Serenity (film)

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Serenity
Serenity One Sheet.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Joss Whedon
Produced by Barry Mendel
Written by Joss Whedon
Starring Nathan Fillion
Alan Tudyk
Adam Baldwin
Summer Glau
Chiwetel Ejiofor
Music by David Newman
Cinematography Jack Green
Edited by Lisa Lassek
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date(s)
  • August 22, 2005 (2005-08-22) (EIFF)
  • September 30, 2005 (2005-09-30)
Running time 119 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Mandarin
Budget $39 million[2]
Box office $38,869,464[2]

Serenity is a 2005 American space western film written and directed by Joss Whedon. It is a continuation of Whedon's short-lived 2002 Fox science fiction television series Firefly and stars the same cast, taking place after the events of the final episode. Set in 2517, Serenity is the story of the captain and crew of Serenity, a "Firefly-class" spaceship. The captain and first mate are veterans of the Unification War, having fought on the losing side. Their lives of petty crime are interrupted by a psychic passenger who harbors a dangerous secret.

The film was released in North America on September 30, 2005 by Universal Pictures. It received generally positive reviews and was #2 during its opening weekend but it did not make back its budget until its home media release. Serenity won numerous awards, including the 2006 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation.

Plot[edit]

In the 26th century, humanity has left an overpopulated and decimated Earth and moved to a new star system, colonizing many planets and moons.

The Alliance has won a war against the Colonies, less established planets in the outer solar system. A young girl named River Tam is the most promising of a number of young people being mentally and physically conditioned against their will by Alliance scientists. Rescued by her brother Simon, the two find refuge aboard the Firefly-class transport ship Serenity, captained by scavenger/smuggler Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds, a Colonial veteran. An Alliance agent, the Operative, is charged with finding and killing River, as high Alliance politicians have accidentally exposed top secrets to her psychic abilities.

Aboard Serenity, Mal takes River along on a bank robbery, against her brother's objections. They are attacked by Reavers, wildly savage humans who eat their victims alive. They escape, but Simon decides that he and River will leave Serenity at the next port. While Mal meets fences Fanty and Mingo at a bar, a TV commercial causes River to attack the patrons with effective martial arts. Just before she can shoot Mal, Simon arrives and shouts a "safe word" which causes her to fall asleep. Mal carries River back to Serenity, but the incident is captured on camera. The crew contacts a reclusive hacker known as Mr. Universe who analyzes the commercial and discovers a subliminal message being broadcast across Alliance space designed specifically to trigger River. He notes that River whispered "Miranda" before attacking.

While hiding out on Haven, a mining colony and home of Shepherd Book, Mal receives a call from Inara, a former passenger, offering work. Suspecting a trap but fearing she is in danger, Mal goes to her sanctuary and is confronted by the Operative. He promises to let Mal go free if he turns River over, but he refuses and, thanks to Inara's quick thinking, she and Mal escape. After another of River's outbursts, the crew discover that Miranda is a remote planet that had become uninhabitable. Serenity returns to Haven while the crew ponder their next move. They discover that the outpost has been destroyed and the residents slaughtered, including Shepherd Book. They then learn the Operative is killing all of Mal's contacts to deny him a safe haven. He promises that he will pursue them until he gets River. Mal decides to travel to Miranda to see if he can learn the truth of the situation.

The route to Miranda is blocked by a region swarming with Reavers, so Mal disguises Serenity as a Reaver ship (an act his first mate, Zoe, strongly protests). After sailing through a fleet of Reaver vessels, the crew discovers a habitable planet with cities filled with mummified corpses. They discover a recording by an Alliance survey team explaining that an experimental chemical, designed to suppress aggression in the residents, was introduced into the air processing system. The agent worked too well, and the colonists became so docile they eventually stopped reproducing, speaking and eating, simply allowing themselves to peacefully die. However, a small portion of the population had the opposite reaction, becoming aggressive and violent with no sense of logic or reason, eventually becoming the Reavers.

