Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with one of the first (I think) reviews of the final and completed cut of Joss Whedon's SERENITY that was screened at Comic-Con this year. I've made no secret of not being able to get into Whedon's work. I've tried and it just doesn't appeal to me. I'm happy that he has a rabid fanbase that hangs on his every word, but it's just not my thing. I'll give Firefly a try at some point, considering I know people who felt the same way about the Buffy/Angel series that I do who really like it, but it won't be soon. I'll probably end up seeing SERENITY first, for good or ill.
Anyway, the below review is a positive one, but one that reads about as fair as we've gotten, not overblown "I want to carry Joss Whedon's baby" enthusiastic from some of the really, really creepy Whedonites out there. We also have the new International SERENITY trailer which just hit the net, so click below and then come back for a read. There are light spoilers in the review, but you are warned before they begin. Enjoy!
I've just arrived back home from the SDCC, still a bit drunk on the extreme level of energy expended over the past week and the grogginess of extended air travel. Quint has mentioned that he's no fan of Joss Whedon, so it was no surprise that he hasn't yet posted anything on the "Serenity" panel or movie at the convention, but since I've seen no other mention of the event on your site, I'm pleased to tell you that at 10pm PDT on Saturday the 16th of July, Universal Pictures held the world premiere of the just-completed "Serenity" at the United Arists Theatres in Horton Plaza, which is just a few blocks from the convention center.
Unlike Quint, I do like most of Joss Whedon's work. I enjoyed the greater part of "Buffy" and "Angel", and I thought that "Firefly" was one of the best series to ever appear on television. I am a Browncoat and have personally met and spoke with Joss and many of the actors who have worked with him. However, I am not a Jossapologist. When his writing sucks, I have no problem saying it. In my mind, quality work trumps fawning sycophancy, and while most of Whedon's work has been of the highest quality, he still needs someone to occasionally remind him of the slime trails created by "Alien Resurrection" and "Titan A.E." to help him stay sharp.
Joss came out and spoke to the crowd for a few minutes before the show and was basically himself, playing goofy and self-deprecating with a lilt of the snark. At the end of his pre-show set, he asked if anyone had seen any of the test showings, and three-quarters of the crowd's hands flew up. He said it was wonderful to see so many people there who had watched the advances, but with the exception of himself and one other person there at the screening, quote "nobody has seen this movie before", unquote. The crowd, of course, went wild. He then sat down and the movie rolled.
I had the opportunity to see one of the advance screenings, but I declined. I didn't want to experience the inevitable temp score, unfinished SFX, and bits of blaring white screen with "insert shot here" ripping me out of the mood. I wanted to see the full, completed movie so I could savor the initial rush and then tear it to shreds later like all fanboys do. I have kept my ears and eyes wide open to the hype, so I had a goodly sense of what was about to roll onscreen, but I was still in a highly anticipatory state when the lights went down.
I won't mention any specific aspects of the movie at this point, but will list a few minor things afterwards, appropriately preceded by a *spoiler* tag, of course.
Firstly, it was magical to see the characters onscreen again after believing, when the series was cancelled, that I'd never hear any new dialogue from their mouths or see an expression on their faces that I hadn't seen a hundred times before while watching the series over and over again on DVD. Secondly, there are so many good things to mention that it would be impossible to list them all in a concise manner. It was a great film, and anyone who enjoys plausible science fiction, exciting old west flavor, excellent dialogue, perfect characterization, intense action, genuine drama, humor, pathos, and space cannibals, either singularly or in a multiplicity of those elements, will have a bonafide good time at the theatre.
*There are some very mild pseudo-spoilers that follow*
Even though everyone involved with the movie is doing the good soldier thing and is saying that it was made in a balance for fans of the show while still shooting for the greatest amount of mass appeal, no one whom I knew was buying that. However, there is a great deal of that philosophy present in the movie. The first few minutes open with a brief introduction of the past and what happened with Earth-That-Was, but it really doesn't go into much detail. We then go into familiar territory - if you've seen the show. If you haven't seen the show, what follows after the brief explanation of why all these people from Earth are in space is thrown at you to try and suss out by your lonesome. There aren't really any formal introductions for the crew members, and the lay of the land feels very casual instead of fact-filled. The first 10-15 minutes of the movie don't do a good enough job of nailing Who These People Are and Why We're All Here, which is a fairly important facet of movie-making by my way of thinking.
Conversely, as the movie progresses, a great deal of the characterization established by the crew in the series doesn't. In fact, there is a definite regression. This is done, of course, to allow newcomers to connect with these characters in a basic way so that the people up on screen are more accessible. Simplifying the main character's personalities may cause a bit of feather-ruffling for the "Firefly" fanatic, but it's necessary for the newbies, and the facets of the personalties that are magnified are indeed the strongest ones for each crew member: Kaylee is wide-eyed and innocent, Mal is angry, Jayne is dumb, Zoe is a bad-ass, etc.. The character portrayals are in no way two-dimensional, but neither are they the fully-formed, depthful souls that fans of the series have grown to love. The actors are absolutely comfortable in their roles, however, and that's a huge plus. Almost every "Firefly" regular in the movie gets in some good face time and at least two or three snappy lines.
As filming with a bigger budget will often lead, there are some very stylish and excellent special effects. The large space/upper atmosphere battle is an incredible sight to behold, and the lovingly crafted look of the entire film is impeccable. However, there was one notable, very badly done all-CGI shot that looked like it belonged in a Final Fantasy videogame. It's the flyover to Mr. Universe's stronghold, and it's just plain wretched. That particular shot was first seen in the trailer, and I'm amazed that it's been unrefined and kept as-is. It's an establishing shot, yes, but ultimately unnecessary. It should have been excised.
The plot isn't incredibly complicated - again, if you're a Fireflyer. If you're one of the uninitiated, or just a tad slow, there might be a couple of things that you'll be a mite cloudy on. The reasons why Shepherd Book and Inara Serra are doing what they're doing isn't really an issue to a Browncoat, but I'm sure that someone who's never watched "Firefly" will be asking those questions after the movie. Also, there are series-established plot points a-plenty that play out in the movie with little to no exposition. These are definitely in the realm of a hastily-whispered "I'll explain it later" from an enraptured fan to their non-fan spouse who is poking them in the ribs with a quizzical expression on their face.
There are a total of three moments in the movie that, as a fan of the series, I didn't like. Two of them were because of the "mass appeal" aspect added into the mix, and I felt both were either gratuitous and/or unnecessary, and the other one was a dramatic, emotionally-charged monologue from Mal that included a threat that I believed was extremely out of character.
There was a brief Q&A with Joss after the screening that consisted mostly of fans bowing to the altar of Whedon and asking about future plans for the Firefly series, more Serenity movies, and Wonder Woman. Unfortunately, Whedon's microphone wasn't working so I couldn't hear all of his answers even though he raised his voice in an attempt for everyone to hear. What I did hear was:
1) He definitely wants to do another Serenity movie, and hopes that the first one is enough of a success to allow more.
2) The Firefly series broadcast rights are owned by Fox and he will not work with them again, however, if another network bought the rights from Fox, he would definitely consider resurrecting the series.
3) Wonder Woman is taking up all of his time these days. Casting is ongoing, and he will only choose someone with the gravitas (his wording) to pull it off.
On the whole, I graded "Serenity" an 8/10 as a "Firefly" fan, and a 7/10 if you've been dragged to the theatre by a drooling, rabid Whedonite to watch this movie. Hope to see you all when the movie opens on September 30. Until then, this is BrashHulk, signing off.