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The UnPopular Opinion: Serenity

01.02.2013

THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!

**** SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****

I am going to start this column off by saying that I do not hate Joss Whedon.  I respect the man as a filmmaker and creative person but I just don't get the following the guy has built over the years.  I never was a huge fan of BUFFY or ANGEL despite trying to watch both to see what the fuss was all about.  I did enjoy DOLLHOUSE during the two season lifespan of that series which gave me my deepest understanding of Whedon's appeal.  But, much in the same way I felt THE AVENGERS was greatly overrated, I feel that the unabashed love of FIREFLY and SERENITY is way over the top.

There has not been a very succesful "space opera" outside of the STAR WARS franchise and FIREFLY looked to fill that void.  For many, the short-lived Fox series was the ultimate combination of elements that made George Lucas' films so much fun to watch.  I can freely admit that Whedon would definitely have my vote to helm a future STAR WARS movie now that Disney is reviving the series.  He definitely knows how to balance humor with action and if SERENITY has any saving grace, it would be that.

Why is everyone looking in different directions?  Worst Christmas card ever.

SERENITY came to theaters after Whedon was unable to convince another network to pick up FIREFLY after it was cancelled.  With only 14 episodes completed, FIREFLY did not exactly have a lot of plot to wrap up.  Having never watched the series during it's initial run, I decided to watch them in anticipation of seeing SERENITY when it hit DVD.  I was unimpressed by the show as it didn't strike me as anything unique or original.  Nathan Fillion, a very likeable character, was not much more than a stand-in for Han Solo.  The rest of the crew, including Adam Baldwin's Jayne Cobb and Alan Tudyk's Hoban, all felt like rehashes of cliche characters from the annals of science fiction.  Sure, both actors are very talented, and both went on to portray great characters in other series and movies.  Other cast members like Gina Torres, Morena Baccarin, and Summer Glau have found success in both science fiction and non-genre work, putting their talents to greater use that in FIREFLY or SERENITY.

Hey Fillion, if this scene was filmed in 2012 your extra neck fat would prevent this choke hold from working.

But, this column is not about nitpicking FIREFLY.  It is about the movie SERENITY.  Taken on it's own, a movie must be able to convey the elements of the television show without relying on previous episodes for support.  Basically, you cannot make SERENITY just for the loyal fans of a show that never finished a full season.  The movie has to work by itself, which SERENITY does not.  I am a die-hard fan of THE X-FILES and was first in line to see both movies.  The problem with THE X-FILES is that fans get something out of the movies that the casual viewer does not.  Which is why SERENITY plays more like an extended TV movie rather than a big budget motion picture.

The biggest benefit SERENITY had was the addition of actor Chiwetel Ejiofor as The Operative.  As a villain, Ejiofor is frightenng and cunning and the highlight of the movie.  Each of hisc scenes makes for the best acting in SERENITY and Nathan Fillion plays well against him.  But, when the movie is focused on the characters from the show alone, it just feels like an inside joke that no one will understand if they were not fans of FIREFLY.  When writing for television, you know you have an extended period to flesh out your backstories and character quirks.  Whedon and the cast, in recent years, have shed light on what would have happened if the show had been allowed to continue and what would have become of the crew of the SERENITY.  If the show had lasted for five seasons, maybe the movie would have felt more accomplished.  As it stands, it feels very flat.

One thing that I have never been able to get around on shows like BUFFY, ANGEL, and FIREFLY, was the special effects.  Operating on a TV budget, they looked cheesy which made it hard to lose yourself in the magic of the show.  But, there have been many TV shows that have done a lot with a little budget.  I still fondly watch episodes of THE ADVENTURES OF BRISCO COUNTY, JR. and wish it was still on the air.  That show mixed western and sci-fi on a low budget and did it well.  By the time Joss Whedon was able to get SERENITY made, you would have thought the effects would have jumped to theatrical caliber.  Instead, they still look cheap.

An outtake from SAW XI.

I wanted badly to like SERENITY but could not bring myself to get past the limitations of making a movie that was basically a finale to a television show that never got one.  While THE AVENGERS had much better special effects, it also suffered from the TV mentality that Joss Whedon is grounded in.  The man is a talent, no doubt about it, but he requires a long form medium to tell the stories he wants to tell.  I have high hopes for the SHIELD series when it airs on ABC, but that is where Whedon should remain.  When George Lucas wrote the prequels trilogy, fans everywhere hoped that he would conceive the stories and leave the screenplays to someone else.  I hope Whedon grabs some co-writers in the future to both edit and enhance his original draft.  SERENITY certainly would have benefited from a second draft.

In the end, SERENITY is not an awful movie, but it is nowhere near great.  It is a decent movie based on an okay television series that certainly ended before it should have.  But, if we are going to make early cancellation the basis for a show deserving the big screen treatment, then I am still waiting for my movie version of SPACE: ABOVE AND BEYOND.

Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion I’m always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to [email protected], spell it out below, slap it up on my wall in Movie Fan Central, or send me a private message via Movie Fan Central. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you like, with any reasoning you'd care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!

Source: JoBlo.com

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