September 29th, 2005 Film, Film Reviews, Personalities, Xpress

Written and Directed by Joss Whedon

Starring; Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk, Morena Baccarin, Adam Baldwin, Jewel Staite, Sean Maher, Summer Glau

Joss Whedon is to TV what Peter Jackson and Quentin Tarantino are to cinema. The idiot box doesn’t traditionally produce personality directors or writers like the silver screen does, but Whedon has spent seven years making it decidedly less idiotic for a huge circle of cult fans.

As the creator and/or driving force behind some of the most passionately followed series on TV like Angel and Buffy, he’s earned a cult following not often seen in the TV medium. But Whedon’s biggest challenge — after creating, writing, directing, even scoring some of the coolest shows on TV — was yet to come.

‘It wasn’t easy to strike a balance, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.’ That’s what he says during his Australian publicity tour not only about adapting the ill-fated series Firefly to celluloid, but straddling the gap between TV and film fans successfully, not alienating either group by giving too much away or moving too far from the source material.

After Firefly was cancelled, he was the last to accept it was dead. ‘Serenity came about because I was like Ed Harris trying to pound on Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio’s chest in The Abyss, I just wouldn’t give up,’ he says. ‘Mary Tarrant and Stacy Snider at Universal saw the characters and the story and said it was — quote — a ‘no brainer’.’

Whedon must have been like a kid in a toy store. After restrictions in everything from the screen dimensions to the stunt budget TV imposes, Serenity looks as good as anything George Lucas has given us, complete with grand, sweeping space battles, outlandish vehicle chases and both set design and camerawork straight of the mind of Kubrick.

So it’s a huge accomplishment considering how little Whedon says he really had to work with. ‘I definitely got to do a grander film than I ever have, but to Universal, this was a small budget film. My vision always outstrips my budget and that’s great because it means I have to work harder to make use of I have and also to make the story matter more when they tell me I can’t do as much as I thought I could.

‘So it definitely has air battles and effects and moments I could never have afforded, or prepped for in TV. It’s a film — it’s a much bigger, brighter animal, but at the same time I was fighting to make every penny work and I knew it was going to take every penny to get this story up on the screen.’

And if making every penny work is the mark of a great filmmaker, Whedon will take his place among the Hollywood greats (perhaps to be further cemented after helming the upcoming big screen version of Wonder Woman in 2007).

If you loved Firefly, you’ll love Serenity. You’ll love everything you enjoyed about the show made bigger, badder and louder while it keeps the mythology, characters and humour intact. If you’ve never watched or heard of Firefly, you’ll still love Serenity. It’s not only a big, clever, fresh sci-fi/action film with great characters and wonderfully warm and funny dialogue, you’ll pick up on the anticipation of the diehard fans and feel like you’re in for something special.

It follows the misadventures of a gang of charismatic mercenaries led by an Indiana Jones-like ship’s captain, Mal Reynolds (Fillion). Together with his regular crew, Reynolds hires their skills and ill-equipped transport ship out to the highest bidder for any job that pays, with no questions asked.

But they have two hitchhikers, brother and sister Simon (Maher) and River (Glau), who harbour a nasty secret from the inner sanctum of the suppressive galactic government. Simon offers his skills as a medic in return for their safe passage, but some of the crew wonder whether River’s semi-catatonic state and violently deadly outbursts are worth it.

Trying to go about their business of eking out a living at the scruffy fringes of a realistically-drawn universe of the future after mankind has left Earth and spread far and wide, Serenity’s crew face a normal day at work — they have a ruthlessly efficient government assassin on their tail and the skies around them swarm with a race of zombie/vampire-like semi-human monsters called Reavers.

With too many secrets aboard (thanks to their passengers) and the even more dangerous territory of love and friendship facing them, the gang have to deal with things the only way they can — quips, slick moves, a world of idiosyncratic speech created just for them and their wits.

Every character has a rich backstory that’s easy to feel even if you’re new to the Firefly universe, and even if you aren’t one of the armies of fans Serenity will almost certainly recruit, you can’t have much more fun at the movies.

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