This is a SPOILER-FREE review of Serenity! Read it without fear of corruption.
Let me tell you a story. The creator of a hugely popular genre TV show was invited to do a new sci-fi show about a disparate group of loners wandering the spaceways in a starship. Unfortunately, despite a proven track record for his genius if simply allowed to do what he does best, the network felt inclined to meddle. Not happy with the perfectly-acceptable pilot that would get the audience up to speed, they demanded a new, more exciting first episode, and then broadcast the show out of order. Lacking network support and not garnering overwhelming ratings, and despite a devoted fan base, the show was canceled after half a season’s worth of episodes.
But enough about “The Crusade“, the sequel series to “Babylon 5.”
Let’s talk about how history repeated itself with “Firefly“.
I have this friend who, having never seen or heard of Firefly, went to one of those “working print” screenings of Serenity back in June and has ever since been hanging out at the airport banging this tambourine with a picture of Joss Whedon on it. I mean, he ordered the Firefly box set the very next day, scrounged for advance tickets to the new movie (that’s how I got in last night) and even drove over to my house to drop off the DVDs (though not all of them, for that would leave nothing running on a loop at his own house) so that I could check out the show.
I was torn as to whether I should watch the DVDs. Do I want to review the movie for Monitor Duty as a newcomer to the show would, so as to experience it and rate it as a newbie? In the end, I watched the first four episodes on Disk 1 the night before seeing the movie, and yet I didn’t learn much that isn’t set up in the movie. Clearly, how easily the non-fans can pick up on the situations and characters is a good indication of how accessible the film is. In cases where the movie is based on a pre-existing universe, the writer must navigate between over-familiarity and the assumption of familiarity.
For example: the title of the movie. Due to legal reasons, they couldn’t use Firefly in the title, so they had to come up with something else. They picked “Serenity”. For the longest time, I wasn’t able to make the connection that this was the movie spinoff of Firefly. I mean, “Serenity” is the kind of title you give to a chick flick with Annabeth Gish and Glenn Close as divorced friends who move to a beach house. It doesn’t come across to the average American as “space cowboy opera”. Sure, to the Firefly viewer, Serenity is the name of the spaceship flown by the main characters, as well as the location of a military defeat…but to most people, it’s meaningless. Hopefully the title won’t be a hindrance to this movie’s success.
Now that I’ve seen the movie, I have to say…