Serenity (2005)

Ok, this is not going to make me very popular, but here goes: I never cared much for Buffy or Angel. It’s not that I didn’t like the shows, I just never got into them, and if you consider glimpsing at an odd episode here and there for 1-2 minutes WATCHING, then yes, I watched them. Saw the Buffy movie (wasn’t it in the mid-80s), and didn’t really care to get hooked on the small-screen version, and the spin-off (Angel). But I heard it was good. In fact, the voices that kept droning on and on about just how good those two shows were – those annoying zombie-like voices was the reason I never got hooked – just don’t like anything that has an immediate cult following. It’s not natural.

Wait, let me retract – I was hooked on Lost from the premiere, I got into numerous sitcoms from get-go (Out of Practice, How I Met Your Mother – come to mind from this season). But that was my own choice – I sat down in front of TV, discovered something on my own, decided I like it, and ever since then, more and more religiously, have been watching, waiting, drooling and dreaming about that particular show. Nope, that didn’t happen with Buffy or Angel. Neither with Firefly – the short-lived series (2002, was it?) that was a precursor to Serenity, the Motion Picture. Sure, I heard about the captain of a small cargo ship, and about the cast, and of course the creator Joss Whedon, but I just don’t like to be pressured into watching things. So, Firefly came and went, got canned, and we almost forgot all about it. Except there was a movie in the making.

So earlier this year when the talk about the film resurfaced, I decided to check out the series. After all, it was a short commitment – there were only 13 or 14 episodes shot, they were conveniently available on DVD, ad-free, and since there was no good sci-fi on TV for the last two seasons (except Galactica, and somewhat – Lost), I plunged into the show. Sure enough, I liked it. Even felt sad that a little odd show like that was heartlessly canned instead of trying to revamp it, or putting it on cable (Sci-Fi network, FX network, USA network – any of them would be a perfect home to this series, but no, since it was a FOX project, it needed to be junked along with tons of bad press. The movie follows the unfinished adventures of a group of strangers, stuck in a ship for different reasons, on the run from the authorities, and with precious cargo on board. Andromeda, Farscape, and to a degree, Voyager had that same idea – people who may not even get along in a normal situation are stuck on a ship, in the middle of the universe. There’s something in common, and there are way too many differences. Let’s watch them get along. What set the series apart (besides amazing effects) was a heavy Western theme running throughout. Prairies of desolate planets, the aw-chucks mannerisms of the main characters, the ongoing damsel-in-distress subplot, the obvious baddies, and the shootouts – yes, with old-fashioned guns and bullets. Of course, the long leather coats, dirty boots, and cattle also added to the Western theme, but that was a little to much. Still, the show worked (at least for me), and I was genuinely sad to see that the stories never finished. There was so much we could learn from this group of people – it was a cast of 9 – pretty big for a series.

After seeing the series, I anticipated the movie, and when it was released at the end of September, went to see it. It was very good – on its own as well as a conclusion to the TV series. BUT, it was not as good as the zombies who promoted it had claimed. Yes, just like any other Jess Whedon project, this movie was blown outta proportion, and whether you liked it or not, you had to hear about the brilliant, genius work of that Joss guy. Who exactly is he, and who does his publicity is a mystery to me. What bothers me is the mindless cult following – I think Tarantino fans are more grounded in reality – and we all know that Quentin’s projects get tons of press. It would have been much better if I heard less drooling, and more objective reviews. But then again, the same fan base extended Buffy’s TV life for a few seasons, and was probably the reason behind Angel’s whole existence. The geeks want their vampire stories! And although I really did like the Firefly series and Serenity movie, come on, guys. Give it a rest. It’s not a revolutionary film. Sci-fi world is not turned on its head (although I hope it wakes up a little – the stuff they’ve been releasing is just embarrassing – I might as well go back to reading Asimov, Lem and Bradbury). Joss is not a god. He’s original, and compelling – the characters all make sense, and they are fun to watch – not something you see every day, especially on formulaic sci-fi shows. The transition from TV to big screen is smooth – I can appreciate that they continued many plot lines, reused sets, and kept the same FX team. It was a very good experience (and given the current state of sci-fi, exemplary), but it did not change my life.

Now the DVD of the movie is coming out at the end of December (how convenient, just in time for Christmas). And even though there’s going to be plenty of other great releases before that, I can already see the over-the-top promotion, and the planted, ahem, objective glowing reviews all over the web movie sites. Good for you – the marketing department knows its shit, and the fan-base doesn’t need to be asked twice to pump a product. Except that the product is very good to begin with – why strain so hard to sell it? Becomes cloying and transparent to us, consumers. I would recommend the movie to sci-fi fans – it’s fast-paced, with a great plot, and amazing effects. There are CGI sequences that Lucas and Rodriguez would be jealous of. But if you’re getting the movie, get the series as well. There’s so much more in there, and even though it feels incomplete, it’s a great story, with a solid cast, that you won’t soon forget. But please watch it and appreciate it on its own terms. It’s unusual, uneven, and very entertaining. Cowboys in space, genetic engineering, mutant pirates, fancy dresses and cattle. It’s just not going to change your life. And no, Joss Whedon is not god. Just an original filmmaker who has a devoted fan-base.

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