If I think back on all the movies I’ve seen in my lifetime, or even just recently, it is hard to imagine that I went in to any of them as conflicted as I was prior to the worldwide premiere of Serenity last week in Los Angeles. As the movie unfolded, I felt as if I were three different people watching the same movie, and when it ended none of those people could come to an agreement on anything.
Rather than try to force a consensus, I decided to work it out right here. Aren’t you lucky? Without further ado I present to you…the Battle of Amanda and Herself and Her Other Self.
WARNING: This review contains spoilers.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Serenity or the series that inspired it, Firefly, here’s a quick synopsis: The story is set 500 years from today in a new planetary system after humanity abandons Earth. Serenity is the name of a spaceship (Firefly class) captained by a guy named Mal who fought against the Alliance, a questionably run government in charge of basically the whole solar system. He’s assembled a ragtag crew consisting of an ex-soldier and her pilot husband, a thief, a preacher, a prostitute and a naïve female engineer. Also aboard are a doctor and his sister, who was rescued from an Alliance lab where they were doing experiments on her. The crew survives by smuggling or stealing whatever people pay them to, and along the way they run into lots of trouble. All caught up? Good. Let’s get started.
Amanda the Firefly fan
I got into Firefly late in the game. I was one of those horrible people who did nothing to help the sagging ratings, but went out more than a year after the release of the DVDs and bought them. (This means that I didn’t even contribute to the stellar opening sales of the DVDs, widely thought to have helped get the greenlight for Serenity.) I cannot remember the exact reasons why I didn’t watch in the first place, or even the reason why I ignored the constant ridicule from friends who thought shame was the way to make me watch. All I know is that one day I woke up, realized that Joss and Co. were going to have a movie out soon, and ordered the DVDs with overnight delivery from Amazon.
I loved the series. I thought it was slow in the beginning and brilliant by the end, and I loved all the characters equally. I mean that, too. If you told me that I had to choose which one would be voted off the ship, it would be like Sophie’s choice. And after some initial confusion where I thought Serenity was just the movie version of the pilot and not a continuation of the series, I felt real excitement about seeing it on the big screen. I might have even been a little giddy in the days leading up to the premiere.
As a fan of the television series, the movie meant a couple of things to me. First, it was a chance to see what would happen to the characters out in the real world. How would Jayne (Adam Baldwin), Inara (Morena Baccarin), Mal (Nathan Fillion) and the rest of the crew be written for a mainstream audience? Second, it was a chance for the characters to live a little bit longer. After River (Summer Glau) and Mal defeat the bounty hunter in the last episode of the series, what happens next?
After viewing the movie, I was truly torn about the first part of this equation. With the exception of maybe Jayne, all of the characters are a little bit different in the film. Their character traits have been magnified (except for Inara, who has little to do in the movie other than torment Mal and look pretty). Mal is a lot meaner, Simon (Sean Maher) is pricklier, Kaylee (Jewel Staite) is more naive, Zoe (Gina Torres) is more militaristic, River kicks a lot more ass. I left feeling worried that the characters wouldn’t be as sympathetic to viewers who didn’t have all the backstory from the series. If you think Mal is always a selfish asshole, do you care if his friends die? If you think Kaylee is kind of silly, do you care if Simon hurts her? I don’t know the answer, but you can bet I’m dragging a non-fan friend with me to see the movie over the weekend to find out.
As a continuation of the series, I think the movie does a fine job of presenting an interesting storyline that is wrapped up tightly by the end, while still leaving some space for a sequel. There is not closure to every storyline I would have liked — or, I guess, the one storyline I would have liked. I’ll admit that I’m a Mal/Inara ‘shipper to the core (even though it’s such an easy couple to like and I know it makes me totally uncool to love them). Maybe it would help if I pretended that my only interest was watching the pretty that would be an inevitable by-product of the coupling. But the truth is that I love me some sexual tension and these two bring it in spades. And, while there are brilliant moments in the film, there’s no consummation. Bah!
Amanda the Jossverse fan
Regardless of how I feel about the politics that are inherent in the creation of lots of great TV shows, I am a fan of the Jossverse and its many spinoffs. I cut my fandom teeth on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, followed Angel to his own series (I didn’t stay with him, but I went), eventually fell in love with the Firefly crew, scurried after Tim Minear into Wonderfalls and even down the rabbit hole of The Inside. What I’m trying to say here is that I’m loyal.
And as a loyal fan of Joss and his spawn, I feel pride knowing that one of their endeavors made it to the big screen. I think it’s cool that this fandom, which I’ve been a part of for many years, had a part in making it happen. I love that I have close friends who were on the front lines of fan support. So I’ve told everyone I know about the movie, and about my connections to the people who created it, and I’ll be dragging everyone I can to see it on opening weekend.
As a fan of the Jossverse, though, the movie left me a little cold. “Whoa there!” you’re probably saying right now. Isn’t it enough that the damn thing got made? Sadly, not for me. There’s something missing, and I can’t put my finger on just what it is. There’s a lack — not a deal-breaker lack, but a lack all the same — of surprise and witty dialog and endearing quality to the characters that was put aside to make the film more accessible to folks not down with the series. It doesn’t mean I’m not still proud as punch, but it does mean that I’ve lost a little bit of the warm and fuzzy. I miss the characters that I fell in love with in my living room, and even though I know intellectually that things have to be different, my heart doesn’t quite agree. (Of course, I’m willing to believe that I missed all these things in the extremely boisterous theater, where I couldn’t hear the first eight minutes of dialog at all for the screaming. I’m giving it a second chance. Maybe even a third.)
Amanda the movie fan
I see a whole lot of movies. A good weekend for me is two or three movies and a tasty bottle of wine. So, as impossible as it was, I tried to approach the film as if I didn’t know anything about the story. I looked at each character and wondered if I would still love them without all the backstory, and as I said before, I’m not sure the answer is yes. I’m also not sure the story is all that compelling or the evil beasty reavers as frightening or River’s plight as tragic, not when the viewer hasn’t seen all the little things that make them sing.
I realize that this is the $64,000 question: Can the series translate? As a fan of the series and the Jossverse, I truly want it to be so. But I’m just not sure it does. For instance, as I recall, there is almost no explanation of Inara and what she is. Except for a couple of throw-away lines about companions and paying for her services, it’s not clear what her role is in the grand scheme of things. She’s just a stunning woman running around in a shiny skirt. It’s the same for Shepherd Book (Ron Glass). He’s just a guy who gives sage advice and bleeds messily, but there’s no clue as to what his relationship is with the rest of the crew (I’m guessing he’ll come across as Mal’s wise, old mentor). There are other, less serious offenses, but these certainly stick out in my mind.
So, what’s the bottom line? Should you see the movie (if you haven’t already seen one of the dozens of advanced screenings)?
Hell, yes. Despite all the things that bugged me, I enjoyed the film. I’m still excited that it happened and think there’s enough spark in the characters to appeal to fans and newbies alike. I also know that there are thousands of hardcore fans out there who’ve seen it and loved it, so my opinions are not the norm. At the end of the day I’d go to see a sequel, and would probably even retain some of my giddiness from this go-round (especially if Mal and Inara finally make with the smoochies). There is love in my heart for more of the Serenity crew, even if the voices in my head don’t always agree.