Serenity review from another perspective

UPDATED: Wednesday, November 9, 2005 15:33
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Wednesday, November 9, 2005 2:26 PM


I don't post much but I was pleasantly surprised to find this review this past week and I thought it was worth sharing as encouragement. Dan is the Pastor of my church and this recently ran in our church newsletter.

Dan’s Flicks: “Serenity” (based on the series “Firefly”)

Author H.L. Mencken once said, “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.” Of course, the converse of that maxim is that many, many people have gone broke due to overestimating the intelligence of the American people. Lately, most of them have been in the television and movie industries. It is a sad truth that directors and producers who want to create artistic programs and movies with emotional and intellectual depth can’t usually get enough of a response from the viewing public to cover their expenses, let alone make a profit. We want to blame Hollywood for the mindless garbage that it produces, but they’re only selling what we’re buying.

The most recent example of this kind of artistic injustice is the movie “Serenity”. Never heard of it? I’m not surprised. Would it help if I told you that it was based on a recent television series called “Firefly”? Never heard of that either? I rest my case. In my opinion, this was one of the best series on television in the past few years, but it was cancelled a couple of years ago, after one season, because no one was watching. That includes me; I only heard about the show a few months ago. After hearing numerous recommendations, I purchased the DVD set for the series and loved it. It’s now one of my favorite programs; too bad it’s dead!

Joss Whedon, the producer of the series, believed so much in the quality of his story that, against all odds, he took it to the big screen. The movie, “Serenity”, came out a couple of months ago, but it quickly tanked at the box office and is now probably out of all the theaters. So why am I reviewing and recommending it to you now? Because the movie will come out on DVD in a few months, and it looks like that will be your last chance to enjoy this unique and well-done story.

I should start by saying that this is a science fiction movie, but before half of you stop reading, let me make it clear that the futuristic elements of the story are truly secondary - part of the scenery, not a major player. As a matter of fact, Whedon purposely places events on other worlds that look like the old West, complete with horses, saloons, and tumbleweeds. The idea is that in the next 500 years the human race expands into the galaxy from planet earth, and the farther from earth you go the less technological and the more frontier-like (and barbaric) civilization becomes. It is on this “outer rim” of civilization that most of the action occurs. And all of the characters in the series and movie are human; there’s not a single alien.

The central character is Malcolm Reynolds, a tough former soldier of rebel armies who lost a devastating war against the all-powerful Alliance. He escapes with only his trusted lieutenant and eventually acquires a “firefly-class” cargo space ship so that he can make a living transporting stolen goods. To supplement his ill-gotten income he takes on a motley group of passengers, each with their own complicated pasts, and together they form an odd family. Along with the crew there is a mercenary, a doctor, a “shepherd” (minister), a “companion” (geisha), and the doctor’s sister, who was rescued from some kind of diabolical experimentation at the hands of the Alliance.

The strength of the series and movie is the depth of the characters. By the time I had watched the first couple of shows I felt like I knew and cared about the captain and his crew. The dialogue is well-written, with a good mixture of crisp, laugh-out-loud humor and heart-felt drama. I have to warn you that there is some violence and sexual content that make portions of the movie and a few of the shows inappropriate viewing for younger and undiscerning viewers (one show in particular that is inappropriate for any of us).

My overall impression of the series and movie is that Joss Whedon, the producer, takes a respectful, positive approach to vaguely Christian beliefs in the series. The Shepherd character is a clergyman who takes on the role of being the conscience for the crew. He is specifically identified with the Bible and Christianity during the show, and is presented in a consistently positive light - strong and principled. As I watched the individual shows I kept waiting a dark side of him to be revealed, in true Hollywood fashion, but it didn’t happen. A dark past is hinted at, but it is one from which he appears to have repented.

The captain, Mal Reynolds, is a fascinating character. At one point, in a flashback scene during the war with the Alliance, as he leads his troops into battle, he kisses a cross around his neck and says a prayer. But in the present, he is shown to be a bitter atheist who doesn't want to hear about faith, obviously a result of the trauma he experienced in the war. But there are a few moments during the show where you can see that he's wrestling with his unbelief, struggling to deny his former faith in the same way that he denies his affections for Inara, the geisha. He tries to come across as an amoral thief who is willing to do anything to survive, but an underlying sense of morality continually drives him to do the right thing, resulting in him becoming a Robin Hood-type character.

There is an anti-authoritarian bent to the series and the movie that is directed at the state, not so much at the church. I found the whole story to be kind of an "anti-Star Trek", in kind of a post-modern sort of way, showing that scientific progress and human government cannot usher in any kind of utopia. I think that was Whedon's point in making the series a combination of old Western and science fiction - man's nature doesn't change just because technology changes. The same kind of villains, the same kind of dilemmas, the same hope for heroes.

“Serenity” and “Firefly” embody a rare combination for the science fiction genre – great story-telling and in-depth characters that are worth knowing. Too bad so few people have even heard of them.


My Church is a Evangelical church that is not given to seeing things any way but though a 'Christian worldview'. So that makes this review all that more powerful. The inappropriate episode was 'War Stories' what with 'the Kiss' and the Niska torture scenes it was just a bit much.
I'd love to say I share any credit in exposing him to Firefly but he found it via other sources and enjoyed it enough to reccomend it to his whole congregation.

Take care.....Qino


Wednesday, November 9, 2005 2:46 PM


Amen! Pass the Firefly DVDs, please.

So many worlds. So little time.


Wednesday, November 9, 2005 3:33 PM


Nice to see I’m not the only religious fan out there. :)






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