Wednesday, February 20, 2008


2005, US, directed by Joss Whedon

There can't be too many other films in the same category as Serenity, that is, the subset of movies based on TV shows that were cancelled after less than a dozen episodes were screened. If the special features on the DVD are to be believed, the existence of Serenity is testament, among other things, to the development of an extremely passionate online fanbase after Firefly, the original TV show, was released on DVD (complete with the episodes that were completed but never broadcast) - too late for the show, but evidence of enough interest to justify greenlighting a motion picture.

Like most of Joss Whedon's projects, Serenity is a genre-blend, mixing the spaceship drama with the further fringes of the wild West, although the western themes are more obvious in the TV series (signalled both by the choice of episode plots and the opening song, which isn't used in the film). The film simply picks up from the end of the final episode of the show, which means it has to do some nifty plot contortions at times, but has the nice advantage of treating its audience like informed consumers (first-timers may be confused by some of the jokes, and perhaps some of the back-story, which is inevitably given more depth on the small screen).

Whedon steers towards the darker edges of the TV plotlines, eliding some of the week-to-week character humour in favour of a confrontation with some of his bigger themes - the central discovery of the film's plot is grim indeed - but he's careful to ensure that each of his main characters (there are nine in all) has at least a scene or two to shine. Given the restrictions imposed by his own decision not to re-tread the TV series' plot in condensed form, he does a fine job of creating a narrative line, tying up loose ends in generally satisfying fashion, and ensuring that the characters remain true to themselves (one advantage, perhaps, of an early TV death). The fine TV cast all return for the film, and their chemistry together is tremendous: despite the characters' frequent differences of opinion, there's a strong sense of a shared bond, while the spaceship itself becomes an important inanimate cast member, a surprisingly cosy refuge from a universe that's often brutal.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States