Joss Whedon, US, 2005, 119 mins
Cast: Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Allan Tudyk
Joss Whedon, creator of the phenomenally successful Buffy the Vampire Slayer and spin-off show Angel, envisaged his foray into science fiction TV as a show that would span multiple series and take in story threads that would cross the galaxy. The harsh reality is that Firefly never really left orbit. Cancelled after just 14 episodes (three of which never aired) and showed out of order by a network that didn't know how to market it. So it is that the big screen incarnation, Serenity, comes across as somewhat of a gamble for Universal, with a cult following and huge dvd sales this has to be the first instance in which a failed small screen show is greenlit with a $40M budget. So was it worth it?
The answer is a resounding yes. For the "Browncoats" (firefly's hardcore fanbase) it's a case of picking up where the ship last docked in terms of characters and plot but in an attempt to appeal to the new arrivals on board creator Whedon manages to compress 14 episodes worth of storyline into one voiceover and a tracking shot through the ships interior that Brian De Palma would be proud of.
Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) is the Captain of Serenity, which is home to a group of renegades and petty thieves who function off the radar of the universe's oppressive regime, The Alliance. Their existence is thrown into chaos by the arrival of brother and sister fugitives, Simon and psychic assassin River (Sean Maher and Summer Glau). River is the target of The Alliance and it seems that they will stop at nothing to get her back, and the good news is that we are invited along for the ride.
Serenity soars through the afterburn left by other recent science fiction movies with its three dimensional characters and wonderfully crafted dialogue. A lot of the negativity levelled at a certain prequel trilogy was down to the pomposity of the language that never allowed the viewer to connect with them. The essence of Whedon's movie is the heart that beats inside every character. From Fillion's Han Solo Captain, no doubt a leading man for the future, to Adam Balwin's morally dubious but hilarious Jane Cobb, it is a testament to Whedon's writing that he can make us invest in caring about each of the nine strong cast in such a short time, especially if unfamiliar with the show.
Some of the more peripheral characters are bound to get lost in the stratosphere in terms of screen time. Ron Glass's Shepard Book, and the ships former prostitute Inara are both given very little to do. The major acting revelation comes in the form of a newcomer to the Serenity "verse", Chiwetel Ejiofor (Dirty Pretty Things) as The Alliance's Operative who is assigned to tracking down River. Ejoifor steals every scene he is in, and in a cast this strong that is high praise indeed.
Before booking tickets for a flight, be warned there are a few loose panels on the good ship Serenity. The visuals, although highly effective, are very much of the television show variety, but thankfully because of the chemistry between the main players it's the conversational set-pieces that drive the film. The exposition in the first third can also grow tiresome as the uninitiated are made familiar with the character traits but once again this is counterbalanced by a final third that has more peaks of excitement than any film released this year.
Serenity is a fantastic piece of science-fiction that deserves to be embraced in order for these colourful characters to evolve, whether that's in a sequel or a return to the port that it launched from, the gogglebox, is yet to be seen. If it is a goodbye then it can be seen off with a tear in the eye of the fans, and a glimpse of what could have been for the rest of the galaxy.