Serenity (2005)

SERENITY flashed by like a meteor in 2005, propelled by a fusion of bright elements that impressed critics and the disappointingly spare number of Earthlings who bothered to look up and see one of the most entertaining sci-fi sagas of the era streak past. Many were fervent devotees of its TV series source, Firefly, cancelled three years earlier after a mere 11 of 14 filmed episodes had aired. Firefly’s creator Josh Whedon brought the show’s ensemble cast along for his feature debut as director, and wrote the screenplay as well. Cast, design and score, humor, action and drama; everything clicked but the ticket count. Ironically mimicking the series, it died in flight, burning out at 103rd place in the States, the worldwide gross of just $40,445,000 no defense against a cost of $39,000,000. *

In the year 2517, a “Firefly-class” space transport vessel named ‘Serenity’ cruises a human-colonized solar system as a cargo hauler and sometimes smuggler vehicle. Crewed by highly individualistic renegades who fought on the losing side in an interplanetary war, Serenity and in particular one of its occupants become a target of ‘The Alliance’, with a ruthless agent known as ‘The Operative’ in hot pursuit. The quarry holds the key to secrets that could upset “the Verse“. Not enough, cannibalistic ‘Reavers’ lay in Serenity’s path to answers and survival.

Clever dialogue, a rowdy Wild West frontier vibe, stifled romantic impulses, camaraderie, sacrifice, furious action, neat set design, props and costumes, an emotional music score (credit David Newman), and within it all, characters to care about. Roguish—what else?—‘Captain Mal Reynolds’ (Nathan Fillion) is backed by cool first mate’ Zoe Washburne’ (Gina Torres), amiable pilot/Zoe’s husband ‘Wash’ (Alan Tudyk), hot-tempered mercenary ‘Jayne Cobb’ (Adam Baldwin) and sweet-natured mechanic ‘Kaylee Frye’ (Jewel Staite). Along for the ride are psychic super-warrior ‘River Tam’ (Summer Glau), and her physician brother ‘Simon’ (Sean Maher). En route to big trouble they meet up with exotic courtesan ‘Inara Serra’ (Morena Baccarin), and spiritual advisor ‘Shepherd Book’ (Ron Glass). The Operative (Chewitel Ejiofor) takes no prisoners. The Reavers are famished.

119 minutes, with David Krumholtz, Michael Hitchcock, Sarah Paulson, Tamara Taylor.

* How to account for Serenity‘s un-serene, and unexpected underperformance? Sure, there was no way it would crowd-compete with the year’s latest Star Wars, let alone War Of The Worlds or King Kong, but, holy Fruity Oaty bars, even turkeys like Aeon Flux and Doom had more attendance. Had Universal granted Whedon’s original blueprint for a 3-hour epic with a $100,000,000 budget the annihilation effect would have been felt on Miranda, and Whedon’s next directing job would have been a documentary on peat moss. Was it just too gorram smart for a mass audience? Confusing? Depressing? All three?

Fillion: “It was my favorite job ever. What wasn’t great about it? I got to wear a low-slung holster. I got to ride horses. I got to have a spaceship. I got to act mean and curmudgeonly.”

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