‘Firefly’ gets blockbuster, big-screen update

Robert Taylor

Nathan Fillion and Adam Baldwin discuss the virtues of blowing up The Alliance.

Credit: Steve Schirra



Rated PG-13

Starring Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Summer Glau and Sean Maher

Written and directed by Joss Whedon

Stater rating (out of four): ****


Visionary and original, Serenity is the best film I’ve seen so far this year and the best science fiction film of the past 10 years. The expectations are high for the movie, but after five minutes, you are so immersed in director Joss Whedon’s storytelling and visuals that the expectations melt away and you fully surrender to the movie’s spell.

It is the future, and the earth has been used up; humanity forms The Alliance, which created hundreds of habitable planets in dozens of solar systems across the galaxy for humans to move to.

We learn about River Tam (Summer Glau), a genius whose mind was tested on and warped for years by The Alliance before her brother, Simon (Sean Maher), gave up his medical career to break her out of government hands. He succeeds, but River is carrying a secret within her madness so incendiary that The Alliance will do anything to capture and/or kill her.

River and Simon have taken refuge on the firefly ship Serenity, captained by Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) and inhabited by his ragtag crew. A remarkable game of cat-and-mouse begins when The Alliance sends its most dangerous assassin (Chiwetel Ejiofor) after the ship.

It sounds a lot more complicated than it is.

There are 12 main characters, but Whedon juggles all of them perfectly; everyone gets his or her moment to shine. For those who are fans of the short-lived television show “Firefly” (this film continues that story), Serenity pays off most of the show’s story arcs here.

The Reavers play a major role, we learn what The Alliance is so eager to hide, there are climaxes to some of the budding relationships from the show and there are no major logic holes in the transition from small to big screen.

For those who haven’t seen an episode of “Firefly” before and have no idea what the concept is, have no fear: The film is perfectly understandable.

Other than a few subtle nods to the television audience, the plot and characters are completely accessible for new fans; there is no reason why the rest of the world wouldn’t love the film as much as diehard fans.

Whedon’s script is fast-paced and lined with the kind of dialogue one would expect from the guy who created “Buffy.” There are several plot twists that are unexpected and shocking, but Whedon never loses focus or lets the pace lag.

There isn’t a moment your eyes aren’t glued to the screen because of the visual invention, tension, dialogue and plotting.

The film also delivers some of the most ingenious and breathtaking action sequences and visuals of any film this year.

An early chase scene where Mal desperately tries to outrun the Reavers is just about as perfect a mesh of comedy, tension and action I’ve seen since Signs. A later action sequence that takes place in the upper atmosphere of a planet matches anything you’ll see in Star Wars Episode III.

On the whole, the acting is amazing.

Fillion makes a perfect transition to big-screen superstar, and it won’t be long until he’s a household name after the public gets a taste of him here. Jewel Staite and Glau steal nearly every scene they are in, and Ejiofor would be the creepiest villain of the year if only Cillian Murphy hadn’t boarded that plane in Red Eye last month.

When reviewing any feature, the easiest way to measure its success is by using Howard Hawk’s definition of a great movie: No bad scenes and three great scenes.

Serenity has four great scenes and no bad ones, and I’m ecstatic to call it the first masterpiece of 2005.

Contact ALL correspondent Robert Taylor at [email protected].