Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Camera Obscura "Serenity"

Went to the free screening of the movie "Serenity" Tuesday night, big thank you to Glenn at Instapundit and Mr. Silence at No Silence Here for making that possible. If you go to the Domestic Psychology blog, you can see me in the back row of her picture from the screening (way in back with a cap and a weird reflection on my glasses -- am I famous now??) And another shout out to marketing blogger Shel Holz for poking fun at me for my plea for tickets to the screening. Thanks for sending readers my way.

So this post is a Wednesday edition of my Friday film review, but don't miss Friday -- I'll have a special report on blues master Wallace Coleman -- yes I added him to the link list too.

I tried to nab a "Serenity" ballcap from a woman who was taking a head-count of attendees. She said "You have to know the right people to get one of these hats", so I said "I'm Joe, what's your name?" That's when she confessed she stole it from her hubby's stash, so no hat for me.

My review comes with some up front confessions -- I am a major fan of writer/director/producer Joss Whedon and his lists of writing awards ranges from an Oscar nod for "Toy Story" and an ANNIE as composer for "Lion King 2", and he has a reputation as The Go-To Man in Hollywood to polish a movie script. Most recently, he's been writing for "Astounding X-Men" for Marvel and is in pre-production for "Wonder Woman." Add to that the "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" series and "Angel," and it's plain the man loves stories about heroes. Yes, yes, I was also a fan of the abruptly cancelled science fiction TV series "Firefly," which is the basis of "Serenity" -- that's the name of the heroes' spaceship. And say this part LOUD -- STUPID FOX NETWORK. The movie would have to be a major-league mess for me not to enjoy it and a mess it wasn't. And I think anyone not familiar with the show will still enjoy the movie -- Whedon keeps humanity, with its frailties and flaws in the foreground as the world explodes around them.

One fact I know for sure -- if Mr. Whedon is given the job of telling an audience a story, whether it be drama or comedy or tragedy or fantasy or even sitcom, about 90% of the audience will get it right down to their bones. With a family history of writing for TV dating back to "Leave It To Beaver," he has a real knack for knowing how to invoke the conventions of a genre and how to revoke them.
George Lucas could take many lessons from Whedon about character, plot and storytelling. Many lessons.

Whedon has a gift for writing strong characters, showing their relationships and their humor and their wisdom and their loss. In most all his work, he creates that unique slang and short-hand communication that a group of friends will create. Even if those friends are in a far-distant future or just a local band of high school vampire slayers.

The setting is a post-civil war universe, where a former Rebel leader, Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) has moved past his losses and is now Captain of his own ship, working with an oddball crew on the edges of "civilization" with both legal and illegal business. Mal and his crew pick up a pair of fugitives - a young girl named River and her brother Simon - and the story of the movie begins with them and focuses on the Big Mystery from the TV series -- River. She has been undergoing cruel brain experiments under the evil empire of The Alliance, winners of the civil war, and Simon helps her escape. From the opening scenes on, you are dropped into this world and get some hilarious introductions to all the other characters onboard Serenity, and the story is off and running.

Whedon's brain must have a massive Melting Pot of Media, because he easily draws from it for all his work. "Serenity" has traces of the anime series "Cowboy Bebop", and "Star Wars" (uh, the first one, Part Four?), and even a whiff of "Gunsmoke". And he has a cast providing excellent performances. I'd bet cash money many viewers will leave the movie and buy the DVD collection of the series "Firefly," because these are interesting characters. They trail backstory like phermones and this is a vast world they inhabit. Whedon compresses it all into one movie much like Ridley Scott coalesced writer Phillip K. Dick's writings into "Blade Runner." Sadly, a few characters from the show slip into the background to keep the story steamrolling ahead, and the married couple aboard the ship, Zoe (Gina Torres) and Wash (Alan Tudyk) are more of a couple in the series versus the film. Again, it has to do with keeping the momentum rolling. Adam Baldwin, as Jayne, is a real standout here. The cast all have a vivid chemistry as the crew aboard Serenity, where calmness is fleeting.

I think Whedon has a solid entry here in his bow as feature film director. "Serenity" is at heart a tale about heroes. And heroes in the Whedonverse always have much to learn about what price it can exact. As one character says, "You know what a hero is don't you? It's someone that gets people killed." 'Nuff said.

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