Serenity (2005)

I started watching Angel because I really liked looking at David Boreanaz. I stuck around till the series finale because I grew to admire Joss Whedon’s writing.

I didn’t, however, catch Firefly when it first broadcast because it was on Fox, and Fox is nowhere near the orbit of my channel surfing. If Firefly had followed, say, Gilmore Girls, I probably would have watched it.

And instinctively, I didn’t really think a Joss Whedon sci-fi story was cut out for TV. Just the pitch alone sounded something better for film. So I promised to watch Serenity when it opened in theaters. It was a smart choice.

A friend of mine lent me her DVD set to familiarize myself with the show’s backstory before seeing the movie. It’s possible to see the movie without first watching the TV show, but it’s better if you do.

The story begins when Malcom “Mal” Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) takes the prodigous but unstable River Tam (Summer Glau) on a heist. Barely escaping the robbery, River’s brother, Simon (the really hot Sean Maher), fights with Mal over the safety of his sister.

Simon and River are about to strike out on their own, but as Mal delivers a cut of the job to his associates, River starts a bar brawl, triggered by an unnamed government Operative out to find the fugitive Tam siblings. River’s hallucinations deal with a secret the Operative is sent to keep hidden.

Fans of the show have already expressed some displeasure with the story, particularly with the fates of some of the major characters. Whedon, of course, is willing to killing off favorite characters for the purposes of plot, and he does so with Serenity.

While the movie has a lot of great action — and for the most part sticks to keeping all the space action silent, as on the TV series — it’s balanced by some weighty drama and great humor.

Whedon, like The West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin, knows drama and action needs a dose of the funny, which made the darkest moments of Angel and Buffy the Vampire Slayer all the better.

In the pivotal fight scene between Mal and the Operative, the Operative brandishes a sword, and Mal brandishes … a screwdriver.

When Mal attempts to hide his feelings for the “registered companion” Inara (the under-utilized Morena Baccarin), the rest of the crew groan and throw popcorn at the screen as they eavesdrop on the transmission.

It’s these moments — in addition to the special effects, the fight sequences, the philosophical dialogue — that puts Whedon’s stories squarely in the realm of mainstream drama. Serenity may have a science fiction setting, but the best science fiction still manages to feel timely.

Serenity is a story that deserved a leap to the big screen, and it makes that leap gracefully.