Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Overall, "Serenity" was a good flick, IMO.
"Serenity" confirmed for me why I prefer television series to movies. Had the events of the movie occurred in a hypothetical season of "Firefly", we would have gotten so much more of the story. We would have seen Zoe mourn for Wash. We would have seen development of Inara and Mal's relationship. The character of Mr. Universe would have been introduced more slowly and organically. We could have gotten to know the settlement of Haven and its people, and its destruction would have had much greater impact. We might have gotten some clues as to Book's background (though I agree with Book that we, along with Mal, don't have to hear his story). The philosophical and moral issues could have been dealt with in more depth and with more subtlty. (I.e., the limits and nature of Mal's extreme pragmatism vs. his sense of right and his love for his crew.) In "Serenity", all of these elements get relative short shrift because of the restrictions of the movie format.
A friend, and bigger "Firefly" fan than me, told me that she wanted to walk out of "Serenity", and that the movie negatively affected her enjoyment of the TV series. (I want to say that she said it "runied" the show for her, but I don't remember exactly what she said.) So, I was on the lookout for whatever element(s) prompted this reaction. Here are some changes or developments that stood out as suspects.
The revelation of River's superhuman fighting abilities. I doubt this is what upset my friend, but it did alter River. It's not inconsistent or even surprising (what else are top-secret government projects about, afterall), but it is a major development.
The death of Book. Some people hate seeing beloved characters die. I'm sorry to see him go, and there were definitely many more stories that could have been told with and about Book, but it wasn't a bad death for the character.*
The Reaver-ication of Serenity. I was completely sympathetic with Zoe when she objected to the crew's home being turned into an abomination. Sure, it was only on the surface, but it did involve desecration of the dead, and seemed to cross a symbolic line about exactly how much darkness Mal was willing to take on in order to achieve his goal. His threatening of the crew is what made it scariest. That was the manifestation of the symbolism.
The death of Wash. This, I think, is the most likely candidate. Unlike Book's death, it was abrupt and random. (That's a strong point in a narrative sense, but here I'm dealing with a fan's reaction.) The relationship between Wash and Zoe was one of the brightest spots in "Firefly". Taking it away without giving its loss some greater meaning, or even due attention, is quite a blow to anyone who loved the show and its characters.
The "epic" adventure. "Firefly" was a "small" show in relation to most filmed science fiction. The character were trying to make their own way, and often simply survive. Their goals weren't huge, and neither were the lives they lead, no matter how complicated they often became. This was one of the series' strengths. The story of "Serenity", however, becomes an epic whose scope reaches far beyond the lives of the characters. I don't really like that Mal gets a sort of revenge against the Alliance. Though my sympathies are entirely on Mal's side, that wasn't his role in the series. Here, again, the differing demands of the movie format change the story. A movie demands that something "big" happen. That's not necessarily bad, but it's not what "Firefly" was about. It's certainly possible that this story could have been told in subsequent seasons of "Firefly", but the movement towards this role would have been gradual and more natural. The consequences would have been dealt with, too.
Here's a personal disappointment. There was no real progression in the relationship between Mal and Inara. I feel like a total femme for saying this, but couldn't the movie have spared a moment for them to finally kiss? Two crew members were lost, and all of them came frighteningly close to death, but even this can't move Mal to express his love for Inara? At least the audience could have seen some expression of it, as we did Inara's love for Mal when she, in relative solitude, broke down sobbing after discovering that he had slept with her friend. Maybe it will be dealt with in another movie, if they make one. But another movie won't come for at least a year, and when it does, there will be many other competing story elements to dealt with. Whereas, in a TV series, much more narrative could be devoted to it.

* On one fannish email-list I dubbed myself "The Fan Who's Okay With Character Death", because I was very much in the minority of the list on that issue. I'd much rather see a character or a series die well than be prolonged into a shadow of its former self (like Star Trek), or worse, a mockery (like Star Wars).