No fewer than 4 people wrote to me via the website and recommended this movie. Some were wildly enthusiastic. The viewers at the IMDb gave it a very high 8.0. Metacritic gave it a 74 and their users rated it a stratospheric 9.2. Rotten Tomatoes gave it 80%. Wow.
I didn’t like it. Not even enough to finish it. We watched half an hour, paused the DVD, and asked each other if we really wanted to continue. “Eh.” So we watched another 15 minutes, paused it, and never came back. That’s almost half the film. I’m not saying it was bad. I just didn’t give a shit.
I guess you need to know where I’m coming from. Serenity is the brainchild of Joss Whedon. He is best known for “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (which I’ve never seen), and “Angel” (which I’ve never seen.) (I’m not saying these shows are bad; I know several people of discriminating tastes who like them. We just don’t watch much TV.) (In fact, now that “The West Wing” is gone and “The Sopranos” is on hiatus, we don’t watch any TV.) This movie was based on something called “Firefly,” (which I’ve also never seen: Hat trick!) which ran on Fox for a while and apparently was totally botched: episodes shown out of order, if you can believe that, and canceled in mid-season. The legion of fans were pissed, as they should have been.
Here’s something else about me. I didn’t like “Star Trek,” in any of its incarnations, TV or theatrical. I never watched “Doctor Who,” or “Battlestar Galactica.” I hated X-Men, was bored by all the Batman movies except parts of the last one. I loved the original Star Wars, but my reaction to all the sequels ranged from indifferent to actively bored. What I saw in 45 minutes of Serenity was a lot of inferior Star Wars, including things like the Empire vs. the Rebels, the famous bar scene, and the Millennium Falcon, complete with Han Solo clone, a slice of Blade Runner, a dash of Alien, a wee bit of The Matrix, and a twist of Kill Bill. Wild originality, huh?
Thinking back to some of the films on that list, I realize that what I have grown mortally tired of is what “science fiction” has come to mean in the minds of the movie-going public. SF used to be a movie ghetto featuring low-budget black and white turkeys like Them! and Curse of the Werewolf and Plan 9 From Outer Space. Every once in a while an intelligent film like Invasion of the Body Snatchers would come along, but even that was low-budget, and drew little critical notice.
Then in the ’60s and ’70s came 4 movies that transformed how SF was seen in Hollywood: 2001: A Space Odyssey; Star Wars; Alien; and Blade Runner. The first was maybe the most revolutionary movie since The Great Train Robbery. It was the first “special effects” movie, and the first to really attempt to show what outer space would look like. Come to think of it, it may remain the only movie ever to do so. I can’t think of a single film since that has dared to show spaceships in silence; even Apollo 13 couldn’t resist a deep whooshing sound as the capsule sped by. Then came Star Wars, and we were off to the races … and after a while, it was a race I didn’t care to see anymore. Star Wars was loads of fun, and silly as pants on a snake. It was the first to show a “lived-in” future. Then the others had their own elaborate futures. And goshdarn it, there hasn’t really been a new vision of the future since then. Little things here and there (parts of The Matrix), but just about everything dealing with space travel since then has been space opera. Which has its place, but I yearn for something intelligent and original, and find it, ironically, only in low-budget projects like Primer.
Action! Big and stupid fight scenes with fists, swords, light sabers. Chases. Villains and superheroes. And most of all, special effects. The SFX people can now do anything, with the result that nothing is now really mind-blowing. You don’t need a big studio anymore. You can cobble together an SFX movie on your iMac. Hell, you can do it on your cell phone. Really, come on now, what haven’t we seen by now? Only one thing comes to mind, and it may already have been done and I just didn’t see it. That is a really, really, really gigantic interior space. I’d like to see Rendezvous with Rama. I’d like to see Ringworld. Or even a little thing I wrote a while back called Titan. But only if the stories are character- and/or plot-driven, and the SFX are there just as background …