Serenity (2005)
April 10, 2016 6:17 PM - Subscribe

The crew of the ship Serenity tries to evade an assassin sent to recapture one of their number who is telepathic.

Serenity is a 2005 American space western film written and directed by Joss Whedon. It is a continuation of Whedon's short-lived 2002 Fox science fiction television series Firefly and stars the same cast, taking place after the events of the final episode. 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 Independent side against the Alliance. Their lives of smuggling and cargo-running are interrupted by a psychic passenger who harbors a dangerous secret.

The film stars Nathan Fillion, Alan Tudyk, Adam Baldwin, Summer Glau and Chiwetel Ejiofor. It was released in North America on September 30, 2005 by Universal Pictures. The film received generally positive reviews, and won several awards, including the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Prometheus Special Award and the Nebula Award for Best Script. (wikipedia)

REVIEW
Fox aired its last episode of Firefly in 2002 (leaving behind a few leftover episodes that eventually ran on cable), and after that it took three years for the adventures of Mal and the crew of Serenity to resume, in a two-hour, $40 million movie released by Universal in September of 2005. By the time Serenity hit the big screen, Firefly fans had lobbied multiple networks to pick the show back up, and had launched grassroots campaigns to support the movie, in hopes of kickstarting a franchise. In the meantime, Joss Whedon had wrapped up his other TV series Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel, and had yet to create Dollhouse or Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, let alone to write and direct what would turn out to be the third-highest-grossing movie of all time, The Avengers. It’s fair to say that in 2005, Serenity was all that Whedon really had cooking, and the best hope to revive Firefly as a going concern, either as a TV show or as a series of feature films.

Of course, it didn’t work out. Though in retrospect, how could it have?

Don’t get me wrong; I think Serenity is a very good movie, if not as good as the best Firefly episodes.....

.....And it pretty much sums up the whole Firefly franchise, that a clever little plot surprise like Mal’s shot-up nerves can double as a character-definer. With this show—and its movie—it’s easy to find connections and reverberations that may not even have been intended, just because the universe and its inhabitants have been so well-constructed. Is the way that Serenity eludes The Operative by launching separate homing beacons symbolic of Mal’s scatteredness? Probably not, but it’s still nifty. Does it matter that it’s seven separate beacons, and that that later Mal claims to be a fan of all seven deadly sins (especially “wrath”)? Absolutely not, but it’s a cool coincidence nonetheless. Does Whedon subtly prepare the audience for Wash’s impalement by littering the previous 90 minutes with little surprises—from the reveal that the opening “school” scene is taking place in River’s head, to an unexpected Reaver attack after the crew had assumed they’d eluded their pursuers? Perhaps not consciously, but it is part of Whedon’s overall storytelling philosophy, to let audiences know that anything can happen at any time, and that no one is safe. (avclub)

TRIVIA
• NASA astronaut Steven Swanson, a fan of the show, took the Region 1 Firefly and Serenity DVDs with him on Space Shuttle Atlantis' STS-117 mission, which lifted off on Friday June 8, 2007. The DVDs will permanently reside on the International Space Station as a form of entertainment for the station's crews.
posted by valkane (31 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
Does Whedon subtly prepare the audience for Wash’s impalement

"Wow it's like all of these people suddenly died..." (camera circles round the crew, stopping at Wash) "... for no reason at all"
posted by Sebmojo at 8:11 PM on April 10, 2016 [3 favorites]


—from the reveal that the opening “school” scene is taking place in River’s head,

The opening sequence is brilliant, I rewatched it recently.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:23 PM on April 10, 2016 [2 favorites]


I love that opening sequence.
posted by infinitewindow at 8:26 PM on April 10, 2016


The opening of the movie is frickin' great, whatever the objections to the rest of are.
posted by figurant at 8:34 PM on April 10, 2016


For whatever reason, I saw this movie before I saw any of Firefly. So, while I enjoyed it, certain events didn't have much impact on me, until I went back and watched the show and then the movie again.

"Like a leaf on the wind."
posted by nubs at 8:54 PM on April 10, 2016 [2 favorites]


I saw this movie in theaters, without spoilers, with two friends who were also big fans of the show.