Mal contacts Mr. Universe to arrange to have the log broadcast across all the communication spectrum but the Operative is already there and has Mr. Universe lure them in, before mortally wounding him. Mal suspects Serenity is heading into a trap, so while traveling back through Reaver space, he opens fire on one of their ships. The Reavers pursue Serenity to Mr. Universe's planet, where they stumble upon the waiting Alliance fleet and engage them in battle. The Operative's ship is destroyed, but he survives by riding an escape pod to safety. Serenity is damaged by a pursuing Reaver ship but manages to crash land. Shortly after the crash, Hoban "Wash" Washburne is killed by Reavers that attack the ship, and the crew flees. Finding Mr. Universe dead and his equipment wrecked, Mal learns of a secret backup transmitter from a message recorded by the dying Mr. Universe. The crew makes a stand against the Reavers to buy Mal the time to send the message. After a firefight, the crew retreat behind a set of blast doors, but the doors only partially close. Zoe and Kaylee are wounded. Simon discovers he has left his medical kit behind; as he rises to retrieve it, he is shot. Severely wounded, he apologizes to River for failing her. She tearfully replies that it is her turn to take care of him. She charges through the opening in the blast doors, triggers the closing mechanism and throws the medical kit through the opening before the Reavers swarm over her and drag her away.

Mal reaches the transmitter, but the Operative is close behind. In hand-to-hand combat Mal is badly wounded, but manages to disable his opponent and bind him to a railing, forcing him to watch the recording. Mal returns to his crew, and the blast doors open to reveal that River has dispatched all of the Reavers. However, the wall behind her explodes, revealing Alliance troops. The Operative recognizes his defeat and that his vision of a 'better world' is inherently flawed, and he orders his men to stand down and treat the wounded in Mal's crew.

After the crew erect memorials to Shepherd Book, Wash, and Mr. Universe, they patch up Serenity. Kaylee and Simon consummate their relationship. The disillusioned Operative tells Mal that the Alliance government has been weakened and that he will try his best to present his former foe in the best light, but cannot guarantee that others will not be sent after Mal and his crew. Inara decides to rejoin Serenity′s crew, and the ship lifts off with River as Mal's new copilot.

Cast[edit]

The cast of the crew of Serenity at the start of the film, from left to right: Adam Baldwin, Jewel Staite, Alan Tudyk, Gina Torres, Nathan Fillion, Sean Maher, and Summer Glau.
  • Nathan Fillion as Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds, a former sergeant (now captain of his privately owned ship) on the losing side of the Unification War, he struggles to survive free and independent of the Alliance.
  • Gina Torres as Zoe Washburne (née Alleyne): A former corporal who fought under Mal in the war, and Wash's wife. She is fiercely loyal to Mal, whom she addresses as "sir".
  • Alan Tudyk as Hoban "Wash" Washburne: The pilot of the ship, and Zoe's husband. He often acts as a voice of reason on the ship.
  • Morena Baccarin as Inara Serra, a Companion who formerly rented one of Serenity's shuttles. In one of the Operative's traps, Mal is reunited with Inara at her training house, and the two escape back to Serenity.
  • Adam Baldwin as Jayne Cobb, a mercenary skilled with weapons, Jayne is often the "main gun" for jobs and is someone who can be depended on in a fight.[3] Jayne acts and seems dumb most of the time, but may be smarter than he lets on.[4] As Whedon states several times, he is the person that will ask the questions that no one else wants to.[5]
  • Jewel Staite as Kaywinnet Lee "Kaylee" Frye:[6][7] the ship's mechanic, has an intuitive, almost symbiotic, relationship with machines and is, consequently, something of a mechanical wizard. She is also notable for a persistently bright and sunny disposition, and her crush on Simon Tam.
  • Sean Maher as Simon Tam, River's loving older brother who helped rescue her from the Alliance. He and River are taken in by the crew of Serenity. A trauma surgeon before the rescue, he serves as a doctor to the crew. His life is defined by his sister's needs.[4]
  • Summer Glau as River Tam, a 17-year old psychic genius. She and her brother are taken in by the crew of Serenity after he rescues her from an Alliance Academy where she was subjected to medical experimentation and brainwashing. The Alliance's pursuit of River acts as the film's motive. More abstractly the film is the "story of Mal as told by River".[8]
  • Ron Glass as Shepherd Derrial Book, a shepherd, or preacher, with a mysterious past, Book was once a passenger on Serenity, but now resides on the planet Haven. Mal and the crew look to him for help.
  • Chiwetel Ejiofor as The Operative, a ruthless intelligence agent of the Alliance assigned to track down River and Simon. Although Ejiofor was on the top of the casting director's list for the role, the studio wanted someone better known. Whedon was eventually able to cast Ejiofor.[9]
  • David Krumholtz as Mr. Universe, a "techno-geek" with good relations with the crew of Serenity, especially Wash, Mr. Universe lives with his "love-bot" wife and monitors incoming signals from around the universe.

