Movie Reviews
11:09 am
Thu September 29, 2005

Serenity

A thinking person's sci-fi.

"God give me the serenity to accept things which cannot be changed; give me courage to change things which must be changed . . . . Reinhold Niebuhr

Joss Whedon's Serenity is the bastard child of Star Wars and Star Trek: Sardonic, world weary, childlike, universal, didactic are some of the adjectives I have applied to those two films. Now the words apply to a former short-lived series, Firefly, created by Whedon, and celebrated by thousands of loyal geeks who are ecstatic at his resurrecting the TV series into a feature length film.

A band of rebels aboard the spaceship Serenity is transporting a brain-tampered young girl with strange visionary powers and recently-acquired martial-arts skills. The problem is that the Alliance (something similar to righteous US neocons dominating the universe) wants her, and the Reavers (cannibal bandits similar to contemporary terrorists) have an interest as well.

Serenity is skippered by Mal (Nathan Fillion, reprising his role from TV), a taciturn Han Solo type, handsome but bothered by his too close attachment to the crew, the ship, and a love interest for which he is willing to endanger the first two. He even slings his gun from his hip.

The Star Wars parallel is the liberal use of wise cracks, many of which can be traced to Harrison Ford's Han Solo but here are shared by several crew members and eccentric space dwellers. Whedon, like Lucas, doesn't trivialize his film with these often tossed-off remarks; he rather adds to the ironies inherent in a good film.

The Star Trek parallel kicks in at the thematic level, where Whedon subtextually explores such topics as the pursuit of a moral universe at the expense of personal freedoms, currently played out in the US with fundamentalist Christians and neoconservative politicians legislating morality without the freedoms of debate our country has fostered for centuries. Although Star Wars also played on the mythic level, Serenity and Star Trek go beyond simplistic good versus evil.

Whedon limits the appeal of the film to non fanboys by assuming an understanding of the multicult characters that could come only from having seen the series. However, killing off two of the characters and disclosing the reasons for mass deaths and the Reavers' bizarre actions lead me to infer that this film is planned as the only feature length treatment.

Too bad. It's a thinking person's sci-fi.