Review by
Robert W. Franson
and David H. Franson

Writer & Director: Joss Whedon
Music: David Newman


  • Nathan Fillion — Malcolm Reynolds, captain
  • Morena Baccarin — Inara Serra, registered companion
  • Adam Baldwin — Jayne Cobb, marksman
  • Ron Glass — "Shepherd" Book, chaplain
  • Summer Glau — River Tam
  • Sean Maher — Simon Tam, doctor
  • Jewel Staite — "Kaylee" Frye, engineer
  • Gina Torres — Zoe Washburne, 1st officer
  • Alan Tudyk — "Wash" Washburne, pilot
  • Chiwetel Ejiofor — The Operative
  • Rafael Feldman — Fanty
  • Yan Feldman — Mingo
  • Michael Hitchcock — Dr. Mathias
  • David Krumholtz — Mr. Universe
  • Sarah Paulson — Dr. Caron
  • Nectar Rose — Lenore
  • Tamara Taylor — Teacher
  • Hunter Ansley Wryn — young River Tam
Universal: 2005
119 minutes — plus extras on DVD
July 2007

If you have not read our review of Firefly,
please read that first. The Serenity movie
is a sequel to the Firefly dvd series.

There's no news
there's the truth of the signal.

Mr. Universe
in Serenity


Continuing our discussion of Firefly onward to the sequel, Serenity

The first principle that strikes a viewer of Firefly or Serenity, albeit unconsciously, is that Joss Whedon's brand of futurism is richly textured. It is not streamlined adventure, and not utopian. We might call his science-fictional outlook speculative realism, in that a future of assorted wonders will also include hordes of practicalities and useful-again revivals, and most importantly, people rather like you and us and other folk in the world of today.


                              O wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world
That has such people in't!


                              'Tis new to thee.

William Shakespeare
The Tempest, 5.1.184-188

The eminently artistic result of Whedon's approach is that his future feels real, a speculative future with real people struggling with the real problems of their time and place. Love, death, and politics are still with us, along with loyalty, skill, and bravery — as well as lies and treachery. Whedon's future has individuals, a history, an economy, and it has force — all are factors which utopians gloss over. Of course the great Firefly / Serenity sequence is not the only way to portray the future in science fiction, but it feels both real and reasonable. Whether we look at the future coming inevitably day by day or century by century, it really had best be a brave new world.

The cast performs beautifully, with all nine continuing characters from the Firefly television series in the movie, and all extended in interesting ways. The new characters also are great, led by the outstanding performance of Chiwetel Ejiofor as the Parliament's Operative. David Krumholtz as Mr. Universe provides a pivotal and thematic role — "You can't stop the signal" — while the Alliance doctors Michael Hitchcock as Dr. Mathias and Sarah Paulson as Dr. Caron bracket the government's attitude toward individuality.

The Universal Studios-built set for the Firefly-class spaceship Serenity packs in even more detail than the television original. Jack Green's natural lighting and the color themes within the ship bring it to its own share of presence, it glows as a working spaceship that is also its people's home, active and lived-in. As Whedon says, "The ship is obviously the tenth character." The movie's hovercraft "mule" — a contragravity jeep — is a strong improvement on the original in Firefly, providing a breathless chase scene.

The action is very neatly structured. The opening sequence is a tour de force of nested flashbacks that not only gives us the social and spatial orientation but the propulsive mainspring of the plot. Throughout, events are balanced, countered, encapsulated, or symbolized by other events — not only nudging us to reflect on what really is going on, but helping our feeling that what is going on is natural and artistically right.

Serenity as a big-screen film is faster-paced and edgier than the Firefly series, the characters are pressured. Plot and action are necessarily "amped-up" for the big screen, as Whedon summarizes the difference. Seen with strong continuity via the steadycam, Serenity is tightly directed and edited to ensure it moves with a snap.

Serenity could have been a third or fourth season of Firefly, analogous to the third or fourth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer with their multipart story arcs focusing respectively on the Mayor and the Initiative. Instead, we focus intensely on River Tam and the Parliament's manhunt for her, integrated into a powerful theme. So we have the equivalent of twenty hours of television compressed into two hours of movie, creating an epic like a pocket battleship.

Notwithstanding the fast pace, the movie is full of wonderful details. Your senior reviewer was charmed to hear Mal's surprising reference to "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. This found an echo in the final scene; and in the best Whedon style, these casual poetic references also illumine the opposition between Mal's view of life and that of the Alliance Parliament.

The full Fruity Oaty Bar commercial is on the DVD. Your junior reviewer has a good memory for the routes to any Easter Eggs buried among DVD extras; this is definitely one you should see. From the Serenity DVD main menu, put your cursor on Play, press your Left Arrow key, then press Enter.

Serenity is a film designedly made by Joss Whedon for viewers to love. And as we are shown in Serenity, even more dangerous than madness is love.


© 2007 Robert W. Franson
and David H. Franson

Watching Off-Center
Joss Whedon's Firefly and Serenity

After you have seen the movie:
WH Stoddard's review of Serenity;
warning: contains plot spoilers.

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