Theme song from Serenity
Earth that was . . . could no longer sustain our numbers, we were so many. We found a new solar system with dozens of planets . . . each one terraformed to sustain human life. To be new earths. The central planets formed the Alliance ruled by an interplanetary parliament. The Alliance was a beacon of civilization. The savage outer planets . . . refused Alliance control.
And so a war was fought and lost — by the rebels.
River Tam (Summer Glau) is a teenage girl who is psychic, a creature of extraordinary grace, and the ultimate weapon fashioned in the mind-altering, secret laboratories of the Alliance. She is locked and loaded and only awaits a subliminal word to explode.
Serenity is an old tramp freighter traveling between the planets, held together by duct tape and spit, and a girl mechanical genius named Kaylee (Jewel Staite). The ship is captained by Mal (Nathan Fillion), a survivor of the Battle of Serenity Valley. This sky-traversing enterprise operates on a shoestring to keep under the Alliance radar, taking jobs where they can get them — some honest, some not so much — the buccaneers of a far distant future from earth.
River Tam’s brother Simon (Sean Maher), a doctor, pays for their passage on Serenity by patching up members of the crew when business transactions turn into heated debates, which is often. What the captain and crew do not know is that River and Simon are fugitives from the Alliance.
Hard upon their trail is The Operative of the Alliance (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who tracks them across the universe with single-minded purpose. A man who is intelligent, methodical, devout, and essentially invincible in combat. He is the ultimate black-op without name or rank, but with all the weight and resources of the Alliance at his command. His voice is chillingly soft, polite, and cultured as he removes anything and anyone who gets in the way of his objective. “If your quarry goes to ground,” he says, “leave no ground to go to.” Because he is a true believer – that “we’re making a better world”.
But River knows that “better world” as a nightmare, a world that allowed her mind to be fragmented and imposed upon in the name of scientific human advancement. On Serenity, as River cowers in fear and begs for a bullet to relieve the burden of memories not her own, memories of atrocities she cannot fathom, she tells her brother — “They show me off like a dog, Old men covered in blood.” The Alliance dares not allow her to get the message of these atrocities to the planets. They have to stop River. She knows where all the bodies are, and the plot swirls around her like an eddy in the water she is named for.
River’s past and head problems are not understood by Serenity’s hard-pressed crew, especially when they find out the trouble she’s brought upon them. She gets little sympathy from Jayne (Adam Baldwin), the gun-totin’ jock who lives by a simple hard and fast philosophy. He wants to eat and live and wipe out anybody who stands in the way of these simple pleasures. Also, he wants to toss the brother and sister out at the next way-planet because, he says, “She’s startin’ to damage my calm.”
But she damages his calm even more when her hidden power is unleashed in one of the best fight sequences I’ve ever seen. And it’s only one of several in Serenity. The background of Summer Glau, who plays River, includes dance training, which gives her fast and graceful economy of movement when she wipes out a barroom in a rough and tumble quarter of the galaxy. And in a later scene, when she stands victorious, legs splayed and weapons dripping red, you have no doubt she is the ultimate weapon.
Though it can get rather “adult” in places, Serenity is mostly a film you can get through without wincing. (Remember, I said “mostly”). They swear in Chinese and seem to use a couple of made up swear words. The dialogue is a strange mix of archaic and contemporary cultures from “old earth” which I find entirely endearing. It is also clever, witty, down-to-earth, and totally believable.
There is also such a variety of characters:
Their wise-man “Shepherd” (Ron Glass), whose past is a mystery mixed up with the Alliance, but whose loyalties are now solidly with anyone who stands against them. He encourages Mal to believe in a cause again, as he did when he fought the Alliance. When Mal’s unit was wiped out, except for Zoe and himself, he was defeated in more ways than just losing the battle. He named his ship Serenity, not after a battle where his men were annihilated, but because it was something he was searching for. All his remaining hope was bound up with his ship (his home), and his crew (his family). Shepherd encourages Mal to once again widen his horizons to see the greater cause of worlds and people enslaved and groaning under a despotic power.
Inara (Morena Baccarin), the beautiful “companion”, who is a blend of geisha and courtesan, and who Mal “worships from afar”, though they bicker constantly. “You spin me about,” Mal tells her, “so I can’t think straight.”
Wash (Alan Tudyk), the ace pilot who can fly Serenity through a fiery sky filled with Reavers and Alliance repeating, “I am a leaf. I am a leaf on the wind.” Mal, expecting to crash any minute, yells, “What does that MEAN?!
Zoe (Gina Torres), is also a survivor of the Battle of Serenity who fought alongside Mal. As a crew member, she carries herself and her weapons like a real veteran. Fights like one, too. She can be both playful — with her husband Wash, the ace flyer — and stone cold grim when it’s time to fight. And while naturally gorgeous, she doesn’t let it stand in the way of her portrayal of a female warrior.
Serenity is a movie that we have shared with friends and family over and over. Everything about it works to pull you from this world into theirs. Like the immortal characters on MASH, the characters in Serenity are people you want to pal around with and talk to over a mug of something. You want to be part of the crew. You want to fly with them. Fight beside them. Share their lives. That’s how familiar and endearing they become.
Serenity is not just a cowboy/pirate/space movie. Their lives and problems reflect the problems of real life. When speaking of his tattered ship and how it is kept going through thick and thin, Mal says, “Love. Love keeps her in the air when she ought to fall down.” . . . The ride, he says, “could be bumpy” . . . “Always is,” comes the reply.
NOTE: The movie “Serenity” released by Universal Pictures in 2005, was based entirely upon the Fox TV Science Fiction Series of 2002, “Firefly”, which was cancelled after one season. Such a ground swell of protest came from fans worldwide that writer/director Josh Whedon was able to sell it to Universal for the movie. Serenity came in second at the box office on its debut weekend.
The bumbling handling of the TV series by Fox seemed unprecedented to outraged TV audiences, some of whom never caught onto the show until it was in syndication. Not only did Fox not air the pilot, which should have set the stage for the characters, they did not even show the subsequent episodes in the correct order. In spite of all this, the superb writing and acting in the series made it an instant cult hit.
I never watched the Firefly until I saw Serenity and understood it was the culmination of a TV series. When I went back and watched the series, my husband and I became diehard fans. However, I always show the movie first to friends and family, which may seem backward according to some final scenes. But the movie seems to incorporate both the pilot opening and the closure. Without Serenity, much of Firefly would be hard to follow, especially the conflicted character of River.
The theme song from the series Firefly is a continued defiance of the centralized Alliance of planets by those buccaneer/cowboys who stake their claim upon the sky.