This week I attended a special screening of the film ‘Serenity’, the third such pre-release audience test screening to visit Atlanta in the last eight weeks. Based on the failed FOX network series ‘Firefly’, this movie represents a Very Big Thing to the world of science fiction fandom; one of the very few times that a cancelled television show is moved up to the silver screen with creator, cast and crew intact (think: Star Trek). Before the movie began there was a brief, pre-recorded introduction by the show’s creator/director, Joss Whedon (aka Joyce Wilber, aka Jox Wheaty, aka Jake Wheelbarrow and any other other intentional mispronunciation I could think of to elicit wails of frustration from the man’s fans).
In his introduction Jazz Wheedle artfully describes how utterly unlikely it was that this film could have ever gotten made. It is obvious that he loves his creation and that he is moved by the groundswell of fans who have supported a show that was dead before it even had a chance to live. Likening the show’s fanbase to the brown coat wearing revolutionaries of the ‘Firefly’ universe, he issues a call-to-arms for all his faithful to help get the word out to the rest of the world, to the people who know nothing of the show. It’s a modern sci-fi version of Jesus’ “Great Commission” (Mark 16:15-16: “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel unto every person. He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be damned.”). It’s a great introduction to the film and a direct tribute to the fans.
And damned I’d be by those fans if I dared give this film a bad review. Fortunately (for me), I can’t give this film ANY review because it’s technically not yet finished. What I can do is to tell you that this movie has more heart than the last three Star Wars movies lashed together and dipped in hearty sauce.
The film, like the series, is based on the adventures of the crew of the small starship ‘Serenity’. Captained by a veteran of a galactic civil war, the ship and its crew flit around the edges of the galaxy taking on petty jobs to survive – driven to this state by an all-powerful galactic government. Couched more in the style of ‘Wagon Train’ than Star Trek ever was, Whedon and his art department do a fine job of painting the outskirts of the galaxy like Indian Territory circa 1850 without dropping into lazy stereotypes or directly applied metaphors from the American West.
The speech patterns of the captain and some of his crew does smack of something akin to Amish-lite: the kind of way you speak when you’re being proper, good and true. Contrasted against the citified lingo of the film’s government officials it is endearing without being cloying or sounding like Yoda-speak. I did, however, at some point expect to see someone to pull out a banjo and sing a song about Tom Sawyer and the Exposition of 1880. I suspect the Jeb Weevil went aboard The Great American Freedom Train and exited the 1970’s with that strange bicentennial fervor injected into the water system at the time.
I was very impressed with the look of the film, from cinematography to production design. The first five (probably more) minutes of the movie is one continuous steadicam move designed to simultaneously cover exposition and to provide us some geography and sense of scale for the size of the ship ‘Serenity’. I’ve worked days where we set up for long steadicam shots and they’re incredibly adventurous endeavors for every department, from the steadicam operator and his guardian grip to the boom operator sneaking along trying to keep the mouse out of shot. Fortunately this was shot on stage, so I expect that the electricians had more control on their pre-rig.
If Jars Whizzle shot this scene once he shot it twenty times.
As with Star Trek, the ‘Firefly’ universe is of course best appreciated by fans of the television series but not being one of those fans I am happy to say that the movie is emminently accessible by non-fans. The witty dialogue, the unexpected, non-formulaic actions by the characters and the pre-existing relationships by all involved work together to create something that the trainwreck called ‘Andromeda’ never accomplished, regardless of its (questionable) lineage from Gene Roddenberry’s hand.
Will you leave this movie on September 30th (the release date) as a fan of ‘Firefly’? You just might.
You’ll certainly leave it with respect for Jaxx Windham’s love for his baby and for his fans.
You might even leave it as a Brown Coat.