Film (2005). Universal Pictures. Written and directed by Joss Whedon. Cast includes Morena Baccarin, Adam Baldwin, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nathan Fillion, Ron Glass, Summer Glau, David Krumholtz, Sean Maher, Jewel Staite, Gina Torres and Alan Tudyk. 114 minutes. Colour.
An Alliance assassin (Ejiofor) pursues the Serenity Spaceship crew's damaged psychic River Tam (Glau) to prevent the dissemination of a fearsome secret picked from the minds of Alliance officials attending her former weaponization; this proves to be the authorities' own role in the creation of the psychotic space-cannibal Reavers out of a disastrous experiment in social medication, and the Serenity crew make a last stand against Alliance and Reavers in an effort to transmit the truth to the hundreds of worlds in their teeming Terraformed system.
After Fox's premature cancellation of Firefly (2002), Universal purchased the film rights under a new title and Whedon retooled his intended second-season arc as a feature film. Though building strongly on the characters and mysteries of the television series, the film's attempt to address a newcomer audience through a standalone feature was unavoidably diminished, and the theatrical release was not the hit that had been hoped, though subsequent DVD sales were strong and the project would eventually prove a smart investment for the studio, even as the prospect of a sequel gradually faded. The series' strengths had lain less in its genre elements as an interplanetary western than in deeply traditional Television values of warmth, wit, and ensemble bonding among an engaging cast of attractively conceived characters expertly written and played, elements which do not transfer readily to a feature film; though deeply satisfying to aficionados of the series (aside from the deaths of two characters whose actors could not commit to further prospective instalments), it proved only averagely engaging for newcomers, lacking the depth of fanbase of the Star Trek franchise, and with nine established characters granted only limited screen time to make an impression. The film is a different and a richer text when seen as the last two hours of a twelve-hour story, though like the Star Trek films it plunges the franchise from a condition of leisurely narrative stasis into headlong and irreversible forward movement, which in this case has so far resisted further sequelization. (The Comics published subsequently have mostly returned to the period before the film.) Backstories for Baccarin's and Glass's characters were not cashed in, though the latter was eventually repurposed in comics form. Whedon nevertheless makes an extremely impressive debut as feature writer-director, with a bravura prologue nested three diegetic layers deep which segues into a single-take tour of the entire ship and cast, and the film is very finely shot by Clint Eastwood's regular director of photography Jack Green. The screenplay won a 2006 Nebula. The novelization is Serenity (2005) by Keith R A DeCandido. [NL]
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