Friday, October 07, 2005

SERENITY - sub-standard derivative sci-fi nonsense

My abiding impression of SERENITY is that it feels like a pilot for a TV show. It’s hard to say whether I was subconsciously influenced by the knowledge that the movie does indeed have its roots in a cancelled TV show, Firefly. I don’t think so. In fact, it is hard to think of a movie I have seen with fewer preconceptions. SERENITY was written and directed by Joss Whedon who also came up with Buff the Vampire Slayer. I’ve never seen an episode of Buffy or Firefly, and I didn’t recognise anyone in the cast-list of Serenity other than Chiwetel Ejiofor. As to the subject matter, I had a vague idea that it was set on a space-ship. Well, here’s the skinny for all non-fans of the TV show. SERENITY is set in a dystopian future where humans have colonised other planets. They are ruled by a benevolent dictatorship called The Alliance – the outcome of a civil war that is hinted at. Now, somewhat predictably, absolute power is corrupting The Alliance and the powers-that-be have messed with the mind of a 17-year old girl called River. She is psychic, traumatised and can turn into a lethal killing machine at the drop of a hat. Her brother, a mild-mannered doctor, sacrifices his career and cash to break her out and most of the movie is a series of chases as the authorities try to catch her again.

I have to say that pretty much the only thing I liked about this movie was the ever-brilliant Chiwetel Ejiofor’s performance as The Alliance’s assassin. Wielding a sword, some hard-core martial arts moves and a self-awareness that is chilling – Ejiofor made sub-standard schlock sci-fi material look credible. As for the rest, well, it’s best summed up with the word “sub-standard”. The world that Whedon has created is insufficiently detailed and lacks the instant authenticity of, say, Star Wars. Whedon’s cause isn’t helped by the obviously low-budget special effects or the clear rip-offs of Star Wars. The crew aboard Serenity seem to me to be a lazy conflation of the chaps in the Millennium Falcon, The Matrix movies and even more bizarrely, Young Guns. The crew-members all speak in an unconvincing pastiche of Wild West slang – itself a horrible pastiche! Worse still, I got the feeling that the actors, bar Ejiofor, were also sub-standard. The kind of people who get cast in day-time TV shows because they aren’t quite talented or pretty enough to make it in the movies. To cap it all off the use of the camera, editing and sound is entirely pedestrian. The movie is shot as if for TV, and every so often you hear an actor utter a line of dialogue against a crescendo of sound followed by a fade to black and you think, “This is where they should insert the ad break!”

To sum up, not only did I find this movie puerile, derivative and poorly made, it convinced me that I need never check out the TV series Firefly. I am, however, curious to check out Buffy, if only out of curiosity. Surely such a popular show cannot be as bad as this?

SERENITY is on release in the US and UK. It rolls into France on October 19th 2005 and into France & Austria on November 24th.

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