Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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October 1, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

SERENITY....I saw Serenity yesterday. Comments and spoilers below the fold.

(If you don't want to read the spoilers but want the review, here it is: It was good. Go see it.)

No matter what I say in the rest of this post (and I haven't really made up my mind yet what that will be), I'll say this first. When I see a tedious movie, I eventually find myself glancing at my watch to see how much longer it has to run. When I walked out of the theater after watching Serenity, I realized I hadn't done that. So by that test, it was a terrific movie. It kept my attention on the screen throughout, which is exactly where it's supposed to be. In other words, thumbs up.

Aside from that, the hard part of reviewing the movie is trying to figure out what I would have thought about it if I hadn't just spent the last week watching all 14 episodes of Firefly, but I guess that's hopeless. So take the rest of this with that particular grain of salt.

First off, my impression is that the whole concept behind Firefly works better as an episodic TV show than it does as a feature film. The show was built around the idea of revealing small bits of backstory each week, and in a sense, it's almost a betrayal to then turn around and reveal nearly everything in a single movie. Does that make sense? Maybe not. And I confess that I was a little disappointed that River's "secret" turned out to be merely that she had read the minds of a few government mucky-mucks. That just didn't seem quite big enough, if you know what I mean.

Nitpicking aside, though, the story was tight and it clipped along nicely. There were no dull moments and no dumb plot holes. I'll confess that I never grew to like the pseudo-Western language tics of the series, and they were even worse in the movie. But still, the dialog was crackly, the characters interacted nicely, Kaylee got her man, and there's just got to be a sequel to give Zoe a chance to fall in love again, right? The final fight scene between Mal and the Operative was a little more contrived than it should have been, but only by a little bit.

On a production level, one of the nice things about the movie is that it allowed the action to catch up with the special effects. Here's what I mean: even on medium-budget sci-fi TV shows (Stargate, Firefly, Babylon 5), the special effects these days tend to be great, nearly as good (though more limited) as in a feature film. But the rest of the production isn't. As with any TV show, they can't do lots of rehearsal or lots of takes, they don't have time to really polish the script, they can't afford complex dolly and tracking shots, etc. And it's a little jarring. The show has the outward look of an expensive production, but the rest of the action doesn't quite fit.

Serenity may not have had a huge budget either, but it was big enough to provide feature-level production values that were as good as the special effects. I liked that a lot. I missed the episodic nature of the TV show, but on the other hand, the bigger budget of the feature film really allowed the whole production to come together in a way the TV show couldn't.

Bottom line: we're not talking about Oscar caliber stuff here, but who cares? Serenity was tightly plotted, nicely acted, moved along at a fast clip, and looked good. If you liked the series, you should like the film. If you've never seen the series, I think you'll like it too, but I'd be curious to hear from readers in comments on that score.

(And speaking of the score, it seemed pretty unmemorable, which is too bad since the TV show had such interesting music. Oh well.)

Kevin Drum 1:59 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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