Serenity: Fantastic SF Movie Born of Fox TV Series “Firefly”

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.

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10 thoughts on “Serenity: Fantastic SF Movie Born of Fox TV Series “Firefly”

  1. Hee! Here we go again. After the first few episodes of “Castle” in season one on ABC, I became a huge fan of Nathan Fillion and was curious to see other things he’d been in. Hence my discovery of both “Serenity” and “Firefly” thanks to Netflix. Perhaps I didn’t notice, but the episodes of “Firefly” seemed to me to be in order on the Netflix discs. But I had seen “Serenity” first.

    I also became a fan or Morena Baccarin after seeing her in “V” on TV. I know she’s in “Homeland” but we don’t subscribe to Showtime. I’d like to because they have some excellent original programming, but I think Frank would throw a hissy fit if I added anything to what we already have. We’re already paying $129/month for TV.

    • I wasn’t sure whether you would like Serenity or not, but I did remember you liked Nathan Fillion (who would not?). As for Firefly, Mike and I came across one episode that didn’t seem to continue to the next, but can’t remember which it was now. I never watched “V”, but saw her a couple of times on Monk. I don’t keep up with Castle because of the female lead on there (can’t stand her or her acting), but there have been a few have seen. Adam Baldwin who played Jayne on Firefly made a guest appearance on Castle at least once, may have been twice. We got rid of satellite and cable. Too expensive.

      Dance was so much better this week. Several much deserved standing ovations. Much more enjoyable.

      • If you don’t have either satellite or cable, can you only get the networks and whatever is available with an antenna? I’d die without our satellite TV. There are waaaay too many cable shows I love. You’re the first person I’ve encountered who doesn’t like Stana Katic on “Castle.” All my other friends who watch the show love her, as do I.

        To be honest, I wasn’t crazy about “Serenity” or “Firefly.” I only watched them because of Nathan being in them.

        I recorded SYTYCD, like I always do so I can avoid the commercials. I’m going to sign off and go watch it now. Glad it was good…that would be a welcome change.

      • I really don’t miss the TV connections. When we had it, Mike and I spent most of our time flipping through. There are not that many programs we like well enough to sit down and watch them. SYTYCD, DWTS, AI, are the only ones I actually look forward to. The rest I can get on Netflix, like Sherlock, Longmire, Hell on Wheels (though we haven’t started on the new HOW yet). Instead, we troll Amazon and Netflix for movies we haven’t seen (good luck there), or that don’t cost an arm and a leg. Amazon has slapped a price tag on everything. Their prime is mostly old stuff. But, occasionally, there’s a new diamond in the rough.

        I read a lot, but have hit a dry spell there, too. Most writers seem to write more filler than substance these days. I don’t know how many books I’ve taken back to the library unread after reading the first few pages. Nothing there to engage my interest, much less my senses. Time was when I had all the patience in the world for such nonsense, but not anymore. If they write like they get paid by the word, I’m outta there.

        Hope you enjoy Dance as much as I did. Only one major disappointment.

      • You should add The Voice to your TV watch list. It’s soooo much better than Idol, although I still like Idol. Did you hear that Keith Urban is staying and Jennifer Lopez in coming back? I like them both as judges…A LOT. The word is that there will be only three judges, no more four. I think that’s a good idea because it takes too long for four judges to speak.

        I have amazon Prime in order to get the free shipping. Frank and I order something from amazon about once a week. Tonight I ordered vacuum cleaner bags — they’re half the price that Sears charges — and Monday Frank ordered some metric tools. We’d rather shop at amazon than in stores. I’ve only watched two movies via Prime in the three years we’ve had it. I rely on Netflix, Hulu.com and SnagFilms.com for TV shows that I’ve missed and movies.

      • Mike orders most of the parts he needs for work from Amazon and we do most of our book buying there. Just ordered some skinny belts for me from there. Not skinny in the sense of small, but skinny in that they are not very wide. It is a great place to shop, but I still like browse-shopping. I also like my Books A Mil and Barnes and Noble. Lots of stuff to engage the senses. I people watch and enjoy the cheerfulness of the environment. And if I have someone with me, we can just relax and enjoy. I like both worlds.

        Mike and I watched some of Voice this year, and enjoyed it. But it doesn’t engage me to the point of keeping up with it. Don’t know why. It doesn’t seem as intimate as Idol or SYTYCD. And that’s funny, because the singers are better on Voice. Especially this year.

  2. Serenity and Firefly are marvelous. I will try to get Melissa to watch Serenity first. She is always put off by sci-fi and can’t stand ‘invented’ curse words, but the characters are the heart of this story….

    • My experience is, you either like science fiction or you don’t. Fortunately both Mike and I, and my sister Katie and her husband, love it. They went nuts over Serenity and Firefly. When it comes to reading, I prefer epic fantasy to science fiction (like Moby Dick they get into too much of how things work), but I love good science fiction movies. And this movie and series are among the best because of . . . as you say . . . the heart of the story, which is the characters. Mike wants to know if you read Analog, the science fiction magazine? He says they still have writing standards.

      • I used to read Analog, occasionally, way back in the day. Most of my magazines now are either from military associations (Leatherneck and US Naval Institute’s Proceedings, for example) or military history (such as America in WWII). I squeeze reading of fiction in around the edges, since the aforementioned magazines are the audience for which I aim to write. That said, I like my fiction as realistic as possible and gritty realism in Firefly definitely works for me (in the way that ridiculous fantasy of the more recent Star Wars movies does not).

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