Production[edit]

Development[edit]

The film is based on Firefly, a television series canceled by the Fox Broadcasting Company in December 2002, after 11 of its 14 produced episodes had aired.[10] When attempts to have another network acquire the show failed, creator Joss Whedon attempted to sell it as a film. Through a business connection, he was introduced to Mary Parent with Universal Studios, who immediately signed on after watching the episodes on DVD.[10] By June 2003, actors Nathan Fillion and Adam Baldwin confirmed the deal on the official Firefly forum, as did Whedon in several interviews.[11][12][13]

Writing[edit]

After Universal acquired the film rights from Fox, Whedon began writing the screenplay. His task was to explain the premise of a television series that few had seen without boring new viewers or longtime fans. He based his story on original story ideas for Firefly's un-filmed second season.[14] Whedon's original script was 190 pages, and attempted to address all major plot points introduced in the series. After presenting the script to Universal under the title "The Kitchen Sink", Whedon was asked to cut down the script to a size film-able under his budget constraints.[14] Universal planned to begin shooting in October 2003, but delays in finishing the script postponed the start of shooting to June 2004.[10]

The opening sequence shifts perspectives several times, from a traditional narrative to that of a schoolroom which is later revealed to be River's disjointed memories. Whedon said in the DVD commentary that the approach works thematically as well, since it depicts River's fractured state of mind. Once the narrative reaches Serenity herself, Whedon uses a long steadicam shot of several minutes to establish "safety",[8] as well as (re-)introduce every character aboard the ship and touch on their personalities and motivations.

Filming[edit]

Universal, while on board with the film, was not willing to spend the typical $100 million for a story set in space. Whedon convinced them he could do it for less money, and do it in 50 days, instead of the usual 80.[15] On March 3, 2004, the film was given the greenlight to enter production with a budget of under $40 million.[16] Typically, production would save money by shooting outside of Los Angeles, but Whedon insisted on filming locally.

Principal photography began on June 3, 2004. Whedon announced the film would be titled Serenity to differentiate it from the TV series.[17] (Whedon also mentions in the Serenity DVD commentary that Fox still owned the rights to the name "Firefly".) All nine principal cast members from the television series returned for the movie, although Glass and Tudyk could not commit to sequels, leading to the death of their characters in the script.[18] Stunt coordinator Chad Stahelski, a student of Jeet Kune Do under Dan Inosanto, created a customized fighting style for Summer Glau to use in the film's fight scenes. It was a hybrid of Kung Fu, kickboxing and elements of ballet, all combined to create a "balletic" martial art.[19][20]

One cost-cutting item that could not be reused from the television show was the original set of the interior of the spaceship Serenity, which had to be entirely rebuilt based on images of the Firefly DVD set.[15] The set for the failed colony, Miranda, was filmed on location at Diamond Ranch High School in Pomona, California.[21]

On September 17, 2004, Whedon announced on the film's official website that shooting had been completed.[citation needed]

Design[edit]

An example of the Wild West influenced clothing and weaponry in Firefly and Serenity.

Comic book artist Bernie Wrightson, co-creator of Swamp Thing, contributed concept drawings for the Reavers.[22] Other comic book artists who contributed to the production design include Joshua Middleton and Leinil Francis Yu (Visual Companion).

