“I’m sorry. If your quarry goes to ground, leave no ground to go to. You should have taken my offer. Or did you think none of this was your fault?” asks the Operative. Captain Malcolm Reynolds responds, “I don’t murder children.” The Operative replies, “I do. If I have to.”
Almost 13 years ago, a TV show called Firefly aired on the FOX network. FOX never gave the sci-fi show much of a chance, airing episodes out of order and then canceling it after airing 11 episodes. The show developed a cult following when it was released on DVD, and the Joss Whedon-created show found new life. Whedon pitched a feature-length film version of the show to several studios, with Universal eventually green-lighting it. All of the original cast members returned for the film, which would also mark Whedon’s feature film-directing debut. I had seen several of the episodes of the show on the Sci-Fi Channel (which is now spelled as Syfy for some strange reason), so I had some idea of who the characters were and what the show was about. I saw Serenity a couple of weeks after it opened in the Fall of 2005, and it was an even better film than I had anticipated. The humor, sci-fi action, and intergalactic drama was such an enjoyable experience.
2005’s Serenity follows Captain Malcolm Reynolds and his crew aboard the ship Serenity in the future as they discover that an Operative from the Alliance is hunting River Tam, a passenger aboard Serenity, for the potential Alliance secrets that may be trapped in her psychic mind. Whedon assembled his terrific original cast members: Nathan Fillion (as Malcolm Reynolds), Gina Torres (as Zoe), Alan Tudyk (as Wash), Adam Baldwin (as Jayne), Morena Baccarin (as Inara), Jewel Staite (as Kaylee), Ron Glass (as Shepherd Book), Sean Maher (as Simon Tam, and Summer Glau (as River Tam). New cast members include Chiwetel Ejiofor (as the Operative), David Krumholtz (as Mr. Universe), Michael Hitchcock (as Dr. Matthias), Sarah Paulson (as Dr. Caron), Yan Feldman (as Mingo), Rafael Feldman (as Fanty), Tamara Taylor (as the Teacher), and Glenn Howerton (as the Lilac Young Tough). Performances are rock-solid all around from the cast, with Fillion and Ejiofor giving the strongest performances. Glau steals the show (I mean film) as the victimized psychic girl who transforms into a kick-ass warrior.
Whedon’s screenplay condenses what would’ve been a second season storyline (had the show not been canceled). It manages to give newcomers a good idea of who the characters are and how they’ve lived while giving long time fans some winks and nods that they’d be able to catch (the opening of the film masterfully fills in the history of how things came to be in the film’s universe while setting up the plot of the film; this ensured that newcomers wouldn’t get lost along the way). The screenplay also explores fascism (the corrupt Alliance government), family (the Tams being taken back in by Malcolm after River gets triggered), and sacrifice (Mal and his crew going to extreme, dangerous lengths to speak up for those who have no voice). Whedon’s direction is first-rate, and does an incredible job with the action sequences.
Barry Chusid’s production design was amazing (I loved the recreated Firefly sets as well as the new ones, particularly the temple on Inara’s world). Jack Green’s cinematography is terrific, as are Ruth E. Carter’s costume designs and the special effects (which are more impressive considering that the film didn’t have a large budget). The makeup design by Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger is outstanding (especially the work on the Reavers), as is the sound design. David Newman delivers a fascinating, action-packed score dominated by strings and brass, and accompanied by a new main theme for Malcolm and his crew. Joss Whedon’s Serenity was an unlikely miracle (another canceled sci-fi TV show getting a feature film continuation), one that gave long time fans some closure as well as introducing new viewers to Captain Reynolds and his rag-tag group of misfits (I mean crew). It is a film filled with drama, thrilling sci-fi western action, and proved to be a stepping stone to bigger opportunities for Whedon (like a little film for Marvel Studios in 2012 called The Avengers).