Serenity Three Amps the Signal

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Serenity Three Amps the Signal

by Ari Armstrong, June 24, 2005

Hello. My name is Ari Armstrong, and I'm a Serenity fanatic. I've now gone without watching anything Whedon-related for a full day. Though the movie (probably) won't be officially released until September 30, I attended my third early screening last night in Highlands Ranch (near Denver). (I've also written about the first and second screenings.) Serenity is a futuristic "space western" feature film about the crew of a small spaceship that takes aboard a young woman who, with the help of her brother, escaped from a cruel government facility. She carries with her the trauma of her captivity, along with unusual skills and information that could upset the established order.

Joss Whedon wrote and directed the film, which continues the story of Firefly, the single-season, cancelled television series now available on DVD. That Serenity is better than Star Wars goes without saying. But Serenity is better -- way better -- than any other movie that's come out this year. I won't be surprised if I'm saying the same thing on December 31. Hitchhiker's Guide was fun -- forgettably so. I really enjoyed Batman Begins. I was already a fan of Christian Bale, and he's the best bat yet. However, the story strains a bit at times, and the relationship between Wayne and Katie Holmes's character doesn't do anything. Hitch was okay; I have yet to see Cinderella Man. But Serenity! Easily one of my top-five favorite movies.

The internet buzz suggested tickets would go on sale at midnight on June 8. So I checked. Then I checked again. Tickets actually went on sale at 9:00 am (on June 9). I was already a couple minutes late. Then my movietickets.com account gave me hassles and required some additional information. By the time I got that squared away, the show was sold out. I called the theater at 9:16, and a representative there confirmed the show was sold out.

But, being an enterprising sort of guy, I checked with some of the local fans. Two people responded, so I actually ended up with an extra ticket, which one of my friends -- one with whom I first saw Firefly -- happily accepted.

Because I needed to pick up two of the tickets from Moon, one of the local "Browncoat" ringleaders (Browncoats are the Independents who fought the Alliance in the world of Firefly, and lost), I met a number of other local fans. The group congregated at a restaurant across the street from the theater. Eclectic crowd, ranging from an Air Force employee wearing a Jayne hat to a student in the School of Mines's doctoral physics program to a perky lady in a cute straw hat who bubbled about the TV show.

Kate Barnes brought a large banner that people signed for Whedon's birthday. She hadn't quite worked out the logistics of sending it to Whedon (but perhaps the picture below will do for now). Apparently, the idea caught on in 33 of the 34 other cities in which the film played.

Michelle Baker wore a t-shirt with a hand-written verse that takes off from Whedon's television theme song. I found the lyrics through Google:

Take our slot, take our cast
Run them all mixed-up, half-assed
I don't care, there's DVD
You can't take my show from me.

Nevertheless, as one article pointed out, Fox is making a lot of money off the series despite, or perhaps because of, the fans' irritation with Fox.

We stood in line for a while, chatting with other friends who met us at the theater. At 9:00, I retrieved the third ticket. A couple guys outside the theater actually had a spare ticket each, so I made a couple calls but failed to find somebody who could come at the last minute. But I think both tickets finally found takers. By the third screening, some people had ticket-buying down to a science -- all 35 screenings sold out very quickly -- which means that many of the tickets were resold within informal networks (and a few on Ebay).

We were seated, slowly, because of the checks for recording devices. More Serenity paraphernalia flowed down the aisles, including a new, fancy tri-fold brochure.

Watching the film for the third time was a true joy. Because I already knew what was coming, I could pay more attention to the subtle, planted information and the foreshadowing. Foreshadowing that's heartbreaking. The sad moments seemed more devastating, the funny moments seemed funnier, the tense moments made me hold my breath. I remained aware of the crowd. Obviously a number of people were new to the film, because gasps of terror filled the air during the right scene. Other times, the room erupted with laughter or cheers. (After three viewings, I still haven't heard all the lines of dialogue.) I don't believe I've ever been to a movie before where the crowd was so emotionally engaged with the story. The characters, while magnificent and grand, seem like real people. Oh, and the film had undergone some visual improvements since the earlier screening.

I figured the surveys were a bad sign, in terms of seeing one of the stars at the screening. No luck there, but the math predicted that, with 35 cities, few (if any) would host a Big Damn Hero. (The reference to big damn heroes comes in the TV episode "Safe," by the way.)

The news sites are working overtime, and there's even a podcast about Serenity. It is, I admit, sort of a geeky group, but a pleasant and interesting one. Usually I'm not very comfortable around fandom. Spock-eared silliness. But, with Serenity, I tolerate it, even welcome it. Great work warrants a little fanaticism.

All this is not to say that I think the movie is perfect or I'm blinded to possible problems. Yet I've read a couple criticisms of aspects of the story that strike me as completely off base. One reviewer didn't like Mr. Universe; I thought David Krumholtz was fantastic in the admittedly campy (and relatively small) role. Krumholz put just enough of a deadly-serious edge on the otherwise eccentric character; it worked. Another reviewer thought one of the most dramatic scenes was not adequately prepared, which is totally wrong. That scene (it will be obvious when you see the movie) was carefully developed over the entire movie. It's hard, it's emotionally devastating, and it's necessary. And it contributes to the greatness of the movie. The only criticism I'm interested in sharing at this point is that one of the recurring fight moves doesn't seem believable. But you don't (for instance) date a beautiful woman and obsess about her cold sore or a scuff mark on her shoes.

If you've read this far, you're probably already a Firefly fan. If not, give the DVD set a try. The disks (there are four of them) are available on Netflix, and the sets go for around $35 to $40 dollars. I can't imagine anyone not enjoying the movie cold, but I'm really glad I watched the series first. Good stuff; go, watch!

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