Serenity costumes are influenced by Wild West style: natural materials such as wool, cotton, and leather in drab earth tones predominate. Some clothing also reflects an east, south, and southeast Asian and Indian fusion of color and beauty[23] as well as influences from the American Civil War, late 19th century as well as the 1930s depression era. Mal's suspenders are influenced by a World War II design.[24] The clothing of the Alliance organization within the series (in reality, reused uniforms from Starship Troopers[25]) is monolithically monochromatic, similar to the uniforms of the Galactic Empire in the Star Wars films. Serenity appears to be influenced by Western genre set design, in particular, entertainment programs set in the West during the 1970s and 1980s such as Little House on the Prairie. The cramped interior of the Serenity ship itself appears to be influenced by the "worn future" precedent set by the famous fictional Star Wars spaceship the Millennium Falcon[26] but devolved even further. In a similar vein to the film Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Serenity goes for an occasional underdone look, or "used future", as Star Wars creator George Lucas refers to it.[27]

"Serenity" was clearly written by someone who grew up worshiping at the altar of Han Solo and the space marines in Aliens, but this genre picture is still a thrillingly original science fiction creation. The writing is as good as in the best "Star Trek" episodes, while offering a thoughtfully bleak vision of the future that brings to mind Blade Runner."[28]

—Peter Hartlaub, San Francisco Chronicle

This future envisioned in Serenity has two political and cultural centers: Anglo-American and Chinese. Characters all speak English and Mandarin, with the latter language reserved for the strongest curse words.[29] While these two are the dominant languages of the film, other languages are also spoken in the Firefly / Serenity universe, including Russian (spoken by Simon during the movie). The safeword phrase that Simon uses to shut River down, "Eta kuram na smekh", is a Russian expression ("Это курам на смех"). Literally, it means, "That's for chickens to laugh at" – a Russian idiom for "That's ridiculous".[30] The Japanese Katakana characters are also present around the universe, most obviously seen in the flowing script on River's desk screen at her school. A sticker with the Arabic word "الدحار" (al-dHār) appears behind Jayne's head on a wall inside Serenity's bridge when the crew is discussing whether or not they should go to Miranda.

Visual effects[edit]

Adam Baldwin on top of the mule, which is shown here attached to the rig created to help achieve the effect of a hover craft.

As the budget for the film was considerably smaller than for other films, practical special effects were used as much as possible: if a Computer-generated imagery (CGI) composite was required, as many tangible sets and props as possible were constructed to minimize the use of computer effects.[31] The most technically challenging scene was the mule skiff chase.[31] For budgetary reasons, a gimbal and CGI, much like those used in the pod race in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, were quickly ruled out, creating a challenge for the production team to find an alternative.[15] Instead, the crew fashioned a trailer with a cantilevered arm attached to the "hovercraft" and shot the scene while riding up Templin Highway north of Santa Clarita.[15] Serenity visual effects supervisor Loni Peristere told the Los Angeles Times, "Traditionally this would have been, like, a 30-day shoot. I think we did it in five."[15] Zoic Studios, the company that produced the graphics for the series, had to perform a complete overhaul of their computer model of Serenity, as the television model would not stand up to the high-definition scrutiny of cinema screens (and high-definition video resolution).[32][33]

Musical score[edit]

Main article: Serenity (soundtrack)

The film's musical score was composed by David Newman, and performed by the Hollywood Studio Symphony under Newman's direction. According to director Joss Whedon's sleeve notes for the album, Newman was recommended by Universal's music executives when he requested a musician capable of "everything". Whedon's directions to Newman for the Serenity theme were that he wanted something homemade and mournful that would let viewers know that they were now "home" and evoke the idea of the pioneer, when everyone only had what they could carry.[34] The official soundtrack was released on CD on September 27, 2005.

The acoustic guitar version of the "Ballad of Serenity" (from Firefly), which was used at the end of the film's credits, is absent from the soundtrack.

Release[edit]

Hoping to generate buzz through early word of mouth, Universal launched an unprecedented 3-stage campaign to sneak preview the then unfinished movie in 35 US cities where the series had earned high Nielsen ratings. The first stage of screenings was held in 10 cities on May 5, 2005. The second stage, held on May 26, 2005, added 10 more cities and was also the source of controversy when theaters began selling tickets before the official announcement was made, leading some shows to be immediately sold out. The third round, with an additional 15 cities, was held on June 23, 2005. The screenings proved successful, with all three stages selling out in less than 24 hours; the screening in Washington, D.C. sold out in a mere 22 minutes and the screening in Phoenix in only eight minutes.[35][36]

