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Customer Review

42 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Transcends all genres!, November 3, 2005
This review is from: Serenity (Widescreen Edition) (DVD)
It would be superficial to say that Serenity is a science fiction movie. Serenity is a movie that uses genres as a foundation upon which to build a story about real people, who just happen to be vagabonds on a rusty old spaceship.

The plot: Malcolm, captain of the space-ship Serenity and his crew are doing their usual gallivanting around in space, trying to eke out a living in a politically hostile environment, with one difference: their crew is temporarily supplemented by a young doctor (Simon) and his mentally unstable, but very telepathic, younger sister, River. Simon and River are fugitives from the afore-mentioned political hostility, embodied by a sword-wielding man known as "the Operative". The crew, the fugitives, the government, and a group of very evil secondary villains called Reavers, provide a magnificent cast of characters whose conflict (and other interactions, but mostly conflict) kept me spellbound for the entire movie.

I've long been a fan of both Star Wars and Star Trek, but Serenity is better than either. Reflecting on the movie afterwards, I kept finding similarities to Star Trek: Voyager. Both shows focus on a small ship and her rag-tag crew. The crews squabble a lot, but ultimately pull together for the common good. However, I liked Serenity much more than I ever liked Voyager because it was so much more real and alive. Star Trek has science fiction, and interesting characters. Star Wars has this plus a nice background mythology and some realistic grittiness. Serenity includes all of the above, plus humor, more grittiness, sex, theft, and really nasty bad guys. The result is a realistic universe that people in this messed up world can relate to.

In the last few years a lot of science fiction and fantasy movies have had two things: lots of characters with British accents, and cheesy lines. Serenity once again leaves its competitors in the dust by transcending all predictability by using fairly neutral, Chinese, and American accents, as well as a British accent from India. Instead of cheesy lines, it goes for totally-unexpected-and-hilarious, such as: "Been more'n a year since I had anything twixt my nethers weren't run on batteries!" There is no denying that the language is odd, and it may take you a while to get used to it. But stay with the language, because it's so worth listening to! The odd terminology and turns of phrase drive home the fact that this is not just another sci-fi copy.

(Spoiler alert!) A popular phrase in screen-writing these days is "action that tells the story". I first remember seeing this concept in The Bourne Identity. Serenity does an even better job because it has an even more interesting motivation for violence, and it juggles multiple action characters. If you've read anything about the history of Serenity you already know that River has some amazing skills. She is also a very attractive young woman. In an average movie, a young male viewer (such as myself) might be inclined to focus on the person on screen more than on her character. In this case, River's character is so incredibly fascinating that you can't help but focus on her character. She is complex, she invokes sympathy, and she has more dimensions than the average human, let alone movie character. Although Malcolm and his crew seem like the main characters of the movie, it is ultimately River who steals the show. (End spoiler).

I've always assumed that if you notice computer graphics in a movie, it is because they are badly done. Serenity dashed this theory for me. The three or four times I noticed effects elements, they didn't take center stage or in any way distract from the movie. They simply communicated the necessary information to the audience and then got out of the way and let the story continue. The shots of planets were extremely beautiful; an excellent counterpoint to other, more disturbing, images in the movie.

As I mentioned before, Serenity has some elements that border on horror. The filmmakers made an excellent decision when they decided to leave most of the disturbing imagery to the audience's imagination. The Reavers are a hideous and evil "people" whose presence could easily have been overplayed for shock value. But the film judiciously cuts around them, never showing more than a glimpse of their horrible faces. In place of these images are lines such as, "You know he's better off dead than what the Reavers would have done to him." Once again, the movie is about the characters, rather than about something as superficial as Reaver make-up.

I can only think of one negative thing to say about Serenity: There were a few times during big action scenes when two characters would hold an important (and usually emotional) conversation. Obviously, in terms of sound mixing, you have to turn the environmental sounds down so that you can hear the dialog, but I think they went too far. Two or three times, the contrast of these suddenly quiet conversations broke the mood for me.

On the other hand, there was another kind of mood change that I liked a lot. Being a mentally unstable psychic, River expresses a lot of her personality inside her own head. In the medium of film, it is easy to go inside someone's head, and Serenity does a marvelous job of it. I didn't grow up watching movies, so I have often found myself a little confused when movies do things like this. In Serenity it was always crystal clear to me, and the revelations brought by these psychic journeys helped connect the audience to River and her huge part in the story.

Serenity is an excellent movie. It might be a little confusing at first, but if you are a action movie fan or science-fiction fan at all, or if you just like great story-telling, you will like it.

Note: For the few who don't know, Serenity is based on the TV series Firefly. When I watched Serenity, I had never seen Firefly, but I still loved the movie! Since then, I have watched most of the Firefly series. All the praise I have given the movie also applies to the TV series.
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Location: Goshen, Indiana USA

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