UPDATE: Welcome, Instapundit readers.
Aron had expressed interest in seeing the movie, so I dragged him along as my “+1″ as my wife had declared herself to be in no shape to sit anywhere for 2 hours, let alone in a theater playing a loud, explosions-filled SciFi flick. After some initial miscues (thanks Google Maps – there is no Exit 340 A off of the Schuylkill – it’s exit 339), Aron and I made it to the UA Main Street in Manayunk at around 6pm, a full hour and a half before the show was scheduled to start. We were among the first to get there, apparently, and chatted with some of the people in line, primarily Will of A planet where apes evolved from MAN?!?. Firefly, Battlestar Galactica (both new and old), Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and the forthcoming film adaptation of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe all were discussed at length.
After all of the dire-sounding language contained in the official communications from Universal, I was expecting some serious security. However, no one was frisked for cameras, cell phones with cameras or any other recording devices as far as I could tell. There appeared to be one Universal representative present who looked bored out of his skull, but that was the only “official” presence that I detected.
We were let into the theater around 6:50pm or so and found that the “MMR Army” from 93.3 WMMR had set up shop in the front of the theater. Lest you be led astray, by “army”, I mean to say two representatives wearing olive T-shirts emblazoned with the station’s logo. These two chattered on with the crowd in order to keep people occupied prior to the start of the movie, handed out Serenity posters and ran silly little trivia contests in order to give away Serenity T-shirts and ballcaps. Alas and alack, I was too slow on the draw to score any shirts or caps. Oh well.
A little after 7:30pm, the house lights dimmed, the theater ran three promos for forthcoming Universal movies (the content of which I have already forgotten) and then the feature began.
The Movie Itself
The movie led off with a brief summary of what’s happened to date: it’s 500 years in the future, the Earth has been overpopulated and humanity has spread itself to the stars in search of habitable planets. A new solar system, with dozens of planets and hundreds of moons was discovered and many of the planets were terraformed. The inner planets join together to form the Alliance, while the outer planets choose to maintain their independence, which leads to a nasty civil war in which the outer planets are thoroughly defeated. The Alliance, while technically in control of the outer planets, cannot possibly maintain law and order on each conquered planet, so they farm out security on them to private firms. The outer planets exist in a “Wild West” state at this point, with plenty of rugged individuals seeking to eke out their existence in a society where the Law of the Gun rules. (If all of this is sounding mighty familiar to students of the “Western” movie genre, well, it’s supposed to. Substitute “Union soldiers” for the Alliance and you’ve pretty much got the underpinnings of The Outlaw Josey Wales.)
Following this prologue, the movie immediately moves to a top-secret Alliance facility where the audience is introduced to River, a
psychictelepathic [edited for clarity. -ed.] 17-year-old who the Alliance scientists are attempting to turn into a formidable weapon. River’s brother, Simon, slips into the facility and rescues her in a daring undercover raid. It is at this point that we’re shown the primary villain of the film, a nameless Operative for the Alliance – a sociopathic assassin whose mission is to hunt down and destroy River for reasons yet unknown. And then things start to get interesting.
Breakin’ It Down
To break the movie down a bit further, how about a nice bulleted list?
- Special effects: Good passing to great, but by no means incredible. There were some noticeable compositing issues and a few of the CGI scenes could have used some work. The effects were more than good enough to tell a great story, though. And, if any of the scenes were lacking, the great space battle over Mr. Universe’s planet was thrilling enough to drive all negative thoughts out of my mind.
- Dialog: As Aron put it “It was almost like a Western Bond movie, dialog-wise”. Mal and Jayne were full of great one-liners, Wash slipped a few in from time to time and Kaylee even managed to have a couple of the funnier lines in the whole shebang.
- Sound: I don’t know if it was just the print that we were viewing or if the theater had its sound system misconfigured, but the treble was really hot throughout. There was plenty of bass to go around, but the treble was high enough to actually hurt my ears at points. There were also a few scenes, particularly a few featuring Simon where the dubbing seemed slighly off. It was mildly distracting but not a huge issue.
- Characters: All of the main characters are engaging, although some less so than others. While Mal and Jayne get most of the funny lines, River gets to show off quite a bit of expressive/physical comedy, Wash gets some good “goofy sidekick” screentime, Inara fleshes out Mal’s character with a few well-timed jibes and Kaylee slips in a bit of goofy repression every once in a while. Overall, I was happy with the treatment the characters got, although I could have done with more time for Wash and Shepherd Book.
- Storyline: Well, I can say this much – Joss Whedon has no sacred cows. There are quite a few unexpected deaths and quite a few people escape much-deserved comeuppance. I’m not sure if I’m overanalyzing things, but I’m fairly certain that he took quite a few not-so-subtle swipes at The Matrix trilogy in general and the Wachowski brothers in particular.
So now on to the salient point: was it worth seeing? Heck yes. I’d give it an emphatic two thumbs up – well worth seeing for any scifi geek worth his/her salt, although I don’t think its appeal is in any way limited to that particular demographic. I think anyone in the mood for a good-hearted film with complex characters, an interesting premise, plenty of action and humor and some nifty cinematography should be able to enjoy Serenity.