Australian audiences were the first outside North America to get preview screenings. After an exclusive Sydney test screening, Melbourne held a public screening on July 21, 2005. This was followed by a film festival screening on the Gold Coast on July 22, 2005. Public preview screenings were held in Adelaide and Sydney on August 1, 2005, and Perth on August 4, 2005. Further screenings were held in Victoria, Tasmania, and Queensland in late August. There had been a screening of the unfinished film in February 2005 at the British Film Institute in London. This version of the film had a temporary score, including movements from Braveheart, as well as some unrendered effects and scenes which were later deleted. The audience comprised industry professionals and fans.

A showing of the finished film billed as the "Gala Premiere" was held at the Edinburgh International Film Festival on August 22, 2005,[37] followed by an interview with Whedon the next day,[38] and preview screenings across the United Kingdom and Ireland on August 24, 2005, in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Dublin. Several of the screenings in all the countries featured the attendance of Joss Whedon and the film's cast, followed by a Q&A session with the audience. Whedon also attended two Question and Answer sessions after sold-out screenings of the finished film in Melbourne and Sydney on September 12, 2005 and September 13, 2005.

The trailer also generated considerable buzz on the internet. It was uploaded on April 26, 2005 and by April 28, 2005, it topped the Yahoo Buzz Index.[39][40] On October 5, 2005, Universal made the first nine minutes of Serenity available online.[41] A browser plug-in allowed the viewer to see the opening of the film in full-screen broadcast quality (bandwidth permitting). The clip was removed a few weeks later.

Serenity was also the first film to be screened digitally, fully DCI-compliant.[42]

Marketing[edit]

Several tie-in products were released to promote the film; a novelization was written by Keith R. A. DeCandido and published by Simon & Schuster imprint Pocket Star Books on September 1, 2005.[43] Serenity: The Official Visual Companion was written by Joss Whedon, published by Titan Books, and released on September 1, 2005 in paperback. It contained the film's screenplay, along with other supplemental features such as concept art, film images, and a map of the universe. A role-playing game titled Serenity, published by Margaret Weis Productions, Ltd, was released in 2005. This was followed by Serenity: Out in the Black by Tracy and Laura Hickman.

A three-issue comic book series titled Serenity: Those Left Behind was released from July through September 2005.[44] It was intended to bridge the gap between the end of the television series and the beginning of the film. The comic was written by Joss Whedon and Brett Matthews, illustrated by Will Conrad and Laura Martin, and published by Dark Horse Comics.[45] The story focuses on the crew of Serenity taking a salvage job from Badger following a botched theft on a backwater planet, and the pursuit of River by the ominous blue-gloved men seen in the television series. In March through May 2008, a new Serenity miniseries, titled Serenity: Better Days,[46] was released.

Universal also employed a viral marketing campaign, producing five short videos that were released on the internet between August 16, 2005 and September 5, 2005. These short films, known as the "R. Tam sessions", depicted excerpts of counseling sessions with the character River Tam while she was being held at a "learning facility" known only as "The Academy". The counselor in these sessions is played by Joss Whedon himself.[citation needed] Taking place before the events of the film or the television series, the videos shed some light on the experiments and torture "The Academy" conducted on River. They document her transformation from a shy child prodigy to the mentally unstable character of the television series.[citation needed]

Home media[edit]

Serenity was initially released on home video in North America on December 20, 2005. It was released on Region 1 DVD, UMD, and VHS, and the DVD quickly went to #1 in sales on Amazon.com.[47] It also spent two weeks in the top ten on Billboard's Top DVD Sales charts, peaking at #3. As of January 15, 2006, the DVD/VHS rentals of the film had grossed around $9,190,000.[48] Included as extras on the DVD are an audio commentary by Whedon, deleted scenes and outtakes, and several short documentaries. These documentaries include "Future History: The Story of Earth That Was", "What's in a Firefly", and "Re-Lighting the Firefly". Also included is a short introduction to the film by Whedon, and an easter egg[49] that features a small featurette on the "Fruity Oaty Bar" commercial.[50] NASA astronaut Steven Swanson, a fan of the show,[51] took the Region 1 Firefly and Serenity DVDs with him on Space Shuttle Atlantis' STS-117 mission, which lifted off on Friday June 8, 2007. The DVDs will permanently reside on the International Space Station as a form of entertainment for the station's crews.[52]

