I Swallowed a Bug
That was my favorite line from Serenity, a film rich with (among other good things) potential favorite lines of dialog. And, no, that's not a spoiler. Absent the context in which the line occurs, it's virtually meaningless.
Serenity also boasts an excellent cast, nifty effects, fine acting, a generous helping of character-driven drama, an even bigger helping of Hideous-Mutant-Cannibal-driven suspense, a lot of big laughs, and -- most importantly -- two hours in an intriguing and engaging world.
I wasn't sure that Whedon would be able to pull that last bit off.
I caught maybe as many as three episodes of Firefly on FOX when the series first ran three years ago. I liked the show, but frankly I never thought it made a heck of a lot of sense. Generally speaking, if I can't follow what's going on, the problem is with the subject matter. Not me.
However, in this case, it turns out the problem was neither with me (which wouldn't have been posible, anyway -- see above) nor with the subject matter. The problem was that the Supergenius Programming Wizards at FOX didn't air the Firefly pilot until late into the show's run. I've never seen the pilot, but I can't help but imagine that it clears quite a few things up.
So going into the screening on Tuesday, I still saw the Firefly universe as a confusing and disjointed place. But not for long. I think what impressed me most about Serenity was the seamless manner in which just enough background was provided to make the story coherent. A few minutes in, we know who the good guys are, who the bad guys are, and broadly what motivates each. There are no plodding introductions or explanations -- just plenty of action and unusually memorable dialog.
El Jefe Grande and I were able to score a pair of tickets to the free screening at the Denver Pavilions where we joined the ranks of Matt Moore, zombyboy, Dorkafork, Stephen Green, and other area bloggers. Mine was the only blogger name that somehow didn't make it on the reservations list, but I was able to smooth-talk Mike and myself in, anyhow. (Okay, full disclosure. They took one look at me and concluded that I belonged among that bunch. Flattering for everybody!)
It was a fun evening.
If I have any complaint with the movie it would be that it goes a little too "Buffy" for my tastes in the end. Also, in the light of day a couple of days later, I question the plausibility of the setting. (Though it gave me no trouble while viewing.) What are they in, like one really huge solar system? How many habitable planets could you have orbiting one star? Actually, setting a space opera in a single solar system is not a bad idea -- it certainly conquers the much greater implausibility of FTL travel which we have winked at in genre movies and TV for decades.
Another observation about the setting (not in any wise a criticism of the movie): I think we have reached the point where all space operas have become what Stephen calls past-futures. This is an interesting development. We are nowehere near the time or level of technological development portrayed in Serenity, but we can already say with some confidence that that kind of world, or any facsimile other than a virtual digital world constructed largely for entertainment purposes, will never exist.
Space operas put modern humans (or even archetypes from the past, as in Serenity or the Star Wars movies) into spaceships where they can have all kinds of adventures, most of which are "spaced up" versions of adventures that explorers or frontierfolk or soldiers have had -- mythically, anyhow -- from time immemorial.
That's all well and good, but for three little letters: GNR. Space opera images of the future rely on huge advances in propulsion and virtually nothing else. How many centuries ahead is Serenity set? Certainly far enough that we might expect that human lifespan would be a little longer; I've taken issue with TV shows set in the present for not thinking about that. The Alliance, the Reavers, Mr. Universe's robot girlfriend -- just about everything "futuristic" in Serenity -- will, in a few years, be obsolete.
Again, this is not a criticism of the movie. Just a reflection on how quickly our visions of the future are being replaced.