I saw Serenity opening weekend and I loved it. Mrs. Islander (who has been driven crazy by my incessant playing of the DVDs) also loved it. We both stayed through the credits and enjoyed the guitar rendition of the TV theme at the end.
While I enjoyed the movie, I have come to the conclusion (shared by David Edelstein over at Slate magazine) that the television show is better. Why?
Joss Whedon does two things better than almost anyone writing screenplays today: he builds great ensembles through writing superior dialog that builds character relationships; and he tells stories about big subjects with a light and deft hand.
The first of these talents blooms best in an extended, multi-episode format such as a television show. For example, the conflict between the Simon and Jayne is so well developed that, by the episode "Jaynetown," Simon's line "No, this is what it feels like to go mad!" carries a payoff far outweighing the setup of the previous 15 minutes.
The second of these talents, handling weighty issues with a light hand, is nice in a two-hour movie, but essential on the small screen. Quite frankly, the reason that so much television science fiction leaves me cold is the blunt club labled "importance" that most shows use to beat their audience soundly at least once an episode. Apparently, this beating is how those show's creators reassure themselves that they are creating more than mere "escapist" fiction. Star Trek was famous for its "message" episodes. Though they are often revered today, quite often those episode were the lamest. Let This be Your Last Battlefield, anyone?
By developing wonderful characters through great dialog and believable relationships, Joss lets the story carry the weight of significance. His characters rarely spout long didactic monologues explaining to each other why they are proud but free rebels. Mostly they complain that the food is lousy and that the ship is falling apart around them.
Joss Whedon has said that in the movie he collapsed the Simon-River storyline down from three seasons to two hours. How I long for those seasons! The places that they would have gone to! We could have learned the secrets of Shepherd Book, seen Jayne engage in more "thrilling heroics," and perhaps run into Saffron again.
I realize that we don't live in a perfect world and that it's not called "show friends," it's called "show business." I have enjoyed the movie "Serenity" on the screen and I will buy it when it comes out on DVD. I will hope for more stories of this band of scalliwags.
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