Monday, January 09, 2006

New on the DVD rack: Serenity

I finally had an opportunity to watch Serenity, which has been gathering dust on my DVD rack for the last couple of weeks.

An interesting experience. I'll admit right up front that I've had limited previous interface with writer-director Joss Whedon's oeuvre. Although my daughter is a rabid Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan, I can't say that I've watched more than a couple of episodes from end to end. I've only seen brief snatches of the Buffy companion series Angel. And I never did get around to watching Firefly, the "science-fiction Western" television series on which Serenity is based. So, although I'd heard a lot of good things about Serenity, I went into the film without a lot of anticipatory expectations.

Given that, I was pleased with what I discovered. It took me a few minutes to figure out who the players were and what was going on, but Whedon handled the introductions quite well without a great deal of expository dialogue. (It would have been helpful, however, to have some supplemental feature on the DVD that explained the characters and their relationships, and gave some background about the series, so that newcomers like myself would have an easier time getting into the film.) After the first few scenes, the plot unfolded smoothly, even for someone like myself who was new to this particular universe.

I was impressed with the film's characterizations. It's easy to see why people became so enthusiastically fond of this particular show. Serenity, which features all nine of the primary actors from the Firefly series, is brilliantly cast with actors, who, though unfamiliar to me before the this film, grew on me quickly. I liked the interplay between Captain Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) and his crew, in particular, his first mate Zoe (Gina Torres) and resident tough guy Jayne (Adam "don't call me Alec, Daniel, or Stephen" Baldwin). For me, though, the most effective character was the villain -- the shadowy figure known only as the Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Easily the best "bad guy" I've seen in any subgenre of action film in quite some time, the Operative presented a fascinating juxtaposition of evil and nobility, making him an excellent adversary for Mal and his team.

I was also quite taken with the Whedon-crafted dialogue. The script avoided the temptation, so prevalent in science-fiction movies, to have all the characters sound exactly like 21st-century North Americans. The Serenity crew talks in oddly modulated speech patterns, peppered with unusual slang and even interpolations of Chinese. I have no clue how people will speak 500 years from now, but I'm reasonably certain they won't sound exactly like the anchors on today's evening news. Serenity does a brilliant job of conveying an authentically futuristic language, without making the characters speak in gibberish.

For a DVD as eagerly anticipated by a hard-core fandom as this one was, the supplementary content is pretty lightweight, aside from a solid commentary by Joss Whedon himself. As noted earlier, some biographical information about the characters would have been a valuable addition. And I was rather surprised that there wasn't more detail about the universe in which Serenity and Firefly are set. But all in all, it's an acceptable package.

I can't say how devoted fans of Firefly reacted to the film version. For this newcomer, however, Serenity made for an enjoyable ride. I'm intrigued enough now to want to revisit the rest of the TV series on DVD.

2 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Blogger Janet offered these pearls of wisdom...

I don't know. I wanted to like Serenity, but found I couldn't get into it much. I just felt like the whole movie started in mid storyline.

3:54 PM  
Blogger SwanShadow offered these pearls of wisdom...

You're right, Janet, it did. That was the one factor I was most concerned about going into the film. But I found that, after the first few scenes aboard Serenity itself, I understood who the characters were and how they intersected, and I didn't feel the least bit lost or left out.

Unlike, say, most of the Star Trek (especially the ST:TNG-based) films, where even the better installments in the series don't stand on their own unless you already are familiar with the show. I can't imagine anyone who's not already a Trekfan getting much entertainment out of any of those movies, and I say that as a long-time Trekker.

4:34 PM  

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