Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Serenity Now

The thing about being a married 30 year-old with bills to pay and work to do, is that you rarely have time, money or the inclination to see even the most kick-ass movie twice in the theater. For the first 20 or so years of your life, having your shoes stick to the floor while a brat sitting behind you kicks your seat is sort of charming. Especially if you bring a date, in which case you don't notice all that because you're trying to time your popcorn-reaching just right so you brush against her hand with yours. But by 30, it gets kind of old -- and that's before you factor in the $30 you're going to spend for two tickets, popcorn, a hot dog and a drink. Even if you still love seeing first-run films in the theater, odds are good you aren't going to see any one film twice in that theater.

2005, despite the hype about Hollywood being in the dumps, has been a good year for films, at least as far as I'm concerned. Revenge of the Sith largely washed away the bitter taste of the first two prequels. Batman Begins showed this fan of Tim Burton's films that they had been jokes - pretenders - all along. Sideways, which many have taken to labeling "overrated" (no doubt because calling anything "overrated" always bestows some unearned cool points), was engrossing. And now there's Serenity.

The New York Times has a dead-on writeup of Serenity, the new film by Joss Whedon based on his defunct TV series, "Firefly."

It probably isn't fair to Joss Whedon's "Serenity" to say that this unassuming science-fiction adventure is superior in almost every respect to George Lucas's aggressively more ambitious "Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith." But who cares about fair when there is fun to be had? Scene for scene, "Serenity" is more engaging and certainly better written and acted than any of Mr. Lucas's recent screen entertainments. Mr. Whedon isn't aiming to conquer the pop-culture universe with a branded mythology; he just wants us to hitch a ride to a galaxy far, far away and have a good time. The journey is the message, not him.
Somehow, with a fraction of the budget, Whedon and the vfx wizards at Zoic Studios created a universe every bit as fantastic and realistic as Lucasfilm did for Star Wars. But damn, the writing and the characterizations in this film are something to behold. Not because of how impressive they are, but because of how down to earth they are.

Serenity cost $40 million to make, and word on the Net is if it earns $80 million (at least $40 million domestic), we'll get at least one more sequel. So far it's earned about 1/4th of that domestic number. In an ordinary world that would be great news, but we're living in a world where a film that doesn't open big is considered DOA unless it gets enough word of mouth business to keep it on screens for a few months (like Big Fat Greek Wedding a few years back).

Trust me, guys, this film is worth seeing, even if you're not familiar with the TV series it was based on (all the backstory is included in the first five minutes of the film). It's worth seeing even if you're not a fan of science fiction, because this is an engaging, fun and poignant story about a group of people down on their luck who discover something to believe in. The people and their relationships are what's important here, not the visual effects. Science Fiction is only a genre they chose to tell the story in, but this could just as easily have been told as a Western, or as a contemporary action drama. These people could just as easily be driving around in Toyotas to escape Homeland Security rather than flying around in space ships to escape an interplanetary alliance, and it would be just as entertaining.

There aren't too many films I'd care to spend $30 to see more than once. I would have seen Batman Begins five times if I could have rounded up enough people to go with me. I saw Serenity a few days ago, but I'm going to see it again this Friday in Emeryville, partly to do my bit toward making sure we get a sequel, but mostly because that's just how good this movie is. Who's with me?


Anonymous said...

Well, it was between this and Into the Blue, but you seem so sure of it you've convinced us. We'll go see it this Friday, but if we don't like it, you owe us $20!

The Whitfields,
Chicago, IL

Anonymous said...

I saw it and it was great. Ran out and bought the DVD of the series. I'm crossing my fingers for a sequel!

Anonymous said...

Hi Darrin,

Thanks for replying on my blog. I noticed immediately after I posted on your defunct livejournal that you had moved to a new format. So I deleted my comment, but alas, it was too late; I already looked like an idiot. C'est la vie.

Anyway, it's great that you interact with your readers.

- Anna Jones (_anomalie_)

Darrin Bell said...

Thanks, Anna! Glad to have you as a reader.

Anonymous said...

Seeing this post way after the fact, but I had to concur on the absolute kick-assness of this movie. A friend force-fed me the series last Thanksgiving (best thing she ever did for me), and, much as I loved the series, the movie managed to exceed my expectations.

It's so wonderful so see that you *can* have an amazingly-written, well-acted (the cast are so talented, each pulling his/her weight) and beautifully shot movie nowadays. I had to rave to everyone I know about it.

Darrin Bell said...

I don't think we're going to see any more films in the Serentiy universe, but at least we got one hell of a ride while it lasted.

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