The film was released as a 2-disc set in Australia (Region 4) and parts of Europe (Region 2) on February 8, 2006. This version included new features, in addition to the supplemental material found on the North American (Region 1) release. At present, disc 2 is exclusive only to Australia and Benelux – Belgium, The Netherlands, Luxembourg and New Zealand. It was released in Germany as part of the special edition.[citation needed] Added material for disc 1 includes "A Filmmaker's Journey: Journey with Joss from Script to Screen", which is available on all international DVDs, but not the US version. Added material for disc 2 includes a Joss Whedon Q&A session filmed at Fox Studios in Sydney, extended scenes, and two documentaries titled "Take a Walk on Serenity" and "The Green Clan". An "exclusive collector's tin" version of Serenity was released for the two disk edition by the EzyDVD chain of stores in Australia.[53]

Serenity was released on HD DVD on April 18, 2006, and was one of the first films to be released on the format. It ranked in the later 100s on Amazon.com in top selling DVDs. The disc included all of the bonus features found on the original Region 1 disc. As of November 29, 2006 Serenity was the fifteenth highest-selling HD DVD. After the title key for Serenity was copied from a software player and posted on the internet as a riddle,[54] the film soon became the first HD DVD release to be released on the BitTorrent network on January 12, 2007.[55] The pirated release was a 19.6 GB 1080p VC-1 .EVO file with 5.1 DDPlus encoded sound. Although many other releases soon followed after the discoveries in muslix64's thread, Serenity's marked the beginning of widespread unlicensed copying of HD DVD.[citation needed]

A 2-disc Collector's Edition DVD was released for Region 1 on August 21, 2007. According to Whedon, sales figures for the "Normal Edition" DVD allowed this release.[56] The DVD included all of the once-Australian-exclusive bonus features, sans the Joss Whedon Q&A session filmed at Fox Studios in Sydney, and with new content including a DTS 5.1 surround track, a second commentary with Whedon, Nathan Fillion, Adam Baldwin, Summer Glau and Ron Glass, the R. Tam sessions (dubbed "Session 416"), and the Sci-Fi Inside: Serenity documentary.[57] Universal Pictures redesigned the film's official website to reflect the new DVD set.[58]

On December 30, 2008, Serenity was released on Blu-ray Disc, with several exclusive new features, including a new visual commentary with Whedon and several cast members.[59]

Charity screenings[edit]

Beginning in January 2006, fans (with Universal's blessing) began organizing charity screenings of Serenity to benefit Equality Now, a human rights organization supported by Joss Whedon. By mid-June, 41 such screenings had been confirmed for cities in Australia, Canada, England, New Zealand, and the United States, and as of June 19, 2006, there were 47 scheduled screenings. The project was referred to as "Serenity Now/Equality Now" on the official website, but was often referred to in shortened form as "Serenity Now", and was coordinated through "Can't Stop The Serenity".[60] The name officially changed in 2007 to Can't Stop The Serenity (CSTS)

This has become a multi-venue event held each calendar year in various countries and cities and on various dates throughout the year. Funds raised by the events go to Equality Now (and other charities[61]). The following are results from past and ongoing events (in USD):[62]

  • 2006: $65,000
  • 2007: $106,000
  • 2008: $107,219
  • 2009: $137,331
  • 2010: $127,000
  • 2011: $156,513
  • 2012: $110,465

Reception[edit]

Box office[edit]

Despite critical acclaim and high anticipation, Serenity performed poorly at the box office. Although several pundits predicted a #1 opening,[63][64][65] the film opened at #2 in the United States, taking in $10.1 million on its first weekend, spending two weeks in the top ten, and closed on November 17, 2005 with a domestic box office gross of $25.5 million.[2] Movie industry analyst Brandon Gray described Serenity's box office performance as "like a below average genre picture".[66]

Serenity's international box office results were mixed, with strong openings in the UK, Portugal and Russia, but poor results in Spain, Australia, France and Italy. United International Pictures canceled the film's theatrical release in at least seven countries, planning to release it directly to DVD instead. The box office income outside the United States was $13.3 million,[2] with a worldwide total of $38.9 million,[67] slightly less than the film's $39 million budget, which does not include the promotion and advertising costs.

