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 clichéd 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!

By Jonathan Lipps

Jonathan worked as a programmer in tech startups for several decades, but is also passionate about all kinds of creative pursuits and academic discussion. Jonathan has master’s degrees in philosophy and linguistics, from Stanford and Oxford respectively, and is working on another in theology. An American-Canadian, he lives in Vancouver, BC and has way too many hobbies.

2 replies on “Serenity”

I, on the other hand, was quite excited to see Serenity as a film. Little did you know, the movie is actually based on a short-lived series from a few years back. The series (called Firefly after the ship, Serenity’s ship class) ran only one season, not because of any of the bad sci-fi chiches you mentioned above (in fact the series was embraced by critics) but because it didnt find mass appeal to normal Fox audiences.

I was first introduced to the series when it came out on DVD. It was while I was working in Atlanta, living with Tim Porter. Tim is an obsessive Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan. Joss Stone, the creator of Buffy, was challenged to create another show, a “Western set in space”. His product was Firefly, a show with the same kind of intelligent, challenging themes as Buffy. Its funny that both shows are wrapped in a somewhat cheesy, unattractive (in my opinion–vampires? space cowboys?) exterior. But he manages to tell amazing stories. By this point, you’d think I’d be more inclined to get into Buffy, but I still haven’t managed to watch an episode even though I know its gotta be a fantastic show.

So one night Tim came home with the DVD, stoked to watch it and I was like, “sure whatever”. We sat down and watched the 2 hour pilot and I was surprised to find I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was, as you mentioned, believeable. I’m not really sure how you make a “Space Western” believable, but there’s the results!

The movie, by the way, has the exactly the same characters, actors, and I think some of the same plot strings, though I haven’t yet seen the movie.

For the next week, every night, we would watch an episode or two. I think the thing I enjoyed the most were the plots of each show. They were unique, not rehashed versions of TV plots done over and over. And they always had a twist at the end. It was fun to see Joss take old Western themes like a duel or a brothel and reinterpret them into this future universe.

So there’s my review. I highly suggest that we go rent the series and watch it. Or you should just go buy it. I promise its a sure puchase and you won’t regret it. If you do buy it, I assure you I’ll watch every episode with you.

Oh, awesome that you have seen Firefly. I’d heard about it but never seen it. I’d be very interested to watch the series with you. By the way, I think you mean Joss Whedon, not Joss Stone (or so said the credits on the movie last night).

If I’d known you were into it, I would have waited to see the movie with you. Sorry!

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