Netflix52: Serenity

serenitySerenity (PG-13)

Genre : Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Tagline : Can’t stop the signal.
Starring : Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alan Tudyk, Morena Baccarin, Adam Baldwin, Jewel Staite, Sean Maher, Summer Glau
Running Time : 119 Minutes
Director : Joss Whedon
Producer : Christopher BuchananDavid V. LesterBarry MendelAlisa Tager

Set in 2517, Serenity is the story of the captain and crew of Serenity, a “Firefly-class” spaceship. The captain and first mate are veterans of the Unification War, having fought on the losing side. Their lives of petty crime are interrupted by a psychic passenger who harbors a dangerous secret and an assassin sent to recapture her.

I love my copy of the short lived TV show, Firefly, a coworker bought me after the show had been cancelled.  So when Serenity came out promising to clear up some of the cliffhangers the show left I was all for it.  Only airing 11 of the 14 produced episodes left a lot of questions and I was eager to have them answered.  The show was a unique blend of a 50’s western, a space adventure with a clear nod to Star Wars, and a unique commentary on modern society.  It was a breath of fresh air in a world where new  ideas are becoming very scarce and a nod to anything tends to be a carbon copy of the original.  If you have not seen it then I highly recommend taking a look but regardless the movie stands very well on it’s own.

In Joss Whedon‘s stellar (all definitions intended) adventure we visit a Firefly Series aircraft called Serenity owned and run by ex-soldier Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds (Nathan Fillion.)  At his right hand is Zoë Warren-Washburne (Gina Torres), a fellow soldier from the war.  Zoë and Mal have a long history together and Mal depends completely on her.  They both behave as if he were still her superior officer and so she refers to him as “Sir.” She is quick to defend him while also feeling free to question his decisions. Also on the ship are Zoë’s husband and the ship’s pilot, Hoban “Wash” Washburne (Alan Tudyk); Jayne Cobb (Adam Baldwin), the ship’s mercenary who is a bit of a hot head and much smarter and loyal than he would have you believe; Kaywinnet Lee (Kaley) Frye (Jewel Staite), the ship’s overly optimistic and sometimes naive mechanical wizard; Simon Tam (Sean Maher) the ship’s doctor and brother to River Tam (Summer Glau) a physic genius, both who have been taken in as fugitives on the ship.  Inara Serra (Morena Baccarin) is a companion who in the series rents one of Serenity’s shuttles to conduct her business and joins the movie after a risky rescue mission.

The story begins by explaining that humanity has departed an overpopulated Earth for other planets and after a gruesome war is run by an authoritarian super government called the Alliance.  Serenity makes its way by pulling heists and delivering the stolen goods to fences on the border planets.  The crew has reluctantly taken in Simon and River, both on the run from the Alliance after Simon rescues River from government scientists who have been physically and mentally conditioning her into an assassin.  The Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor), an Alliance agent, has been sent to recover River who might have psychically learned top secret information from the time she spent with high ranking Alliance politicians.  Acting on Parliamentary orders and hoping to ensure “a world without sin”, he will stop at nothing to locate and neutralize River.

Mal decides to take River on a heist, despite the strong objections of Simon, hoping to use her psychic abilities to make sure the job goes off without a hitch.  The settlement they rob is attacked by Reavers, animalistic humans who have gone mad and specialize in horrific acts of rape, murder, and mutilation.  After narrowly escaping the planet, the crew takes their loot to their buyers where a TV commercial causes River to attack the patrons with extremely effective martial arts.  Only after Simon enters and shouts a safe word does River stop her attack and fall to sleep.  Flabbergasted by what they have seen the crew of Serenity takes River back to the ship and discusses what to do about her and Simon.  After learning that the incident was a ploy by the Alliance to smoke out Rivers location, the crew has no choice but to go on the run.  The movie chronicles their escape and elusion from The Operative and their search for the secrets River keeps.

I still enjoy this movie after multiple viewings.  This is one of those casts that just works.  I am not sure a more perfect group could have been assembled to tell this story.  My favorite character Mal, while completely unlikable, continues to charm the audience with his wit and loyalty to his crew.  Watching River move through her scenes like a gazelle feels like an honor.  Kaylee’s innocence and Simon’s reluctance to do anything but protect River is sweet and frustrating.  Zoe’s protection of Mal especially from the outbursts of Jayne remind me of only the deepest levels of respect.  And the quips from sometimes bewildered Wash are the perfect compliment to Zoe’s serious demeanor.  While there are some questions that it seems I will never know the answers to, some major questions were answered in a way that I was not expecting.

