In this week’s Movies Worth Rewatching we’re talking about Joss Whedon’s epic sci-fi western Serenity (2005, Universal Pictures).
Serenity is really hard for me to write about. My love and respect for this film runs so deep as to cause a crippling self-doubt regarding my ability to properly comment on it. Firefly and Serenity were my first introductions to Joss Whedon, who is without a doubt one of my favorite storytellers of all time. Joss, with his incredible body of work, is also indirectly responsible for one of the best friends I have ever had. So now, with The Avengers tearing up screens around the world this past weekend, which is also written and directed by Whedon, my mind keeps returning to Serenity and it’s place in my heart. So it seems I’ll just have to get over myself, don my “Jayne hat,” and give my best try to put my thoughts into words.
For those of you unfamiliar with this film, Serenity is the big screen continuation of the famously cancelled-too-soon TV show Firefly. The story takes us along for the ride as Captain Malcolm Reynolds and the ragtag crew of his starship struggle to get by in the distant future by way of thieving, smuggling and random acts of kindness.
Like so many fans of Serenity, I was first introduced to this film on DVD by way of an overzealous fan. Back in 2008, and for no reason, I received a package in the mail from my long distance friend Ben (of Monster Popcorn fame) containing both Firefly and Serenity on DVD. Aside from Ben going on and on about them, I’d never heard of either of these properties and, honestly, couldn’t be bothered to have ever checked them out for myself. But Ben loved them SO much, which naturally meant I used my then chosen ignorance of Firefly and Serenity as a constant means for teasing and tormenting him. This must have gone on for months, as it usually takes Ben a while to figure out when I’m teasing him, but eventually boredom conceded me to watching Firefly and, man, was Ben right to suggest it to me.
Firefly was the beautiful marriage of my two favorite genres, western and science fiction. That combination served as a great foundation for my love of the show, but my adoration didn’t stop there. The cast of characters, with their checkered pasts and inner demons, were incredibly well conceived and compelling. With every episode, they pull you deeper into their lives and struggles and don’t let you go. I was immediately hooked. In less than a week, I blew through all 14 episodes of Firefly. I couldn’t get enough of this world and these characters. Finally, the time came for me to watch Serenity and it was glorious.
Serenity completely knocked me off my feet. All the same witty charm and beautiful character development I loved from the show was there, just amped up to the next level. The scope of the story was huge, fleshing out details of how the future world of Serenity came to be while adding new levels of believability to the already alluring fictional future of Firefly. Chock full of big action, high stakes, and great laughs, Serenity was an instant classic for me.
So how does it hold up today?
Serenity, literally, gets better every time I watch it (and I watch it a lot). The story is smart and entertaining, Joss manages to satisfy existing fans of the series while remaining accessible to people unfamiliar with the franchise. The cinematography is stunning, most notably the impossibly long shot introducing the main cast of the film as we move through the ship near the beginning of the film. The effects are amazingly crafted, especially considering the rather modest budget the film had. David Newman, who’s body of work is startlingly long, delivers his absolute best score to date which is easily one of my favorite soundtracks of all time. This film really has a lot going for it.
Above everything else, my absolute favorite part of Serenity are the many amazing characters brought to life by the incredible actors in the film and Joss Whedon’s insightful direction. Nathan Fillion, in his best performance to date, carries the story as the film’s hero and leading man, Captain Malcolm Reynolds. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s powerful portrayal of the mysterious “Operative” is beautifully layered with elements of evil and naivety. Summer Glau dances in and out of incredibly varied emotional states as River Tam, making you love and fear her at the same time. The supporting cast of the film is absolutely fantastic as well, giving outstanding performances all around; with special mention to Ron Glass as Shepard Book, and Adam Baldwin as Jayne Cobb, who both steal every scene they’re in throughout the film. These actors through their performances are what truly makes Serenity the great film that it is.
Serenity is easily one of my favorite movies of all time, and manages to find its way into my Blu-ray player at least once a month. But it’s even more special to me, as it was the catalyst to a new phase of my friendship with Ben. We’ve traveled together to comic conventions in search of Serenity cast member signatures. We’ve spent countless hours debating the subtleties, shticks and all around awesomeness of Joss Whedon. We even made a fan movie together for another Joss Whedon cult film. I still tease him needlessly, and he still takes a while to figure it out, but we’re closer than we ever were before, and it all started here.
During its theatrical release, Serenity failed to make back its $40 million budget, thanks to me and everyone else who somehow missed this great film back in 2005. However, it has managed to find new life, and fans, on home video as a consistent best-seller. Even with its growing audience, I still manage to run into people like my former self, ignorant to all the epic awesomeness that Serenity holds. Like Ben before me, I now find myself loaning out Serenity to my friends and acquaintances in an effort to spread the joy this movie brings.
When I think back on it now, it’s shocking that just four years ago I didn’t know who Mal, Zoe, Wash, Kaylee, Inara, Simon, River, Jayne, or Shepard Book was and now, I couldn’t imagine life without them. This film has found a permanent place in my collection. I’ve no doubt there’s something in Serenity you’ll love as well. Serenity is available on DVD and Blu-ray and is also available instantly through Netflix’s streaming service. I highly recommend you check this film out for yourself, it’s one heck of an entertaining ride.
by Mel Dale