The three of us were just wrecked leaving the theater, and in the parking garage elevator a dude looked at us three sobbing messes and said "Just saw the Firefly movie, huh?"
posted by nonasuch at 10:50 PM on April 10, 2016 [9 favorites]


Unlike nubs, I saw the show first, but after the movie was out so I binged it all straight through. The movie isn't perfect and I wonder if that had been my introduction to the 'Verse if I would have gone back to the source material. I'm pretty sure that my connection to the characters made it easier to get into the plot. Reavers? Scary. On the other hand, I was annoyed enough that they 'movied up' the costumes that it might have been a wash (pun intended!)

As someone who wasn't a disappointed fan waiting for Serenity, I think they did a pretty good job providing closure for the fans. Yes Wash dying is tragic, but "I'm leaf on the wind" could have been a cool/funny line and now it's heartbreaking and poignant.

And what did they do to Ron Glass? In the show they alluded to a whole alliance super spy secret identity back story for him. Who is the big bad in this movie? A secret super secret alliance spy. I've got a great idea, let's kill Shepherd Book off screen in the first act!

Who am I kidding? I've seen this movie so many times and I'm going to put it on right now and watch it as I go to bed.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 11:19 PM on April 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


I saw this movie during the first round of preview screenings, and it was an amazing experience. Packed room of die-hard fans, that introduction from Wheadon playing first thing, Morena Baccarin and Sean Maher in attendance.

But the longer I've sat with it, the more negatively I feel about the movie itself. It discards a lot of interesting aspects of the series. They kill off the Hands of Blue guys in the comics. They drop the Blue Sun corporation thread entirely. There's no room in the movie for these things to play out (Blue Sun in particular was barely developed yet even in the show), but was it necessary to remove them from the world entirely?

We also just sort of whiff on Book, but again there was never going to be room for that in one movie.

Ultimately I think the biggest sin of the movie is the handling of River. There's sort of the implication that she's fixed now, that the secret of the Pax was the only thing she had. That doesn't make any sense to me. She was tricked into signing up for a torture-based experimental program to create psychic human weapons, rescued by her brother, and now we find that she was actually broken by one piece of secret knowledge and that once that's out in the open she's good now? That she doesn't have other trauma, other dirt on the powers-that-be, other mysteries?

This is somewhere where the complete omission of Blue Sun Corporation is an issue, because River is consistently triggered by the sight of the Blue Sun logo. The two I know off the top of my head are when she attacks Jayne with a knife and when she removes the labels from all the cans, but I think there were others. It's been a long time. Trying to give her a single resolution is a problem. Doing it without any reference to Blue Sun makes a hash of everything previously established about her character.

Ultimately I think I would like the movie more if it provided less closure. If it wasn't trying to be the final word on so many different characters and storylines. They were more interesting in my imagination then they ended up being in the movie.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 1:38 AM on April 11, 2016 [6 favorites]


I saw this in the theater after seeing only one episode of the series (I think it was the one where the ship breaks down and Mal almost dies). It made enough of an impression on me at that time that I was induced to binge the rest of the series, and have seen it three or four times since.

As a result...re-watching the movie is weird. It's the same kind of weird that you get watching the MST3K movie when you know the show sooooo well, ya know? I can't define the nature of the weirdness. It transcends merely the music, the budget, and the framerate. I think it even transcends the story's pacing.

Is it even a good idea to do a movie based on a show? What are some examples where the movie didn't somehow whiz it down the leg?
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 5:18 AM on April 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


Not all of the Star Trek movies were terrible.
posted by Night_owl at 6:44 AM on April 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


Not all of the Star Trek movies were terrible.

*headsmack* Yes, of course. And one could even go so far as to say that a couple of them (II and IV come to mind) actually managed to maintain the overall feel and spirit of the TV source material.

Perhaps Trek was the template that the studio was hoping to duplicate by greenlighting Serenity?
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 7:07 AM on April 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


The movie was good, but the posters and advertising materials for this were absolutely horrible.
posted by dinty_moore at 7:56 AM on April 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


Universal also made the mistake of doing multiple free screenings of the movie at Firefly fan-centric conventions and gatherings around the country, a full four months before the actual theatrical release. Apparently they thought that internet word of mouth would work better than actually marketing the film with trailers and TV spots. I assume that most of the people who came to the free screenings probably ended up buying a ticket later on, but it just doesn't make sense that they targeted just the small number of pre-existing Firefly fans instead of doing a wider push.
posted by Strange Interlude at 8:45 AM on April 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


Watching it in the theater, unspoiled, was really cool in that by the time they broke big pieces off of Serenity and killed Wash, I had this sense that this really could be Whedon just burning the whole thing down, giving it a big Viking funeral. Not that I liked watching Wash get impaled.

