September 30, 2005

Serenity

Captain Malcolm Reynolds first became wounded and incomplete at a place called Serenity. A show called "Firefly" spent its very first moments bringing the exact moment of defeat to life in potent fashion. The series then paired him with eight other incomplete souls and became immersed in their collective journey through the black as they slowly filled in the emptiness with each other. The last episode, "Objects in Space", ended the series optimistically; leaving us on a final note with all the characters engaging simple, mundane moments of beautiful connection.
Serenity (the movie) picks up with the same people more fractured and miserable than we'd seen them at any point in the show. Book and Inara, the two civilizing influences on Mal, have either chosen to leave or been driven away. The limited work available to a crew harbouring wanted fugitives in the face of an ever-expanding central government has left them so destitute they can barely keep the ship in the sky. Tensions are running at an all time high, and Mal's nobility and compassion have sunk to an all time low.
There was a lot of darkness peering in from the edges of "Firefly", and it all comes to the fore here. The show was focused on Mal and River learning to compensate for their emotional and spiritual wounds. Movies have no time for such progression, of course, so Serenity places them on the brink of ruination and forces them to either confront their pain or be consumed by it. As their internal journeys progress, the progress is reflected by the attitudes and actions of everyone around them.
The universe — a stew of ingredients from traditional China, the American frontier, and Star Wars — strikes a balance that is never less than seamless and true, wisely forgoing the jokey conceits that would occasionally mar the series. The film's plot takes elements of The Fugitive and Dawn of the Dead and ties them together with a classic science fiction concept rooted in the most central theme of the Western genre: civilization versus nature.
The result is an immersive stand-alone experience that provides pleasures and surprises entirely different and separate from the series. From the surreal and duplicitous opening all the way through the horror-movie climax, this doesn't feel anything like television. It means that newcomers can watch the film without feeling like they're walking in after intermission. But it also means that as a fan I felt like a visitor among people and places that once felt like home. The ship was rusted brown on the show, and felt welcoming. Now it is composed of metallic blues and greys that seem at once cold and hard.
The rhythm of the show was focused on inhabiting the ship and letting its environs expand outward into the black. For the majority of the running time, the rhythm of the movie focuses on inhabiting the black and letting it increasingly press inward on the ship from all sides. As the tension builds, the noose gets tighter. It was only once the outer pressures are finally confronted and — after surprising consequence and real loss — overcome that the space and rhythms of the show flooded back in and I felt, finally, like I was home.
Serenity is a rewarding journey and a marvellous reintroduction to characters that I love. Hopefully the sequel, if there is one, won't take so long to immerse the audience in its world. ()

  - ADAM LENHARDT

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