Sally Murdock reviews Serenity
Serenity is set 500 years in the future. A brutal military totalitarian force called the Alliance has taken control of the universe. Captain Malcom Reynolds and his crew of fellow free thinkers on the Firefly class ship Serenity are renegades in this new order.
With Serenity, director Josh Whedon (Buffy) has made a film version of his relatively unpopular but in my view outstanding cult TV sci-fi series called Firefly. That series was an unusual amalgamation of sci-fi and western genres. It employed stunningly different visual backgrounds, mixing unpretentious technology with scenes of poor settlers in frontier towns oppressed by gun touting criminal overlords.
The crew of Serenity have gathered after a all-deciding battle which saw the triumph of the Alliance. In this battle which ended the galactic civil war — the battle of Serenity Valley — Mal was a sergeant. He was a “browncoat”, a volunteer, for the side of the (loosing) Independent Faction. At the end of the war Mal lost his faith in most things, including God.
The movie focuses on the upheaval experience by the crew of renegade smugglers when they encounter fugitives Simon (a young rich doctor) and his sister, River, who are on the run from the Alliance. River is an exceptionally bright telepathic 17 year old who has been enslaved to the Alliance from childhood. She appears to have been trained up for some unknown and destructive purpose. Her brother has helped her escape.
In the movie (and series) we see the crew experience the excesses of human depravation and misery due to the dominance of the Alliance. This is never clearer than in the threat posed by the feral murdering Reavers, who hunt wandering travellers on the margins of space. The existence of the Reavers is crucial to unravelling the mystery of River.
The movie has more Hollywood sentimentality than the series, and the strange hybrid of modern and 19th century stylisation (for example of language) can be a bit irritating. The references to the American Civil War seem to place the crew as the equivalent of Confederate veterans. That’s worrying but I think unintentional.
The beauty of the show (and the film) is in the interplay of the characters. Mal finds a new “faith” in his cause when his mentor Shephard Book directs him by saying, “when I talk about belief why do you always think I am talking about God?” The eclectic crew are loyal to each other and they quickly become fiercely dedicated to River. They are determined to bring down the Alliance by showing the galaxy the “truth”. The film works because you care about whether they succeed and what happens to them in the end.