Movie Review: Serenity (2005)

The Adventures of Pluto Nash (DVD)The first time I saw an advance screening (or “sneak preview,” if you will) of a movie was The Adventures of Pluto Nash, starring Eddie Murphy. Now, I’m pretty sure that the idea of the sneak preview is to generate “buzz” about a movie; get the old word-of-mouth machine in motion. Well, Pluto Nash was godawful. At the end of the movie I felt that the theater owed me eight bucks and a cup of coffee. I told pretty much anyone with ears that they were best to avoid Pluto Nash. Probably not the buzz the distributor had in mind.

Serenity (DVD)Last night’s viewing of Serenity was the second advance screening I’ve attended. The fact that it was at the same theater (and quite probably the same auditorium) where I’d seen Pluto Nash didn’t occur to me until right before the movie started, but proved to be nothing resembling an ill omen. Simply put, Serenity was a lot of fun.

I don’t think that there are any spoilers below, but just in case…

Oh, there were a few things that didn’t particularly thrill me, and a few unexplained things that Joss Whedon introduced in Firefly remain stubbornly unexplained, which was a bit disappointing. If that sounds like bitching… well, it is. I expected certain things from Serenity, they weren’t all delivered and I was disappointed. The key word there is “was.” What Joss Whedon did in Serenity is just the sort of thing I wish Thomas Harris would do with Hannibal Lecter: leave some of it a mystery. ((I chose Harris/Lecter as an example, but the same could easily apply to George Lucas and Darth Vader or Ridley Scott and Rick Deckard.))

The thing about magic tricks is this: once you know how it’s done, it doesn’t seem magical anymore. In the case of Thomas Harris, revealing too much about Hannibal Lecter’s past and what drives him to be the monster he is actually makes him less creepy. ((Coincidentally, Serenity features an entire clan of flesh-eating, skin-wearing monsters called The Reavers. I didn’t catch the cannibal connection until I was just about to post this.)) It’s why I won’t read any of Harris’ novels beyond The Silence of the Lambs. To me, Lecter is simply evil for evil’s sake. When you start dissecting the man to get at the root of that evil, his power is diminished. I don’t want that; I want the Hannibal Lecter to be as he was in The Silence of the Lambs… forever.

There are some mysteries, I’m coming to realize, that lose their luster when revealed to the light of day. When the curtain is pulled away to reveal the false floor under which the magician’s assitant is hiding, I stand up in the audience and blurt, “That’s it? That’s all there is to it?” The swords never came close to marring her flesh. The magic is gone.

So, Joss Whedon has left some questions unanswered. Perhaps he’ll make two more movies and eventually reveal all. Perhaps he’ll reveal nothing. Or perhaps he’ll tease us with just enough to incite rampant speculation and debate. Now that I’ve gotten over my initial disappointment at not learning the particulars of X and Y, I really hope Joss doesn’t pull that curtain back all the way.

Of course, Joss Whedon may not get a chance to further expand upon his universe if Serenity doesn’t pull in some phat cash. I wouldn’t mind seeing it again in the theater (and I’ll certainly pick up the DVD when it’s released), and maybe I’ll be able to drag Laura with me. She watched a fair bit of Firefly with me, after all.

That does bring up another point. There was some debate after the movie (blob and his wife were there, as were Yotto, Jeffrey and his fiancĂ©e) as to whether Serenity was accessible to someone who hadn’t watched the Firefly series. I’m on the fence about it, leaning toward “no.” Try as it might to fill the viewer in on “the story so far,” I think the movie falls short. I think you really need to know a little more about what has happened to these people in the past to really understand what’s going on in Serenity. Can it be watched by someone who hasn’t seen Firefly? Sure it can, but I doubt that it will have anywhere near the same impact.

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