There are few people working in the world of genre fiction in Hollywood who truly understand what they're doing. Typically a genre movie, especially a science fiction movie is pretty stupid, all things considered. Either its science is wonky, or there's no character development, or both, and it quickly degenerates into a messy spectacle of overgrown post adolescents blowing up models.The sad fact is that there is usually very little thought behind your average Sci Fi flick. The one genre that has the greatest potential to make its audience think without realizing that they're thinking, is invariably dumbed down into pre-digested crap. Mind you, I think it's important that the audience not realize they're thinking, after all, if you're too busy thinking, you just won't be able to enjoy your nastified butter-flavored slime covered popcorn, and your watered-down, mold flavored death tub of soda-esque fizzy liquid. When you want to think, you go see movies like The English Patient, or Magnolia, or Mr. Holland's Opus. You don't go to films like A.I., Minority Report, Gattaca, or Dark City. So, it's a rare and precious gem of a movie that can get its audience to think, without making them realize that they're thinking, and that's just what Joss Whedon has done here.
Spinning out of his criminally short lived T.V. series, Firefly, Joss has created a larger than life fantasy world with a deep, well thought out backstory, and vivid, brilliantly realized characters. Admittedly, I'm biased in favor of this movie from the start, because I actually got to enjoy Firefly when it was first released to DVD, but I'm told by several people who went into Serenity cold, that it's completely enjoyable without the backstory that the T.V. series gives you. Serenity lifts the series characters into a bit more of a grand spectacle than what we saw on the small screen. The characters' backstories are truncated a bit, relationships are tweaked slightly, and Joss kills off three of the story's major characters, but its still a lot of fun.
The core story of Serenity is about the youngest character River Tam, a brilliant teenager turned into a psychotic killing machine by the powers that be. She's set off on a rampage by a post hypnotic suggestion, that drags the Serenity crew to the edge of known space. It culminates in a toe to toe battle between the powers that be and the savage hordes they created. Serenity is a wild, fun ride with scads of interesting background story and a great central driving plot. It careens from planet to planet, and ends with a donnybrook that would make Cecil B. Demille weep. It's well worth your time to see at least once, and in the tradition of some of the best science fiction, there's so much going on in the background that it rates at least a second and third viewing.
Serenity, just like the ship that bears its name, is dirty and grimy and well lived in. The people we meet while traveling through Serenity's galaxy range from the sterile, antiseptic Star Trek worlds of the core systems, to the gritty frontier world pioneers, that have more in common with the desperados of a Sergio Leone western. This movie reflects the best and the worst of humanity in a world that has become a kaleidoscope of cultures.
Joss Whedon, the show's writer and director is the unsung hero of the science fiction genre. He writes with an enthusiasm and a love for his material that is sadly lacking in most of today's science fiction movies. With Serenity, every ounce of this love is reflected up on the screen, from the excellence of his ensemble cast, to the gritty hyperrealism of the special effects, through all points in between. Go see Serenity, you won't be disappointed.