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Joss Whedon

Back in 2002, Fox TV aired an extremely short lived science fiction program, titled Firefly. It was the story of a ship, and the small band of space pirates that lived on board. Created by Joss Whedon, creator of cult favorites Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, Firefly was an intriguing mix of space adventure, western, and comedy. Aired out of order, and on varying nights almost every week of it’s short run, the was cancelled almost immediately by Fox. Like Star Trek back in the 60s, a massive fan outcry emerged and when the Season one DVD set hit the shelves, it became apparent that the show had not only a loyal following, but a sizable one.

Fast forward a couple of years and Serenity was born. Firefly’s big screen translation took everything that was great about the show, added a larger budget, and the result was one of the better science fiction/fantasy films to hit screens in years. Writer/director Joss Whedon has crafted an air tight script, lovable characters, and has created an interesting and robust universe. I have seen comparisons drawn to the early Star Wars stuff, and I agree to a point, in that the film borrowed what was great about the first Star Wars, and discarded what wasn’t so great about the newer Lucas pieces. You see, Joss Whedon remembered that it was the disheveled Han Solo and his rust-bucket ship that were cool back when Star Wars first hit screens, not a bunch of preachy, stilted Jedi.

The characters in Serenity are realistically drawn, flawed, and human. Audiences can relate to these characters, who are just trying to get by, and are doing whatever it takes to do so. There is no utopian prime directive here, no ham-fisted Jedi code being tossed about, no pretentious morality play, just a band of interesting people on a good old fashioned adventure. This is cinematic story telling at its best. Another refreshing aspect of Serenity, is that the film never takes itself too seriously, while still getting across some valid, and quite serious points. Many parallels are drawn between the universe of Serenity, and the society of today, yet we are never bludgeoned with these ideas, and they only serve to enhance the rich storyline.

In most Whedon creations, the dialogue is snappy and clever, sprinkled with comedy in just the right places, and the character set is interesting and creative. Serenity is no exception, and may just represent Whedon’s best, and most balanced work yet. That said, the crew of Serenity is a tad large for a big screen ensemble cast, and fans of the show will have to adjust to a couple of their familiar characters being relegated to smaller roles. I feel it was a necessary change, in order to tell a compelling story in the short time frame of a feature film.

Speaking of a compelling story, Serenity has a real winner here. The Galactic Alliance, the big bad government of the Serenity universe, has been experimenting on a young psychic, River Tam (Summer Glau). Here brother, Simon Tam (Sean Maher), finds out about the mistreatment, and breaks River out of the medical facility in which she is being held against her will. They book passage on Serenity, hoping to find refuge on the outer rim planets the ship frequents. Alas, River knows too much, and has learned a valuable and deadly secret about The Alliance, and they mean to get her back before the knowledge becomes public. An assassin, known only as Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor), is sent to track and destroy the Tams and anyone they have come in contact with. Operative is the sort of placid, calculating villain that has been missing from so many recent films, and was a pleasure to watch.

In fact, the entire cast was a pleasure to watch, from the swaggering Captain Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillian), to the randy ship’s mechanic Kaylee (Jewel Staite), to the bad-ass gun-slinging heavies Zoe (Gina Torres) and Jayne (Adam Baldwin), and the wise-cracking pilot Wash (Alan Tudyk), the whole crew of Serenity is just great fun to share an exciting adventure with. Not to mention the incredibly mesmerizing ship’s “companion” Inara (Morrena Baccarin), looking as voluptuous as ever. All the players are convincing and interesting, and help to make Serenity one hell of a ride.

Serenity is great fun, and I will be seeing it multiple times before it flies off to DVD, and I must congratulate Mr. Whedon, whom, with the possibility of a big film franchise put in front of him, was still willing to take some chances and make some decisions to make sure he told the best story possible. I believe he did just that.