There's sort of the implication that she's fixed now

I think "She's plenty broke... but she'll fly" or whatever exactly Zoe said applies to River as well. Still fucked up but more functional than she was.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:53 AM on April 11, 2016 [3 favorites]


I think "She's plenty broke... but she'll fly" or whatever exactly Zoe said applies to River as well.

Here's the exact dialogue, just because I love that exchange so much. Mal and Zoe are close, no question, but definitely in a Captain/First Mate way and they keep it that way. But still they clearly both care for each other.

Capt. Malcolm Reynolds: You think she'll hold together?
Zoë: She's torn up plenty, but she'll fly true.
Capt. Malcolm Reynolds: Could be bumpy.
Zoë: Always is.

Obviously Mal's asking how Zoe is, after burying her husband, but is also giving her a way out, to get off the crew if it's become too much for her. Zoe, with her voice quavering just a bit, says she'll stay and signals she's prepared the unexpected road ahead.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:21 AM on April 11, 2016 [4 favorites]


Oh man.

I missed Firefly when it was on TV. I was busy with this or that, and I never really got into Buffy, so more from Whedon at the time didn't seem appealing to me.

The one time we tried watching, it was the episode Out of Gas. I didn't understand what all the flashbacks were about. It's an episode that's hard to access without having seen the previous handful of episodes.

However, in the lead up to the movie release, Comcast made the entire series available for free via their On Demand. A bunch of my friends were making noise about it and telling me no really you need to watch it. So we did, and became instant fans.

I am a leaf on the wind

It's still too soon. Someone hold me.
posted by Fleebnork at 10:18 AM on April 11, 2016


Oh man, I was in full blown obsession mode when this movie came out. Saw all three rounds of preview screenings... scrounged up money I didn't have to go out to the official Hollywood premiere... saw it at least 3 or 4 more times in theaters after that. And that's not counting the Can't Stop the Serenity screenings I helped run for a few years after that.

But I don't think I've watched either the show or the movie in years now. Maybe because the problematic bits just bother me more now? (Come on Joss, seriously, there's the Asian actors.) Maybe because I just feel disgust when I saw Adam Baldwin's face now. I still think fondly of the Verse as a whole, I just haven't visited in a while.
posted by kmz at 10:42 AM on April 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


I think the show adhered a little too close to the western genre at times and that was a turn off when mixed with Scifi. It looked low rent and that never helps.

The movie was...fine. All the character elements were there, but they don't add up to something more when mixed in the movie. It's very by the numbers and Mal being a dick about covering the ship with bodies of their friends was just too much narratively.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:59 AM on April 11, 2016


But I don't think I've watched either the show or the movie in years now. Maybe because the problematic bits just bother me more now? (Come on Joss, seriously, there's the Asian actors.) Maybe because I just feel disgust when I saw Adam Baldwin's face now. I still think fondly of the Verse as a whole, I just haven't visited in a while.

I kinda feel that way too. Joss Whedon is an interesting figure to me - I've used him as an inspiration both in terms of what I wish I were doing as a writer, and what I hope I never do. Like... on the one hand, I love the dialogue, he's fantastic with ensemble casts, he flips genre conventions around in intriguing ways, I also love existentialism... but on the other hand, the race stuff has always been a bit troubling to me, and I feel like there are some real issues with female characters in his work.

Also, it really *is* hard to see Adam Baldwin in anything anymore, yeah.

That said, stuff I remember thinking about the movie:
* One big disappointment for me was the revelation that River was psychic. Firefly was never far high on the scale of sci-fi hardness, but I enjoyed the lack of explicitly supernatural elements in the TV show. It was just a refreshing change of pace. I enjoyed imagining River as a figure like the Pretender or the guy in Limitless - just that smart. I know it's sort of a minor nit to pick, but I found a real downer at the time.

* I'm in the 'they wasted Book' camp. He was the figure I found most intriguing in the show. I didn't want them to ever spill all his secrets, but I wanted to see some of them. Having him killed off so unceremoniously felt like a missed opportunity. (Like, kill him off, sure, but let's learn a little bit too!)

