characters become truly realized figures that you actually care about.

But forgetting the show for a moment, what still works in the film? The acting by the leads, including space captain Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) and the rigidly amoral Operative (the awesomely named Chiwetel Ejiofor) are fantastic foils for each other, although Mal’s portrayal in the film is a bit darker than in the series. The supporting cast works across the board, including the stalwart crew of the Serenity: hard-bitten soldier Zoë (Gina Torres), carefree pilot Wash (Alan Tudyk), beguiling courtesan Inara (Morena Baccarin), blowhard sociopath Jayne (Adam Baldwin), and jovial and earthy engineer Kaylee (Jewel Staite). But the brother and sister pair Simon and River Tam (Sean Maher and Summer Glau) are fantastic, providing the arc for the brand new viewer as the worried but competent doctor and his brilliant but damaged sister — who may just be a violent killer.

Some of the tertiary characters, including the nerdy Mr. Universe (David Krumholtz) may at first seem cliched, but Joss Whedon does enjoy making you regret your initial impressions and opinions. The effects and directing are both top notch, with nary a Jar Jar in sight — in other words, at no point will you glare at the movie and scoff, “That looks totally fake.”  There are emotional moments that tug at the heartstrings certainly, but some won’t be quite so effective to those who haven’t seen the show — I speak from experience on that one.

So what’s the final verdict? The movie is a fantastic film on its own, easily worth your while. But if you watch the show first, it’s a triumphant piece of cinema and a bittersweet but satisfying coda to the Firefly ‘verse. It couldn’t be easier to watch — both the show and the film are available on various streaming sites, although the conversion for the blu-ray disc was great — worth it for me, anyway. So what are you waiting for?

This movie tricked me into becoming a fan of Joss Whedon — tricked me with its awesomeness. I suppose that’s fair.

Photo Credit: Universal Pictures

Categories: Features, General

2 Responses to “Serenity: Does the big Firefly sequel work on its own?”

July 4, 2011 at 3:54 AM

I’m contacting you because of your shiny post above.

I was wondering if you would be up for reviewing our film Browncoats: Redemption, which is a feature length independent film set in the Firefly universe that has received Joss Whedon blessing, studio approval, and 100% of the net proceeds are donated to charity. We just released a remastered DVD and a bluray edition, both with a bonus disc of the complete score, and we’re doing something that has never been done before.

Our film takes place three months after the events at the end of the film Serenity and features a new ship and a new crew. The film includes an original track for the score donated by Firefly composer, Greg Edmondson, as well as cameos from Adam Baldwin, Michael Fairman (Niska), and Yan and Raphael Feldman (Fanti and Mingo).

What makes this additionally impressive is that this is the first ever fan film to be allowed to be used as a charity business model. We’re raising money for five charities created or supported by the cast and crew of Firefly. To date, we’ve raised over $60,000 combined for the charities we support and have been able to publicly present checks for our donations to date to Adam Baldwin (photo at: http://bit.ly/kHHM1A), Jewel Staite (http://bit.ly/l78Gti), and we recently presented a check to Joss Whedon and Equality Now in person at the California Can’t Stop the Serenity event on June 25th (view the presentation at: http://bit.ly/iozNJ2).

In 58 short days, the project is over and the film will no longer be available. Right now, we could use all the help you can offer to assist us in getting the word out about the film. We would appreciate any and all assistance in our last major push to raise as much money as we can for the charities involved before the project ends on September 1st.

You can see our latest trailer at our website: http://browncoatsmovie.com and we’d love to arrange a way for you to see the film for your review.

Thanks for considering us and stay shiny,

ALM
The Big Damn Editor

July 5, 2011 at 12:00 AM

As it turns out, I actually have a copy of the film I bought a while back but never had the time to watch it. But I don’t have a blu-ray version, so I’m not sure if I should wait and try to get that instead.

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