Can’t Stop the Serenity

On Saturday, June 23, 2012, the Toronto Browncoats hosted their annual Can’t Stop the Serenity event. I attended, for the second year in a row and this time I brought along my good friend Lisa. “Browncoats” are fans of Joss Whedon’s short-lived TV series “Firefly” (2002) and its feature film sequel “Serenity” (2005). In over 50 cities worldwide, Browncoats have been organizing charity screenings of “Serenity” with the proceeds going to support Equality Now. Equality Now was founded in 1992. It works for the protection and promotion of human rights for women around the world.

“Firefly” was a TV show about a renegade crew aboard the salvage and transport spaceship (Firefly model) named Serenity . Captained by Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), this crew included first officer Zoe (Gina Torres), pilot Wash (Alan Tudyk), mechanic Kaylee (Jewel Staite), hired gun Jayne (Adam Baldwin), professional companion Inara (Morena Baccarin), doctor Simon (Sean Maher) who was on the run with his fugitive sister River (Summer Glau). Preacher/Shepherd Book (Ron Glass) was a paying passenger looking for a place in need of salvation. For a truncated season, we followed their adventures as they went from transport job to transport job. They desperately tried to fly under the radar of the government Alliance forces. River, a psychically damaged girl, was a fugitive. Why she was marked remained a mystery throughout the 14 episode TV run. Luckily, DVD sales of this aborted series were so strong that Joss Whedon was able to resolve the mystery with the feature film “Serenity.”

“Serenity” is a film that stands alone as a cautionary futuristic tale of mystery and adventure. Whedon does a phenomenal job of creating a story that satisfies fans of the TV series and yet his movie does not require any prior knowledge of the show. It is a text book example of screen writing 101. Expository back story is done visually and incorporated organically with the use of flashback within the main story. It is done with brevity and clarity so that it is not repetitive for fans familiar with the show. We witness Simon’s daring rescue of his sister River from a secret government laboratory. Poor River was subjected to barbaric experiments. As fugitives, Simon and River have found refuge on Serenity in exchange for Simon’s skills as ship’s doctor. Serenity’s crew often found itself involved on jobs that step slightly outside the confines of the oppressive laws of the Alliance. Despite this, the crew tried to keep a low profile. So when a subliminal message set River off on a violent rampage in a very public place, they find themselves pursued by an Alliance operative. It took a while for the crew to figure out why River was worthy of such interest. And when they did learn the important secret buried in her brain, they are left with little choice. In the interest of humankind, this government secret must be revealed. So it becomes is a race against time. Will they be able to transmit the video evidence they have, via the information superhighway known as the cortex before the Alliance’s operative can stop them? Well, I shan’t spoil it. Suffice it to say, the outcome has a high price for all participants.

This is a story that resonates with timeless themes, some of which are personal freedom and government transparency (to say more would risk spoiler territory), whether we are dealing with the Nuremberg Trials or Wikileaks. There is beautifully choreographed action and hand to hand combat scenes, epic CGI battles in space and a little romance thrown into the mix. The acting is great. The cast seem to pick up their roles effortlessly, despite a 3 year hiatus. The special effects are pretty good considering the $40 million budget. The dialogue is filled with humor, despite the serious tone of the story. The characters have time to establish their distinct personalities . I think that is important for those new to the story.

I am ashamed to say that despite being a rabid “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” fan (Joss Whedon’s first masterpiece of TV) and a faithful watcher of its “Angel” spin-off, I never gave “Firefly” a chance to win me over during the initial Fox Network run back in 2002. In my defense, I was a new mom and expecting my 2nd child while juggling work, family and a new-found inability to stay awake beyond 9:30pm. To make matters worse, the network bungled the producer’s chronologic story flow by airing the episodes randomly rather than in the intended order. If the double length pilot had been aired 1st, instead of the episode they decided to premier the show with (which I and perhaps countless others watched in confusion), who knows how strong the viewership might have been? Could we have, perhaps, been anticipating Firefly’s 10th season this fall? Alas, the only pride I can take is in getting some of my friends hooked on “Firefly” and “Serenity” after the fact.

Do you need to be familiar with the TV show to watch the movie? I would say that a tomatometer score of 82% would indicate NO, you don’t. However if you are familiar with the characters from the TV show, the movie takes on a special poignancy. It offers a glimpse, a hope, of what could have been an epic TV show, instead of a cult classic. The movie was not a box office success. The stories continue in comic book form, on a sporadic basis. Better than nothing, I guess.

In the meantime, I am toying with the idea of watching “Firefly” with my daughters and making Can’t Stop the Serenity a family affair in the near future. In the meantime, Lisa and I had a blast, spending the day in Toronto, watching a beloved film in a room full of like-minded folks. We laughed and cheered together and we look forward to next years’ event.

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. 8teen39
    Jun 25, 2012 @ 14:56:13

    Like you, I never gave the series a chance when it was first aired. When the movie came out I was intrigued enough to go see it- wondering what ignited such fan frenzy to enable Josh Whedon to make it.Even though I knew nothing about the show, I was hooked. I watched the full series on Netflix streamiong, then the movie again. I have since watched the series countless number of times and enjoy it just as much. There are always new layers to uncover. And the cast is great!

    Reply

    • annhall
      Jun 25, 2012 @ 15:39:07

      I am glad to know the movie worked for you enough to watch the TV series! My friend leant me the TV show DVD’s in anticipation of the movie release. I was pretty house bound with a young family at the time of the movie release. I devoured the TV series, bought my own set and a lending set (now well worn) and bought the movie on DVD as soon as it was available. My penance is attending a CSTS screening, every chance I get. I can watch this rag tag crew over and over again. I know that some of my friends have subsequently bought their own sets of DVDs, lather, rinse, repeat, LOL!

      Reply

  2. Lioness
    Jun 26, 2012 @ 13:16:55

    Nice description! One note though. Although it became part of the mythology, it was NOT the DVD sales that encouraged Universal to make Serenity. The movie was already in the works when the DVD was released. The strong sales just made it clear that Mary Parent of Universal had made the right call.

    Reply

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