Critical reception[edit]

Serenity received mostly positive reviews from film critics. Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a "Certified Fresh" score of 82% based on 179 reviews. The sites consensus is "Snappy dialogue and goofy characters make this Wild Wild West soap opera in space fun and adventurous."[68] Metacritic gives the film a weighted average score of 74% based on reviews from 34 critics indicating generally favorable reviews.[69]

Ebert and Roeper gave the film a "Two Thumbs Up" rating,[70] and again Roger Ebert at the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three out of four stars, commenting that "[the film] is made of dubious but energetic special effects, breathless velocity, much imagination, some sly verbal wit and a little political satire". "The movie plays like a critique of contemporary society", he observed, also stating that in this way it was like Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four.[71] The San Francisco Chronicle called it "a triumph",[28] while The New York Times described it as a modest but superior science fiction film.[72] Science fiction author Orson Scott Card called Serenity "the best science fiction film ever", further stating "If Ender's Game can't be this kind of movie, and this good a movie, then I want it never to be made. I'd rather just watch Serenity again."[73] In December 2005, it was named the best film of the year by viewers of Film 2005 and ranked #383 on Empire magazines list of "The 500 Greatest Movies of All-Time" in 2008.[74]

Some reviewers felt the film was unable to overcome its television origins, and did not successfully accomplish the transition to the big screen. USA Today wrote that "the characters are generally uninteresting and one-dimensional,[75] and the futuristic Western-style plot grows tedious" while Variety declared that the film "bounces around to sometimes memorable effect but rarely soars".[76]

Awards[edit]

In other media[edit]

A novelization of the film was written by Keith R. A. DeCandido and published by Simon & Schuster in September 2005. The novel debuted at Dragon Con, three weeks before the movie's release, where DeCandido gave away 50 copies at his autographing at the convention.[86]

On February 20, 2009, NASA announced an online poll to name Node 3 of the International Space Station; NASA-suggested options included Earthrise, Legacy, Serenity, and Venture.[87] At the March 20, 2009 poll close, 'Serenity', led those four choices with 70% of the vote, though the winner of the poll was 'Colbert', a reference to late night comedy show host Stephen Colbert (In the end, the poll was discarded and the node was eventually named 'Tranquility').[88] Multiple internet sites have asserted that that name is a nod to the Whedon-created fictional spacecraft,[89][90] while Fox News observed simply that it "shares the name of a spaceship in the cult favorite television series 'Firefly'".[91]

Themes and cultural allusions[edit]

While the film depicts the Alliance as an all-powerful, authoritarian-style regime, Whedon is careful to point out that it is not so simple as that. "The Alliance isn't some evil empire," he explains, but rather a largely benevolent bureaucratic force. The Alliance's main problem is that it seeks to govern everyone, regardless of whether they desire to belong to the central government or not.[92] What the crew of Serenity represent—specifically Mal and his lifestyle—is the idea that people should have the right to make their own decisions, even if those decisions are bad.[93]

The Operative embodies the Alliance and is, as Whedon describes, the "perfect product of what's wrong with the Alliance". He is someone whose motives are to achieve a good end, a "world without sin". The Operative believes so strongly in this idea that he willingly compromises his humanity in furtherance of it—as he himself admits, he would have no place in this world. In contrast, Mal is, at the movie's beginning, a man who has lost all faith.[94] By the end of the movie Mal has finally come to believe so strongly in something—individual liberty—that he becomes willing to lay down his life to preserve it.[93][95]

Whedon has said that the most important line spoken in the film is when Mal forces the Operative to watch the Miranda footage at the climax of the film, promising him: "I'm going to show you a world without sin". Whedon makes the point that a world without sin is a world without choice, and that choice is ultimately what defines humanity.[93] According to Whedon, the planet "Miranda" was named for William Shakespeare's Miranda in The Tempest, who in Act V, scene I says: "O brave new world, / That has such people in't!"[95] The Alliance had hoped that Miranda would be a new kind of world, filled with peaceful, happy people, and represents the "inane optimism of the Alliance".[96]

The Fruity Oaty Bar commercial is partially inspired by Mr. Sparkle, the mascot of a fictional brand of dish-washing detergent, who was featured in The Simpsons episode "In Marge We Trust".[97] Whedon mentions in a DVD feature that when the Fruity Oaty Bar commercial was being designed, he constantly asked the animators to redesign it and make it even more bizarre than the previous design, until it arrived at the version presented on screen.

