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Deep space 

A review of Serenity (PG-13)

click to enlarge Serenity stars River (Summer Glau), a fugitive from the - Alliance. A hot fugitive, that is.
  • Serenity stars River (Summer Glau), a fugitive from the Alliance. A hot fugitive, that is.

Serenity (PG-13)
Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Tinseltown

Damn you, Joss Whedon! Damn you and your honesty and integrity and unwillingness to succumb to Hollywood bull and ...

You have no idea what I'm talking about unless you're in the cult of the doomed TV series "Firefly." And I honestly have no clue whether Serenity will make any sense or hold any appeal to those who haven't worshipped those precious few 14 episodes.

I went into the film feeling as though the crew of the "Firefly"-class transport ship Serenity were people I know and love, and I left the theater so utterly shattered that I still can't think straight. I don't know what it would feel like to come fresh to Serenity. It's beyond the realm of my ability to be objective.

Because this is total-immersion science fiction.Creator/writer/ director Joss Whedon throws you in the deep end of the pool, and you either just can't deal with it and sink, or you're so thrilled to find something so smart and believable that you swim through it like it's an alternate aspect of your own reality.

And it's not like Whedon merely gives us a sweeping, complex vision of a human future, and then drops a conventional story in front of it. No, we are hip-deep in tapestries of political machinations and an English dialogue jammed with untranslated Chinese slang.

Our "hero" is Captain Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion, who could be a huge star if he wanted to be). He's a pirate and scoundrel who owns Serenity and uses it to generally misbehave, robbing from the rich and comfortable and tweaking the noses of the ruling Alliance whenever possible.

But Mal's no Hollywood hero. He does things --expeditious things, pragmatic things -- that are shocking. You might grudgingly acknowledge them as necessary in "real life," but they're rarely allowed to pass in the realm of escapist adventure that "Firefly" and Serenity fall into.

Whedon, however, has out-"Fireflyed" himself. As if he knew we feared he'd let himself be watered down, he went in the opposite direction and ramped up the unconventionality.

He has taken a series that was too uncompromising for TV and turned it into a movie that so defies expectations even religiously devoted fans -- who worship him precisely for his revolt against the predictable and the ordinary -- may find it too devastating.

When Very Bad Things happen here, those fans may find themselves at war, half-wishing that it'll all end up being a dream or a virtual reality, anything that allows these bad things not to be true, but knowing we'd hate Whedon for giving in like that.

And he doesn't. "Shun-sheng duh gao-wahn," as Mal might say in celebration and awe, he doesn't. The most stunning thing about Serenity may be that Whedon was allowed to make this film in this way.

-- MaryAnn Johanson


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