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ISSUE 119 VOL 4 PUBLISHED 10/7/2005

'Serenity' for series fans, not everyone

By John Douglass
Variety Editor

Friday, October 7, 2005

The idea that the movie "Serenity" was ever even green-lighted is more than slightly ridiculous. To bankroll a large-budget film based on the television series "Firefly," a series that shot only 13 episodes, six of which aired on Fox before cancellation, is almost completely unfathomable.

To be fair however, Joss Whedon has probably the most intensely-devoted fan base this side of George Lucas, and it was the tenacity of these fans, proud to be known by the moniker "browncoats," that resurrected the series through their Internet petitions and massive online support.

Despite his movie’'s unlikely road to the big screen, Whedon proves in every way that both he and the crew from "Firefly" deserved this second chance.

"Serenity" apparently picks up right where the television series stopped. Whedon'’s vision of a space-inhabited future is imagined as a frontier exactly like that of America'’s Wild West.

The outer areas of the galaxy are rough, with largely uncivilized planets that have managed to slip through the hands of The Alliance, the totalitarian state of sketchy morals that controls the majority of the galaxy.

The heroes of the story, the renegade crew of the ship "Serenity," are the kind of good-hearted, slightly unsavory types that flourish in these frontier outskirts. They are encountering increasing trouble surrounding a passenger of their ship, the mysterious teenager River Tam (Summer Glau).

River is the result of progressive government experiments that turned her into a mind-reading, killing machine. Her brother Simon (Sean Maher), who is also traveling on Serenity, broke her out of the government research facility in a flash of daring-do that is all cleverly established in the opening minutes of the film.

These first few minutes also introduce us to "the operative" (Chiwetel Ejiofor), an agent of The Alliance sent to track down River at all costs.

The crew of Serenity is a motley, occasionally dysfunctional bunch that is simply a treat to watch interact. Captain Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillian) is a dry, cynical man who runs his ship with an iron fist but obviously will do anything to protect anyone on board.

Zoe, his second-in-command, is married to the ship’'s pilot Wash (Alan Tudyk, the most recognizable character in the film due to his role as Steve the Pirate in "Dodgeball"), and their dynamic as a couple is also fun, but completely believable, and at times heartbreaking.

When the story picks up with them it starts out really light-hearted, but gets increasingly darker, more serious and allegorical as the crew braves terrifyingly dangerous situations in order to keep River safe as well as to accomplish other goals I won'’t go into in hopes of preserving the fun and surprise.

"Serenity" is a bit of an anomaly in the space-epic genre of movies. It really has no focus on fancy futuristic contraptions or state-of-art space ships. Nonetheless the special effects are top-notch; the story just doesn'’t focus on them.

This movie is about the characters, thrust into a situation where they have an opportunity to do something really, truly beneficial to the entire galaxy. It’'s a little bit "Star Wars" with a little less CGI and a little bit "Matrix" trilogy with a lot less philosophy.

The acting is hit and miss, the best bits coming from Fillian and Ejiofor. The story is creative, but does come dangerously close to clubbing us over the head by the end with its intented point.

Though it is incredible that “Serenity” ever got made, thank goodness it did, because it offers to us a fun, new and creative sci-fi world entirely worth visiting.

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