New movies are usually released to theaters every Friday, but who’s got 10 bucks these days to drop on a movie that may well be a load of crap? Given those odds, each Friday I offer an alternative on DVD that you can rent at your local video store (or in some cases, avoid at all costs). Some will be new releases, others you may have to hunt for, but all of them are available to light up your small screen should it be a lazy Friday night.
Last Friday in my review of 3:10 to Yuma, I referenced that Alan Tudyk, who plays Doc Potter in that film, also was in the greatest TV show of all time. If any of you actually clicked on that link, there’s a decent chance that your next thought was, “What the heck is Firefly?” If that describes your response, perhaps the best way for me to explain it to you is by pointing you to Serenity, the 2005 movie that was based off of the show. Whether you are an avid sci-fi fan looking for something new and different or you’d rather sit through a marathon of Big Brother than watch a sci-fi movie, Serenity is a film that you owe to yourself to check out.
The film is a continuation of Firefly, a TV show that briefly graced the airwaves of FOX in 2002. Dumb decisions from the network executives cost the show dearly, and it was cancelled less than halfway through its first season. Yet, when the show made its way to DVD, it quickly found a cult following and spread by word-of-mouth with amazing popularity (in much the same fashion as the once-cancelled Family Guy); eventually attracting so much attention that Universal snatched up the rights and began developing a movie.
Set 500 years in the future, Serenity’s premise is that we had overpopulated the earth and were forced to move on, eventually colonizing a new solar system. Planets were terraformed as humanity sought to carve out a new niche in the ‘Verse. This ‘pioneer’ aspect to the world gives the show a unique character, as it’s often referred to as a “sci-fi western.” People fly around on spaceships, but out on the rim worlds they ride horses and carry six-shooters. If the concept sounds bizarre and a little dumb to you, trust me – I thought the same thing at first. Give it a chance, however, and you’ll be hooked – largely because the cast of characters is among the best ever assembled.
The film focuses on Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), a sergeant for the Independents in the Unification War (think Star Wars’ Empire vs. Rebels conflict, except here the rebels lose and are left struggling to find their place in society, evoking strong themes from the American Civil War). After the war, Mal is disillusioned and seeks freedom above all else, finding that the best way to do so is to take to the skies and sail the black in an attempt to get out from under the long arm of the Alliance. He buys a ship and hires an eclectic crew: Zoe (Gina Torres), his right-hand woman and comrade-in-arms from the war, her goofy, Hawaiian-shirt-wearing pilot husband Wash (Alan Tudyk), Jayne (Adam Baldwin), a dumb brawler who’s handy in a firefight, and Kaylee (Jewel Staite), the girl-next-door mechanic. Over time, they met and took in a noble preacher with a mysterious background (Ron Glass), a classy ‘Companion’ (Monera Baccarin), and two fugitives – a psychic teenage girl (Summer Glau) on the run from the Alliance after they subjected her to horrific experiments, and her brother (Sean Maher), a brilliant doctor who left his life behind to rescue his sister. The movie picks up here, getting some of this backstory pieced together by dialogue and flashbacks. As the crew tries to keep food on the table and gas in the tank (while also dodging Reavers – savage men gone mad on the fringes of space), they are being tracked by an expert agent of the Alliance Parliament known simply as The Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who wants the troubled and gifted fugitive back – at any cost.
Though a movie based on a flopped sci-fi TV show may seem like a tough sell, director (and show creator) Joss Whedon (TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel) has crafted characters so rich and engrossing that even those that aren’t sci-fi fans will find themselves sucked right in. My wife absolutely hates sci-fi (yes, I married her anyway) but Firefly/Serenity is probably her favorite film story ever, TV or movie. The main story is presented expertly so that newcomers can understand what’s going on right away while fans of the TV show won’t feel like they’re getting a rehash of old news. Whedon makes you care about every one of his characters, which adds to the adrenaline rush when we see them put themselves on the line in the terrific final act. The movie plays almost as a series finale for the TV show – the resolution that it deserved but never got – so the ideal way to view the movie is by first picking up Firefly and watching all 14 terrific episodes. However, I know that’s a lot to time to invest, so I’ll say that you’ll still enjoy the movie without seeing the show – in fact, I almost guarantee that you’ll want to pick the show up after seeing the film. My review here has been a little rambling, since this is a tough one to describe, but believe me when I tell you that every single person I’ve introduced to Firefly and Serenity has absolutely loved it - every one – from my parents and grandparents to my brothers to friends at church and teenagers in my youth group. This is a great film, a great show, and a story that Heather and I are hoping against hope will get the chance to keep flyin’. **** (out of four)
Serenity is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense violence and action, and some sexual references.
Weekend A La Carte (February 24)
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