Heroes Shine in Polished Serenity
by Ari Armstrong, September 2, 2005
Denver theater hosted an August 31 pre-screening of the new film Serenity for the media and fans. This is Joss Whedon's directorial debut in its glossed-up glory, complete with soundtrack and impressive effects. But the pretty clothes merely accent the maiden -- a movie with a compelling story, strong and heroic characters, plenty of action, and a huge heart.
The studio sent the local Browncoat organizer 75 free passes (each good for two people), and my wife and I plus two friends were able to get passes. ("Browncoats" in the world of Firefly/Serenity are the independents who lost the war against the Alliance. In our world they are fans of the show and movie.) Unfortunately, I don't think many people from the media came to this screening, though I heard many went to the screening in New York. Another bit of bad news: probably half the people in line didn't get to attend the screening. (I understand it's common on these early screenings to give away more passes than there are seats. But with a movie with such a strong fan base, that's a problem.) Thankfully we got there early enough (around 4:30 pm for a 7:00 pm start time) to get in line near the front.
The good news is that the polished movie is terrific. Here are some of the changes I noticed (relative to the earlier screenings): the soundtrack is much improved, the bar-fight scene is made more interesting with use of sound and film processing, more background sounds have been added, the color processing has been improved, and the digital effects rock (such as during the space-ship fight scene). I've seen the movie now four times. And I can't wait to see it on opening weekend!
I think people who have never seen the TV series will love the movie. Joss does a great job recapitulating the story and recreating the 'verse. Okay, I cried at this movie. Yes, even the fourth time, when I intimately knew what was coming next. Truly great art. I've noticed that, re-watching the series Firefly, I keep noticing new subtleties and gaining new appreciation for each episode. The same holds for the movie.
Previously I wrote, "I think the filming uses some interesting techniques of lighting and contrast to highlight the progress of the characters, though I'll have to watch the movie again to check into this." Now I'm sure of this. Joss Whedon is genius. I caught more foreshadowing in the fourth viewing. And Joss uses literal shadowing -- light and darkness and silhouette and aura -- to match the progression of the characters. For instance, there is "bad mood Mal" lighting and "noble Mal" lighting. (Captain Malcolm Reynolds owns the ship Serenity, a Firefly-class space ship.) "I aim to misbehave!"
There are, unfortunately, probably a few reviewers who will pan the movie just because they want to show how cleverly cynical they are. And probably some reviewers will focus on inessentials and downplay the strengths of the movie. Many -- I hope most or nearly all -- reviewers will "get" the movie and give it the review it deserves. Regardless, I don't think the reviews will ultimately determine the destiny of this movie. It's so powerful that I think it will get great word-of-mouth recommendations. I predict a solid opening weekend and a surprisingly strong second and third weekend. I for one plan to do my part -- simply because I am in love with this work. You can't stop the signal.