* I felt a little let down by the origin of the Reavers. I preferred some ambiguity about the Alliance - like, on the one hand, sure, they made life tough and boring for guys like Mal, and they're full of stuffy bureacrats. But on the other hand... to some extent, that's the price of civilization. They provided medicine to sick miners, Inara's time on core worlds was always nice, and the frontier was just as full of assholes. I felt like the story lost a lot of needed nuance here by making them directly responsible for an attempt to destroy human free will, even though I did like the Operative and whatnot. (The whole Miranda plot made me think of an article from The Toast.)

... and looking back at that, I realize I sound pretty negative, so I suppose I should clarify: a lot about the movie actually did work for me. I liked the action set pieces. Mal's confrontations with the Operative were great. I loved the whole Fruity Oats scene. I liked that they acknowledged Inara would eventually bail on a boat where she was treated so poorly. Kaylee was adorable. Zoe remains The Best. I was okay with Wash's death - I know what I'm getting into with Whedon.

It's hard for me to focus on that stuff though, because I feel shortchanged about only getting a movie instead of a second season, though - like, despite the fact I haven't watched this in years, I'm still bitter that the show only got a two hour sendoff instead of a proper chance to tell its story. So I suppose I want to say that my poor feelings on the subject are, despite what I've mostly been talking about, more rooted in missing it than being disappointed by various aspects of the work itself. It really was a lot of fun.
posted by mordax at 11:23 AM on April 11, 2016 [4 favorites]


I've always been shocked that Netflix hasn't picked up Firefly for another season yet (or at least produced a show with a new crew in the same universe). Seriously, they went for Full fucking House over Firefly? Part of me suspects that they've tried and there's licensing or other practical schenanigans blocking it; it seems like the kind of thing that every single Netflix intern would have tried to pitch by now.

Though maybe there's something to be said for killing the show off fast, before Joss Whedon had a chance to really drive it in to the ground like he's so good at doing.
posted by Itaxpica at 12:35 PM on April 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


Firefly was never far high on the scale of sci-fi hardness, but I enjoyed the lack of explicitly supernatural elements in the TV show.

The last episode of the Firefly series makes it clear that she is at least telepathic, to some degree.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:35 PM on April 11, 2016


mordax I get your point about the Alliance not being all bad but don't they kind of have to be corrupt and evil for the moral arc of the show to work? If the Alliance is just a well-meaning but occasionally bumbling or corrupt (in a petty way) bureaucracy Mal's ongoing resistance just seems kind of childish. Firefly/Serenity is about the human relationships between the crew, sure, but it's also a fundamentally libertarian show. Mal's resistance to the centralizing authority of the Alliance is supposed to be noble and just and about standing up for individuality and freedom, not a petty refusal to wipe his boots and play nice with the other kids. If the Alliance isn't evil the browncoats are just Cliven Bundy's crowd.
posted by Wretch729 at 1:29 PM on April 11, 2016 [3 favorites]


But hey! Sarah Paulson!
posted by mochapickle at 7:50 PM on April 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


Dr. Caron. Good call.
posted by valkane at 8:05 PM on April 11, 2016


Joss usually points out that all of his actors are in other gigs these days plus there's the Adam Baldwin problem now. It's a shame Firefly isn't something that can be brought back in this age of revivals. If this show had come along later in life, maybe? I dunno.

I remember going to the theater and a ton of people from my volunteer job were there and one of them had an adorable DIY Kaylee overalls costume.

Book being killed off was kind of a waste, but at the time I can see why they did it because uh...he didn't do a super lot and they weren't going to be able to get around to explaining his past anyway. (Did anyone read the comic book with the explanation? I...did not like it.) I always kinda figured that this was in a way Book's backstory because he seems like the sort to have been an Operative, but the comics jossed it. Wash, on the other hand...wah.

I think River being "fixed" was kinda the best they could do with no guaranteed trilogy or anything.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:41 PM on April 11, 2016


I've said this in previous MeFi threads, but I refuse to accept the comic backstory for Book. I much prefer my pre-comic theory, which is that he was a senior Alliance officer at Serenity Valley who was driven to retire and turn to the clergy by the massive bloodshed he witnessed there.

