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Serenity: A Preview Screening
Reviewed by Gary Mitchel, © 2005

Format: Movie
By:   Joss Whedon (writer, director)
Genre:   Science Fiction
Released:   Wide release September 30, 2005
Review Date:   July 08, 2005
Audience Rating:   Not yet rated
RevSF Rating:   9/10 (What Is This?)

"He wouldn’t lay down." — River

The show Firefly is a favorite around here. From when it first debuted, through Fox’s mishandling of it, and release of the DVD box set, we have been huge fans and supporters of this show. Are you surprised that one of us scored tickets to a sneak preview of Serenity?

So on June 23 I was ensconced in a theater stuffed with fellow Browncoats, filled with the joy of getting to see some of my favorite characters in action again. And not only we were going to get to see the film, but it was also creator Joss Whedon’s birthday. As we'd waited outside, the fans had a little shindig. People brought food and a huge “Happy Birthday Joss!” banner that most everyone signed.

Before the film began, we had a surprise visitor, producer Christopher Buchanan. He gave a little talk before the film, letting us know that the film we were about to see wasn’t quite complete, thanking us for coming and giving us an update on the film’s progress. He also took some questions from us after the film and signed promo materials. He’s a swell guy, and I love my signed postcard and keychain.

Then the lights went down and the film began. It opened with a message from Joss himself, telling us a bit of the history of the show, and how if not for the active fan base this movie would not exist. If there is any justice in the world, this little intro will make it onto Serenity’s DVD.

Anyway, on to the movie. As Buchanan said, the version we saw was not quite complete. It still needed some minor effects work, a full musical score to replace the temporary tracks, and some other tweaks. It could be re-edited and new scenes added or ones I saw removed. With all that, the film as I saw it is about 90 percent complete.

Keep all that in mind when I tell you that this movie is excellent already.

For those who don’t know anything about Firefly, here are the basics: After Earth had become uninhabitable, humanity spread out to a large number of planets and moons made habitable by terraforming. The inner planets were under one government known as the Alliance, and they decided that the outer worlds should be under their rule as well. The outer planets did not agree, and a bitter civil war ensued. The Alliance won.

After the war, Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan “Tight Pants” Fillion), an outer planets soldier disillusioned by the loss to the Alliance, is trying to make his way in the universe as captain of a small Firefly-class transport ship, named Serenity. Mal and his crew take whatever jobs they can, legal or not. The crew consists of Zoe (Gina “Warrior Woman” Torres), who fought alongside Mal in the war; her husband Wash (Alan “Wacky Fun” Tudyk), who pilots the ship; Jayne (Adam “Hero of Canton” Baldwin), an irritable and not-to-bright mercenary; and Kaylee (Jewel “Shiny!” Staite), a bubbly ray of sunshine who maintains the engine.

In the show, Serenity was transporting four passengers: Inara (Morena “It's my specialty” Baccarin), Shepherd Book (Ron “Special Hell” Glass), Dr. Simon Tam (Sean “I'm a traditionalist” Maher) and his sister River (Summer “No power in the ‘verse” Glau). Inara is a certified companion, a combination of high-class escort and geisha. Companions are esteemed in the society, and her connections help lent Mal a bit of respectability. The shepherd is a bit of a mystery, knowing more about crime and the military works than the average man of the cloth should. Simon and River are both on the run from the Alliance — Simon broke River out of a secret government program where they were apparently trying to enhance her latent psionic abilities.

Serenity continues the story from Firefly, a few months after the last episode that aired. It opens with a flashback to River’s childhood, which works as a good introduction to the universe for those who never watched the show. We then meet the main villain of the piece, an Operative (Chiwetel “She Hate Me” Ejiofor) for the Alliance who has been assigned to recover River and Simon. We also find out more about exactly why the Alliance is so desperate to recover River and Simon.

Things have not been going so well for our band of "big damn heroes" since we last saw them. The Alliance is strengthening its hold on the outer planets, and jobs for freelancers are drying up. Inara and Book have left the ship, and River is becoming even more unstable.

Just as Simon and River are about leave Serenity, too, the Alliance kicks off their plan to recapture Simon and River, and you had better hold on. We get all the action, suspense, humor and excitement that we remember from the show. The plot twists in ways you don’t see coming. The action is intense, the characters shine, and the stakes are huge. What happens to Serenity's crew could shake the Alliance to its foundations. And what happens to the heroes might leave a lot of people very upset.

There are a few downsides to the film, not counting all the “it’s not finished” issues. I’m concerned that viewers who aren't already fans — if you're wondering about the "big damn heroes" reference, this is you — are going to have a little trouble getting into the movie. The introductions to the universe and the characters are a bit quick and thin. For example, the fact that Inara is a certified companion, and what that means in this universe, is never touched on at all. Non-fans might be a little confused on who all these people are and what their relationships are like. Most of the explanations are done by way of small character moments instead of having someone go, “Hey, that’s Inara! Mal loved her but couldn’t tell her so she left and now they’re both miserable.” “Why thank you, exposition boy, for that recap. Now on with the plot!” That type of storytelling just isn’t Whedon’ style.

Great character moments, humor, thrills and subversion of expectations are his style, and they are in full force. The action of a thrilling heist gets things rolling so quickly that I think that most viewers will be happily along for the ride.

This is the movie and the story that fans of the show have been waiting on. Whedon, the effects team and the cast brought their A-Game to this movie, and their love for these characters and this universe pours off the screen. This movie is a love letter to the fans of the show.

I cannot wait to see the completed version when it comes out on September 30.

RevolutionSF writer Gary Mitchel has never been a big damn hero, but he did once have a big damn gyro.

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