Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Movie Night: "Serenity"

by Tom Bozzo

My boss and one of the economists on my "staff" (scare quotes there to account for the fluid organizational structure at our smallish consulting firm) are total movie nuts of the see-everything-because-it's-there variety. As second-year normality is already setting in with Julia, I've started to join them so that I can see some of these filmed entertainments sooner than a year after they've come out on DVD.

They will typically form double features, and occasionally a triple, from the local schedules — it's useful that the Madison art screens are relatively close to the west side's multiplexes — so yesterday was a tough call with Cronenberg's "A History of Violence" and "Serenity" on the bill.

After six years, I think I've recovered from "Existenz," which is near the top of my list of interesting movies that I'd never see again for any reason, to the point where I could consider another Cronenberg venture. But the schedule fell out such that "Serenity," the much-blogged-about adaptation of the short-lived science fiction series "Firefly" from "Buffy" creator Joss Whedon, was in the prime just-after-bedtime slot. It was also on the biggest and therefore best screen in town. While I was a late initiate to the Buffyverse, I had never seen "Firefly."

If you want a full review, they're readily available from reliable critics; just impressions here. I thought "Serenity" was tons of fun, easily overcoming the fatal flaw of "Star Trek: Enterprise" with characters who can be flawed and rash befitting the "frontier" setting but not so stupid that they end up in alien gulags time after time. I was perhaps also well-primed as last week's "Flightplan" just felt stupider the more I reflected on it.

A couple nits to pick: Gary Farber notes that the physics of the Firefly universe are, shall we say, underdetermined. That has, for instance, led some of the so-inclined to try to figure out how the series, with its seemingly quick interplanetary transit times, could work without the space operatic staple of faster-than-light space travel. The opening sequence did strongly suggest that the action is confined to a single star system, though the official site for the movie does this effort no favors by using the adjective "galactic" to describe the civil war that precedes the action. Should word-of-mouth propel "Serenity"'s slightly weak initial box office take to sequel-inducing territory, I see a debate right up there with the question of the true size of Darth Vader's Super Star Destroyer. Well, maybe not.

(Spoiler alert!) I also had some trouble with the idea of the Reavers. In part, they seemed too much like the Buffy-fodder vampires translated to space, esp. when River goes Buffy on them near the end of the film.

Then there's the additional problem, which elsewhere has affected things like the transformation of the Klingons from the neutral evil of the original series to the chaotic neutral (shading to chaotic neutral good) of the movies, "Next Generation," et seq (yes, I'm aware that there's a canonical explanation). It's plausible, as it must be the case, that enough Klingons can avoid spilling others' guts with bat'leths to develop the science, technology, and culture to achieve interstellar space flight. They are, after all, shown to have status hierarchies that make complex organizations possible if somewhat unstable. Or maybe they didn't. Or, perhaps still, they bought their way into space via very short-sighted economic libertarians.

The Reavers, in contrast, are totally crazed and murderous cannibalistic savages. We wonder, how do they avoid eating each others' brains long enough to maintain any space travel technology, let alone the capability to engage the technocratic if repressive Alliance in space combat? A problem for another day.

Next week: Wallace and Gromit! (I dunno, those lips are scary, though I haven't had cause not to trust Nick Park.)
Having gone to seen Existenz with you & said boss I have to say that as interesting as the new D.C. movie sounds the trauma inflicted from the last one will keep me away!
I understand completely. While I'd have gone along with the gang to see it, it will be hard to muster the enthusiasm even to get "Violence" into the home-video queue.
I read a review yesterday that said "not that violent except a close-up of someone getting shot in the head at point-blank range". Think I'll pass.
Anon: Yeah, my understanding was that it could have been worse by certain standards, though when it's violent, it's totally unsparing.

My boss (note Cathy's comment) did report after "Serenity" that he expected "Violence" to be a lot weirder, based on the "Existenz" experience.
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