It explains everything, down to why he would have joined the crew in the first place.
posted by Itaxpica at 10:19 PM on April 11, 2016 [2 favorites]


Firefly/Serenity is about the human relationships between the crew, sure, but it's also a fundamentally libertarian show. Mal's resistance to the centralizing authority of the Alliance is supposed to be noble and just and about standing up for individuality and freedom

I was thinking a bit about this yesterday evening. There's a lot in Serenity about belief; about Mal, in particular, needing to believe in something and act on it. There's some strong libertarian sentiment about Mal in that he defines himself as utilitarian and taking direction based on what the needs and pressures of the moment are ("Wind blows northerly, I go north."; Book's last words - "...you have to find a course. This can't mean nothing. I don't care what you believe! Just believe it.") which is in contrast with the Operative, who is all about belief in the cause and terrifying because of it. The Operative is a good foil for Mal in the film.

Now, Mal isn't all what he likes to pretend to be ("Nobility. It confuses your text, which is self-interest."). Mal does believe; it is what kept him fighting at Serenity valley, it is what keeps his ship and crew together. That line about nobility is telling to me; Mal is libertarian in the sense that he believes in freedom, and freedom of association in particular; but he also carries a strong sense of obligation; he has a form of noblesse oblige. Once you've joined him, he demands and expects obedience, but he also will protect his crew and fight for them ("Cutting them loose is one thing. Turning them over is another."); it's not that Mal sees the crew as "lesser", but that if they join him willingly, then he in turn has an obligation to see to their welfare, while they have an obligation to follow his lead and orders. This is why Mal is always offering to let people leave, if they don't like the direction he is taking; they are always free to make a choice.

That, to me, is what Mal's issue with the Alliance is and why he wants independence so fiercely - he doesn't trust anyone else to have authority over him, because he suspects/knows they won't look out for his interests. He trusts himself to do so for his crew, and acts on the belief that if he takes care of them, they will help to take care of him.

Anyways, I was also intrigued by the "leaf on the wind" line when contrasted with Mal's "Wind blows northerly, I go north" line.
posted by nubs at 9:13 AM on April 12, 2016 [4 favorites]


There's some strong libertarian sentiment about Mal in that he defines himself as utilitarian and taking direction based on what the needs and pressures of the moment are ("Wind blows northerly, I go north."; Book's last words - "...you have to find a course. This can't mean nothing. I don't care what you believe! Just believe it.") which is in contrast with the Operative, who is all about belief in the cause and terrifying because of it.

I think it is in the interviews in the Firefly box set where Nathan Fillion states that he originally did not want to take the part of Mal because he found the character's defining philosophy so alien. He felt that Mal had no aspirations, no goals, no higher purpose, and he didn't feel he could bring that to the character because it was so contrary to how he himself felt and lived his life. I wonder if there wasn't a bit of melding of Mal-the-independent and Nathan-the-communitarian in the final product.
posted by chainsofreedom at 10:12 AM on April 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


I remember seeing a quote from Whedon somewhere (though I can't find it now unfortunately) where he talks about how by design the Alliance isn't evil, per se. We see them as the bad guys because we see them through Mal's eyes, but on the whole they do a good job maintaining the kind of order and institutions necessary for daily life, and a 'verse without them would be significantly worse for a significant number of people. Mal is against them because he's against that kind of central locus of control, but neither Mal nor the Alliance is wrong, per se; both sides are complicated than that.

The Miranda experiments kind of put the lie to that, though it's easy to see how that can be argued as less directly evil and more pushing too hard on the centralized control which is otherwise a net good.
posted by Itaxpica at 4:06 PM on April 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


I get your point about the Alliance not being all bad but don't they kind of have to be corrupt and evil for the moral arc of the show to work?

No, it's easy to recognize worthy but incompatible moral structures (Rawls' Laws and Peoples). I'd say it's even standard in Westerns, starting with Leatherstocking and running through Max Brand and Owen Lister.
posted by clew at 4:37 PM on April 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


Watching it in the theater, unspoiled, was really cool in that by the time they broke big pieces off of Serenity and killed Wash, I had this sense that this really could be Whedon just burning the whole thing down, giving it a big Viking funeral.

In retrospect, I really think this is what should have happened. They lost Book and Wash, but the ship itself is still flying after the Operative somehow manages to get it refitted, and the remaining gang is all together and ready for new adventures.

I mean, the movie was plenty fucking bleak as it was, but the open-ended "The End?" kind of thing just feels cruel in retrospect.

It's a good movie, though. It's a really good movie. But it's also not the show, and it doesn't feel like the show. Everything about it is just slightly off, and I don't rewatch it nearly as much as I rewatch Firefly.
posted by tobascodagama at 1:06 PM on April 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


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