Edinburgh Film Festival Report: Serenity

Founder and Editor; Toronto, Canada (@AnarchistTodd)
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Another missive from Richard Brunton in Edinburgh ... you may have seen this one up on The Movie Blog as well, but hey ... Richard offered it to us as well and I've been lusting after this film for a while now.

For me the biggest movie to go and see at the Edinburgh International Film Festival was Serenity. Not just because of two of the most gorgeous looking women on the screen just now, Gina Torres or Morena Baccarin, but because of the excellent writing I had heard while watching the TV series from which the movie continues, Firefly.

I am not quite through the entire TV series, but I am enjoying it, yet I'm not totally hooked. The thing is for me the series is still too episodic and the big story line that runs throughout the movie, River Tam, is far too frustrating to hang in with for a long period of time. I mean her lines really are nonsensical, and I couldn't see connections except on a few episodes where she would mumble something and later in the episode you would see what she was referring to and you realised, she's not just mad. So the series didn't really hook me in enough, but still, I wanted to see the movie because it was big, a premiere, two stunning ladies are in it, and Joss Whedon's clever scripting.

The movie kicks off straight into the action in a very strong way. You're hooked from the opening moment, and not having seen the ending of the series, the opening is a bit of a shock too. Oh, before I go too far I will let you know that I'm going to write this totally spoiler free.

This is a running theme with the movie, it's got some really good action sequences. Actually, no, it's got some excellent action sequences. Something I often notice about movies with set pieces of action is that they stand out, and the gaps between them can often highten your awareness of the sequences and they stick out from the movie. Not here. In this film although there are sequences of action, they don't stand out from the rest of the movie, and the action actually feels constant throughout. I don't think Whedon let's up much throughout the movie.

It's Whedon that does some excellent work here, bringing the movie from the realms of an early evening TV series to a harder hitting, darker and slightly more complex tale. The clever scripting of dialogue and character interplay is still here from the series, and it's been ramped up a bit more too. It's this dialogue and interplay that make the characters so alluring to the audience, making them so different but running with common beliefs keeping them together. Whedon really has to be applauded for that. It bodes extremely well for his coming movies, and hopefully another Serenity or two.

He's added some to the characters too. Making the Captain more complex and revealing a bit more of his darker element, which during the second act seems to hint at a huge group split, this is not the happy band as in the series. Taking this dialogue and the interplay and turning it into a believable performance that the audience can connect with is a big job for the actors, and for the most part they pull it off really well. I'd say that some of the roles do rely on previous knowledge, as does some of the dialogue between them, but it won't spoil the movie if you haven't seen the series, just lessen the experience.

There are some great moments, and really funny ones too. The Press audience I was with (and the mad row behind me of cinema staff) did laugh out loud quite a few times, and all down to the dialogue and most often from the Captain or Jayne. There's a nice little scene early on discussing grenades which tails off into a conversation behind the main dialogue, I liked that and thought it was cleverly done. It was also still keeping the same level of the writing even though you probably wouldn't hear it.

The whole character introduction sequence is very well put together now that I think about it. It wasn't until late on into it I realised I was being taken on a quick tour of introduction, with the camera constantly moving around the ship and talking to each character on board. It was a nice scene for those that have come from the series, and I would think the new audience too.

It's not all great though, looking back on the series the movie story is huge, and continues to build as it progresses. I couldn't help but feel that Whedon was writing this as the last outing of the Universe and that the plot had to be much, much bigger than the series and that it had to have a feeling of completeness, rounding everything nicely at the end. I'm not sure it needed to go so big, and so complete. It feels now that there is nowhere for another film to go.

The ending was also a little bit of a let down, there is a crucial moment at the end which is just too neat for me, and a couple of twee scenes throughout. The before-attack-"I love you" speech was a bit too stock and I shook my head in disbelief at how much it stuck out, but then Whedon managed to pull it back just enough with some of his clever dialogue.

That is indeed the key to this movie, Whedon's writing, it's superb. The dialogue is sharp, witty, quickfire and sarcasm filled. He's also got a great understanding of how to pull the audience's strings. Tension, suspense and impending danger often twist around in a shocking or explosive moment delivering a good deal of the entertainment value. He's without a doubt a great writer and director and he shows it here, he's a great entertainer.

I really liked this movie, it was great fun. However I faltered a little at the end with the storyline, and wished it could have been a little less mammoth, and a little less complete. Firefly fans will positively adore this movie, and those new to the story should love it and be interested enough to return to the series. I think it's a really safe bet to say we'll be seeing more of this crew in the future.

Review by Richard Brunton.

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PaulAugust 25, 2005 3:44 AM

This is my favorite film of the year so far, hands down. I'm somewhat mystified by Brunton's criticism that the film is somehow "too complete", as its completeness is one of the film's greatest strengths - i.e. it's not just a sequel to the series, or a double-sized episode. It's a real movie. And a damn good one. Very, very highly recommended.

Richard BruntonAugust 25, 2005 7:44 PM

It's trying to wrap up the whole universes problems, the huge antagonists in the storyline, in the one single movie. It just screams of the writers thinking there might not be another one, let's leave it in a state where it could be the end, but there's a tiny window for more.

It would have been better not trying to give some kind of ending to the universe wide plot lines, just leave them ongoing but complete the story in the movie and leave it at that.

That's where it didn't work out for me. Plus the way the ending was portrayed was all too neat. Oh, let's just back down then. I hardly think that's befitting of the portrayal of the Government throughout the series and movie.

All too nice and neat I'm afraid.

AlexSeptember 16, 2005 11:32 PM

Guess I will leave a little spoiler warning just in case:





I agree it feels like a lot of things are solved, but if you think about it, hardly anything really changed. The Operative already says there is no guarantee the Alliance will stop hunting them. The Reavers are still there, knowing how they came to be is nice, but won't make them disappear. And the Alliance.. well, I think that line didn't make the final cut (maybe too bleak?), but Mal points out that even if there is a big outcry now, it will likely soon be forgotten and back to normal. So the only thing that really changed is that River is less crazy and Mal found something to believe in.

Jim TudorOctober 3, 2005 5:14 AM

I am a fan of "Firefly" as well as Whedon's other TV and comic book work, and found this film to be wholly satisfying from that perspective. I have to take slight issue with the reviewer's tendency to boil Whedon's oft-referenced "clever writing" down to merely his dialogue. Strip away all that clever dialogue, and you should see that these characters and their situations would stand on their own nonetheless. To me, it's Whedon's understannding of humanity and life (the extraordinary and the mundane, the exhuberence and the tragedy) interwoven with his admitted fanboy love of comics and movies that gets the ball rolling with his work; the dialogue is gravy. (And what fine, fine gravy it is!)