Sequel possibilities[edit]

Fans had hoped that if Serenity had been successful, it might lead either to a revival of the television series or a film franchise (colloquially referred to as the "Big Damn Trilogy", or BDT).[98][99] The former was always unlikely, since Fox still owns the Firefly television rights and Joss Whedon reportedly refused to work for Fox again[100] (though he later wrote and produced the television series Dollhouse for the network). Fans' hopes for further theatrical films appear to have been partially dashed by Serenity's mediocre box office showing. Whedon has stated that if a sequel is made, he hopes to address the character Book's backstory and deal with Jubal Early, a bounty hunter character in Firefly.[101] Whedon also revealed that there was a "strong possibility that everyone would return for a sequel", despite the deaths of several main characters in Serenity.[102]

The first major sequel rumor began on December 1, 2005, when IGN Filmforce reported that Universal had expressed an interest in making a Serenity TV movie for broadcast on the Sci-Fi Channel (which is owned by Universal), and eventual DVD sale. It was expected that commissioning of a television sequel would be contingent on strong DVD sales of Serenity.[103] In a January 2006 interview, Whedon doubted the chances of a sequel.[104] On June 23, 2006 a number of fans organized and spread word of "Serenity Day", on which all fans were proposed to purchase a copy of Serenity in an attempt to convince Universal that a sequel would be profitable. The significance of this day was that June 23, 2006 was the one-year anniversary of the third and final advance screening of Serenity prior to its release, as well as Joss Whedon's birthday. The impact of the event could be seen from Serenity reaching #2 in the Amazon DVD Charts,[105] the highest ranking the DVD had reached since January 16, 2006.[106]

On October 1, 2006, Whedon posted a comment to the Whedonesque.com website, responding to a rumor that he was working on a sequel to Serenity. He wrote,

There's no sequel, no secret project regarding Serenity or somesuch and I'm not even sure how anyone thought there was talk there. I've seen Nathan and Tim (and Summer and Alan) recently because they're my friends because I'm so, yeah, awesome. So let's put that to bed and smother it with a pillow.[107]

Whedon's response to the rumor consequently sparked many websites to publish articles stating that he would never work on a sequel to Serenity. Whedon again returned to Whedonesque.com to respond to the new stories and wrote,

Holy Mother of Oats! I turn my back for five minutes (that's how long it takes to admire my lovely back) and the interweb goes banoonoos! Isn't there any ACTUAL news to get wrong? Sorry about all this; it might be best if I just stay off the computer for a while.... Here's a thing: when Firefly was cancelled, my heart got broke. Sounds a bit much, but it changed me. Not even Serenity could patch that wound. I'm wearier, wearier – after all those years as a movie writer, you'd think I'd be prepared for another lesson on my unimportance in the scheme of things, but I wasn't.... All these rumor of projects or the death of projects... When the two worlds align and something actually happens, whatever it is, you guys know I'll be on this site as soon as I'm allowed to be. And I'll be very very clear. There is no news. Not never, just now.[108]

In an interview at the 2007 Comic-Con, Whedon stated that he believes hope for a sequel rests in the sales of the Collector's Edition DVD.[109][110] In an August 2007 interview with Amazon.com prior to the Collector's Edition DVD release, Whedon stated, "It's still on my mind, I mean, but I don't know if mine is the only mind that it's on." He later said, "You know, whether or not anybody who's involved would be available at that point – everybody's working, I'm happy to say – is a question, but whether I would want to do another one is not a question."[111] On October 4, 2007, Alan Tudyk suggested in an interview that Universal was considering another film due to DVD sales,[112] although Joss Whedon later discounted Tudyk's statement as "wishful thinking".[113]

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Additional reading[edit]

External links[edit]