Serenity

Serenity

**1/2

Reviewed by: Keith Hennessey Brown

I went into Serenity knowing little more than it is the big screen spin off from the cancelled TV series Firefly by Joss Whedon of Buffy and Angel fame and that it has a fanatical cult following - the EIFF screenings apparently selling out within minutes.

Two hours later, I'm still none the wiser as to what the fuss is about. It's competently done in terms of direction, visuals and effects, but the plotting and characterisation leave much to be desired, with the concept also less innovative than I'd been led to believe. Overall, it's nothing special - enough to appeal to cultists, no doubt, but insufficient to reach wider audiences who are hardly starved for sci-fi.

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The story, in brief, is that mankind left a terminally overcrowded earth for new worlds, created through terraforming, a la Star Trek's Wrath Of Khan. After a while there was a war between the centralising Alliance and the independent outlying territories that ended in stalemate. Somewhere along the line bad guys known as the Reavers - think Mongol hordes in space - also showed up, killing and eating anyone they could.

All this is given as a precis in the first couple of minutes by River Tam, whom we learn is being detained in a top-secret compound for some reason. Her brother, Dr Simon Tam, then shows up and busts her out.

Time passes - eight months of backstory presumably filled in by the TV series - and we are introduced to the crew of the spaceship Serenity on which the Tams have been hiding out. There's a Han Solo-esque captain, a tough-talking but not necessarily walking Hicks-a-like, a kooky female engineer and so on; suffice to say none of them gets enough screen time, or characterisation within the limits of the feature format, for me to remember their names.

Going to raid an outlying Alliance post, the Serenity away team takes River with them on account of her precognitive abilities - a move which angers her protective brother. The raid is interrupted by a Reiver attack and, back on board, the Tams and the crew of the Serenity agree to go their separate ways.

At the drop off point River experiences a flashback, or something, and takes out the populace of a saloon in a barroom brawl - a competently handled Buffy vs monsters style action sequence.

Back on the craft, captain Solo understandably wants to know what the hell is going on. We're about to find out as - a parallel plot that has been going on all the time - the Alliance's Agent Smith figure has just reviewed the tapes from the saloon and discovered the whereabouts of his quarry.

Cue fights, chases, ABC quests and blindingly unsurprising plot developements - if I can work out where the Reavers come from, never having seen the TV series, then goodness knows what a fan will think - that never quite cohere enough to stop you asking questions.

At root the problem is that we have a multi-part TV series being condensed into a two-hour movie that makes too many assumptions in terms of background knowledge. Fine, if you've bought into the mythology, but alienating for the casual viewer.

Plus, as the Star Wars, Star Trek and Matrix-isms suggest - along with many other films - it really isn't all that original. Blake 7, for example, did the whole dystopian shades of grey sci-fi thing far better, with greater honesty and intelligence on a small fraction of the budget.

In the end you are left with the feeling that Whedon works better on television than in the cinema, the bigger canvas afforded his undoubted directorial chops being insufficient to balance out the effects upon his writing - rather a big fish in a small (screen) pond.

Reviewed on: 23 Aug 2005
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Serenity packshot
Buffy's creator does battle with the Reavers in space, as earthlings move off their overcrowded planet.
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Read more Serenity reviews:

Scott Macdonald *****
The Exile ****

Director: Joss Whedon

Writer: Joss Whedon

Starring: Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk, Morena Baccarin, Adam Baldwin, Jewel Staite, Sean Maher, Summer Glau, Ron Glass, Chiwetel Ejiofor, David Krumholtz

Year: 2005

Runtime: 117 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

Festivals:

EIFF 2005

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