On a spur of the moment, I went to see the last showing of Serenity tonight at a local theater. I’d seen previews for it during Batman Begins, and thought, “Oh no, another mediocre sci-fi flick with none-too-great special effects and bad acting.” But since it opened a few days ago, I’ve been hearing nothing but positive things from people whom I trust to know better, so I thought I’d give it a chance.
My conclusion, after seeing it, was that it’s probably the best sci-fi movie I have seen in the theaters, for as long as I can remember. The problem with sci-fi movies is that they’re typically either “sci-fi”, meaning, not sci-fi in spirit, but set in space, so everyone thinks it’s sci-fi, or that they’re sci-fi in spirit, but horribly written and acted or produced.
So, movies like The Matrix and Star Wars fall into the former category, because they are clearly not in the sci-fi genre, though being set in space and/or a digital reality. (What exactly counts as sci-fi I’ll leave for a later blog entry, but if you’ve read Dune or pretty much any Asimov, you’ll know what I mean).
Speaking of Dune, the Sci-Fi Channel’s miniseries The Children of Dune is a great example of the second category–great sci-fi world and story, but poor execution. Granted, it was the best they could do, and after seeing The Village, I retroactively liked William Hurt in The Children of Dune, but in the end that’s no excuse.
Suffice it to say, then, that while the Serenity trailer looked like another Sci-Fi channel blunder, the movie itself was a real joy to watch. The characters, which given the trailer I thought would be overdramatic and overacted, were actually very nuanced and well-done in the movie viewed as a whole. They were, for lack of a better word, believable! That’s sci-fi’s greatest challenge–to make a set of believable characters in a barely-believable world. Almost 100% of the time, either the writer or the actor makes some serious mistakes in that task.
But anyway, that strength held the movie together and made it something I will definitely want to see again. The effects actually looked worse in the trailer, too–all clunky old-school CGI. I mean, it was there in the movie as well, but it looks like they picked some of the cheesiest renders for the trailer, and in the movie you didn’t really notice it.
The cinematography, while not groundbreaking, was just plain interesting. It was never boring, and steered mostly clear of the clichÃ©d action-movie shot sequences.
Lastly, the writing was fun in that the dialect(s) of English being spoken in the movie were subtly different, mixing some archaisms and some neologisms, and some things that I’d never heard before. It added to the believability of the story taking place in a post-Earth solar system.
The movie also had some morals you could extrapolate about human nature and creation and control, but it didn’t beat you over the head with it so neither will I.
Bottom line: if you consider yourself a fan of true sci-fi, you’ll love this movie. If you don’t, it may be because you’ve never actually seen a true sci-fi movie done well, so give it a shot anyhow.
Man, when did I turn into a movie reviews site. This is weird!