The story is fresh and the way Joss Whedon blends the future with the things we know about the present is genius.  The people speak a hybrid of English and Chinese which makes sense considering the larger role China is taking in todays world.  The Alliance run cities are very industrial and look like the New York‘s of the world while the border planets resemble the undeveloped wild west.  The overreaching arms of the Alliance are a nod to an ever more invasive government whose great intentions often lead to more suffering.  The eagerness of some to escape the authoritarian rule by others closely resembles the current landscape of those wishing to have complete control over their own lives with no interference from anyone especially the government.  The defeat of the Brown Coats (the losing side of the war and the side that Mal and Zoe fought for)  by the Alliance is reminicent of the power struggle between the classes and the silencing of the “99%.”

I think any fan of Science Fiction could easily find things in this movie to praise.  Firefly and Serenity honor the Sci-Fi that has come before them while offering a new world to lose yourself in.  The only thing I would warn you about this movie is that by watching it you will most likely feel the need to go watch the show. So be prepared to commit yourself to an additional 10 hours of fantasy. 🙂

Lord, Grant me the Serenity

Distributed : Universal Pictures
Released : August 22, 2005
Budget : 39,000,000
Box Office : $38,869,464
Tomatometer : 82% Critic, 89% Audience

Favorite Scene : Any scene with Nathan Fillion will do but I also love the scene where the Reavers are about to attack everyone.  It shows Kaylee and Simon talking about why they need to survive.  After the tension in the TV show it is nice to know that Kaylee might finally get what she wants. 😉
Favorite Quote : “When I talk about belief, why do you always assume I’m talking about God?”
Awards : Best Supporting Actress Summer Glau-Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy,& Horror Films; Best Dramatic Prsentation Joss Whedon-Hugo Awards;  Best Actor Nathan Fillion, Best Actress Summer Glau, Best Film, Best Film Director Joss Whedon-SFX Awards UK; Best Script Joss Whedon-Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America

Fun Facts :

