‘Serenity’ (2005)

‘Serenity’ (2005) I used to think Joss Whedon was a genius.

No, start over.

Joss Whedon is a genius, but he’s going through an interesting stage of re-development. I was one of those people who might have seen ‘ Buffy:the Movie ‘ (1992) on it’s initial release and greeted the series with an attitude of ‘meh’, only to see it grow into the trenchant occasion of ‘ The Body ‘ during its 5th Season, before the show became bored with itself.

I also watched ‘Angel’ grow from its dodgy 1st Season to the kick-ass triumph of its early cancellation by the WB network. While both of those shows were interesting and ‘important’ in that parenthetical way that takes old ideas and recasts them in surprising new ways, the thing that REALLY sold me on Whedon was his ‘ Alien: Resurrection ‘ script.

Though many people hated — hated – ‘Alien:Resurrection’ (1997), I thought that it was the best installment of the franchise since the original film. Some things, like the alien-sex thing were a bit overdone, but on the whole, the characterizations, conflicts and story-development were as good as the first movie – the exchanges between Ron Perelman and Michael Wincott were every bit as good as the banter between Harry Dean Stanton (Brett) and Yaphet Kotto (Parker) in the original film. Whedon was able to catch that lightning-in-a-bottle for that 4th installment of the ‘Alien’ franchise, and THAT made me really sit up and take notice.

Fast-forward to 2003, and Whedon steps away from the gotho-horror-dramedy of ‘Buffy’ and ‘Angel’ to produce a new television show for Fox. It is to be a science-fiction show called ‘Firefly’. WTF?! For kill-your-newborn Fox Television? Hmmn … the same network that had drowned ‘ Profit ‘, ‘ Space:Above and Beyond ‘ and ‘ Harsh Realm ‘ in the bathtub — each, in their own, smart television for quality-starved genre fanatics. But with the success and bread-buttering that Whedon, ‘Buffy’ and ‘Angel’ had been for Fox, the show ought to have had a chance – but of course, those shows had been made by Fox for OTHER networks, and the climate of network television had changed dramatically since the late ’80′s such that ‘The Bachellorette:Syphilis Island’ and ‘Date-Rape My Mom’ were somehow viable ratings-earners for the otherwise Right-Wing and reactionary Fox Television network.

So, all in all, that’s the long way around to discussing the particular circumstances that brought about the resurrection of short-lived ‘Firefly:The Series’ as ‘Serenty:The Movie’. 2002 was a particularly tumultuous year for genre fiction as all 3 of Whedon’s television shows were cancelled, not to mention the genre-stalwart ‘ Farscape ‘, a show that had embraced a bit of the Whedon- extreme ethos. Honestly, the producers of Farscape ought to have gotten the embrace of the newly-formed NBC-Universal corporation, just as the Fox-ejected Firefly did, but that’s another turgid story of entertainment politics.

Firefly , like ‘S:AaB’ and the rest, was a show a couple of years ahead of its time. Given that Gene Roddenberry had originally pitched ‘Star Trek’ to NBC as “ Wagon Train to the stars” back in 1966, it became something of a mantra in MLA circles that science-fiction had taken the place of the Western in popular culture, starting in the mid-sixties: With the Apollo space missions, the Stars had become mankind’s new frontier. When I heard that Whedon’s new series was going to be something of a Space-Oater, I assumed that he had read many of the same critical-theory books that I had, and we were about to enter something of a smart, self-conscuious paradigm shift in commercial television. I largely assumed that Whedon was aware of the Western/Sci-fi progression and that this new show would somehow be a treatise on said far-horizons – an exploration of ‘Space’ (read:imagination) and human limitations. In the hands of Whedon, a writer known for snappy dialogue and the exploration of emotional voids – high school, the death of a parent, anonymous and preternaturally omnipotent law firms – this was bound to be exciting new territory. And it was… for the 13 mis-marketed and broadcast out-of-order episodes that Fox allowed.

By all rights, Firefly ought to have been the new Star Trek . Firefly took the lived-in, culturally diverse sensibility that had been created in ‘Alien’ (1979) and disregarded by Trek since its second inception and the homogenizing influence of Rick Berman and Brannon Braga. Firefly made a go of science-fiction television without omnipotent extraterrestrials and bad prosthetic make-up. In Firefly , mankind’s only antagonists were other humans, relieved of terrestrial and ethical constraints (see DEATH and CORPORATIONS, above).

Though this is Whedon’s first theatrical feature, Firefly is certainly NOT his first stab at the big screen. Whedon of course, wrote the original ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ (1992), not to mention ‘Toy Story’ (1995) and ‘Alien:Resurrection’ (1997) while he was a staff-writer for ‘Roseanne’. On account of his elaborate television resume, Firefly seems to be just a little constrained by the limitations of a feature – 120 pages, 120 minutes of screen-time – with many characters who’d had the luxury of 720 minutes of small-screen time on the small(er) box. Several of the members of Firefly’s LARGE cast (9 total) are reduced to short moments in single set-pieces: The dynamics of commercial cinema require that Whedon give short-shrift to some characters, if only to give his story greater focus.

That said, there are MANY successes – the imagination deployed in Whedon’s script and Zöic’s SFX kick the crap out of any and everything that Lucas and his Skywalker Ranch were able to cook-up, and I can only suspect that Lucas’ people were working with a technically unlimited budget. The fight choreography is sen- fucking -sational, and Yuen Woo-Ping is nowhere in sight. Hats off to ex-ballerina Summer Glau .

Lastly, it’s just about the only good, solid series conclusion that I’ve seen in a long time and there’s plenty of room for a sequel.

I hope that it makes a LOT of money and those Fox idiots go into conniptions.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Also of note, The CulturePulp Q&A with Joss Whedon .

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