  1. The film is based on Firefly, a television series canceled by the Fox Broadcasting Company in December 2002, after 11 of its 14 produced episodes had aired.
  2. The extremely loyal fans of Firefly are called Brown Coats which is a nod to the army Mal and Zoe fought for in the war.
  3. A three-issue comic book,written by Joss Whedon and Brett Matthews and called “Those Left Behind, series titled Serenity: Those Left Behind was intended to bridge the 6 month gap between the end of the television series and the beginning of the film.
  4. Joss Whedon’s feature film directorial debut.
  5. Ranked #5 in Rotten Tomatoes “50 Best TV Adaptations of All Time
  6. The opening credits appear 10 minutes into the film. They are shown in a 4 minute, unbroken take through different decks of Serenity.
  7. Among the buildings shown in the opening sequence (where voice-over narration describes the “terraforming” process) are the Emirates Towers, key features of the skyline of Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. A skyscraper in the foreground of the same shot is based on designs by Sir Norman Foster (Lord Foster), including the Commerzbank headquarters in Frankfurt and the HSBC building in Hong Kong.
  8. Jayne’s mini-gun is nicknamed “Lux”, after devoted fan Kerry Pearson’s message board handle LuxLucre. Pearson, who died of complications of diabetes, was best known for creating fan art featuring characters from Firefly in a South Park cartoon style.
  9. The cannon the crew mounts to Serenity is a WW2 German 20mm Flak 38.
  10. To put River to sleep, Dr. Simon Tam says, “Eta Kooram Nah Smech!,” Russian for “This is very ridiculous” (literally “This is for hens to laugh!”).
  11. Crates in the cargo bay say “Reusable Container: Do Not Destroy” which is an inside joke because the ship from the original series was destroyed.
  12. The first nine minutes of Serenity were made available online as a promotion in advance of its theatrical release.
  13. The Alliance’s clothing is actually reused costumes from Starship Troopers.
  14. The cast had a running gag where they would yell Summer Glau‘s name whenever any of them flubbed a line or forgot to do something. It originated on Firefly when she forgot her line at the end of a very long and difficult scene.
  15. Joss Whedon said Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nathan Fillion, Summer Glau and Sean Maher performed many of their own stunts.  Summer Glau trained intensely with the fight choreographers for three months before principal photography began.
  16. As the last of the credits roll, a solitary guitar plays the theme song of the original TV show, “Firefly”.
  17. Hoping to generate buzz through early word of mouth, Universal launched an unprecedented 3-stage campaign to sneak preview the then unfinished movie in 35 US cities where the series had earned high Nielsen ratings.
  18. Serenity was released on HD DVD on April 18, 2006, and was one of the first films, the first for Universal Pictures, to be released on the format.
  19. After the title key for Serenity was copied from a software player and posted on the internet as a riddle, the film became the first HD DVD to be released on the BitTorrent network on January 12, 2007.
  20. Serenity was the first film to be screened digitally, fully DCI-compliant.
  21. It was number two during its opening weekend but it did not make back its budget until its release on DVD
  22. Universal also employed a viral marketing campaign, producing five short videos, known as the “R. Tam sessions.”  They depicted excerpts of counseling sessions with the character River Tam while she was being held at a “learning facility” known only as “The Academy“. The counselor is played by Joss Whedon himself. Taking place before the events of the film or the television series, the videos shed some light on the experiments and torture “The Academy” conducted on River.
  23. NASA astronaut Steven Swanson, a fan of the show, took the Firefly and Serenity DVDs with him on Space Shuttle AtlantisSTS-117 so the DVDs can permanently reside on the International Space Station as a form of entertainment for the station’s crews.
  24. Starting in January 2006 and continuing today, “Can’t Stop The Serenity” is a charity that organizes screenings of Serenity and other Joss Whedon projects to benefit Equality Now, a human rights organization supported by Whedon.  As of 2012 CSTS has raised over $700,000 for Equality Now.
  25. Science fiction author Orson Scott Card called Serenity “the best science fiction film ever”, further stating “If Ender’s Game (his book) can’t be this kind of movie, and this good a movie, then I want it never to be made. I’d rather just watch Serenity again.”
  26. EASTER EGG – From the main menu screen, keep clicking “left” until you light up a triangle with a dot in the center on the right side of the screen. The icon will take you to the full Fruity Oaty Bar commercial. In the DVD commentary, Joss Whedon admitted that he wanted the commercial to be as odd as possible. He said it was heavily inspired by the “Mr. Sparkle” advertisement from The Simpsons: In Marge We Trust The uncredited actor in the commercial and the Easter Egg segment is Robert Michael Lee.
  27. ***SPOILER ALERT*** – Body count: 74
  28. ***SPOILER ALERT*** – According to Joss Whedon, the most difficult scene for sound was Simon and River’s final scene, after Simon is shot. Sean Maher and Summer Glau developed a strong bond during production of Firefly. Sean’s acting was so good that Summer kept bursting into tears whenever they attempted to shoot the scene.
  29. ***SPOILER ALERT*** – Joss Whedon revealed that the reason Wash and Book were killed off in the movie was because Alan Tudyk and Ron Glass could not commit to sequels. In his original script, before he knew they couldn’t commit, all members of the crew survived, with Zoe and Wash promising to have children together.
  30. ***SPOILER ALERT*** – After Mr. Universe betrays the crew to the Alliance, he turns to the Operative and demands his “thirty coin,” a reference to Judas betraying Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.
  31.  ***SPOILER ALERT*** – According to Whedon, the planet “Miranda” was named for William Shakespeare‘s Miranda in The Tempest, who says: “O brave new world, / That has such people in’t!” The Alliance had hoped that Miranda would be a new kind of world, filled with peaceful, happy people.  Joss Whedon said the planet Miranda would’ve been discovered at the end of the second season if the show had been a success.
  32. ***SPOILER ALERT***-Whedon has said that the most important line in the film is when Mal says “I’m going to show you a world without sin”. Whedon makes the point that a world without sin is a world without choice, and that choice is ultimately what defines humanity.

4 responses to “Netflix52: Serenity

  1. One of my favorite TV shows and films! I always wanted to know Book’s back story. Apparently there is a graphic novel about him but I haven’t read it, but it was just so intriguing and I loved the spirituality he brought to the show. It made me want to know more about how religion had developed and what kinds of structures/institutions survived and how it evolved. Fascinating stuff.

  2. Yeah that is the one question that I am sad wasn’t answered. I feel like Book was probably an Operative at some point and that is why he never wanted to talk about his former life. It makes sense with the way The Operative in Serenity acts at the end. He found God and became so passive because of the things he did while working for the Alliance. Would explain them taking him in and not searching Serenity in the show.

    During my research I found an article where Ron Glass (the actor who plays book) talks about being a buddhist in real life. He wanted Joss Whedon to make the character more Buddhist but Whedon wanted Inara to be the buddhist-type and Book to be a fundamentalist christian. So he played the part as both, bring a humanism to the christian shepherd. Pretty cool.

  3. Jeremiah Sierra

    I love this movie and can watch it over and over again. Nice review.

  4. Pingback: My High Expectations = Disappointment | The Daily Cake

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