I share Joss Whedon’s opinion on character development, first put to me most vividly in Alexei Panshin’s Rites of Passage, “There are no foot soldiers.” Each of us is the hero of our own story.

As Whedon explains, …the biggest thing for me is that everybody–and that includes “second thug from left”–has perspective that they bring with them to the piece… But just respecting everybody, and knowing that the whole point of the thing, the whole point of any dialogue, is that it’s two people with completely different points of view trying to find a space in the middle. That’s where the conflict comes from, that’s where the humor comes from, that’s where the humanity comes from. That’s the biggest thing for me when I’m writing, and I think it’s also what makes people respond to all the characters, is that they’re all very present all the time.

The tension among nine different people surviving together in cramped quarters of what is science fiction’s equivalent of a leaky boat is what gave ‘s progenitor Firefly its appeal. It’s also what’s lost as Firefly moves to the big screen; the movie format is at once larger and more compressed than a TV series. Whedon is forced to tighten his focus on few characters and rev up a storyline he had planned to weave languorously over several seasons.

Whedon did this purposely, he says, …we need a giant, epic story that is not the kind of thing these people usually get involved in on the TV series. It’s more mundane. We need a reason for this to be a movie and to be a big, for me anyway, budget movie, and a Universal film in particular.

The result left me feeling empty. The movie provided closure which I discovered afterward I didn’t want. Despite the martial arts veil thrown over his worlds, Whedon’s strength has always been in his characters, not the action. His shows are not so much about what happened, but how everyone reacts to what happened. I liked that Firefly focused on the mundane. It puts the future on a human scale, a personal scale, which enables us to envision it and ourselves in it. On the plus side, if you’ve never seen Firefly, you don’t have to worry that you won’t understand the plot or the characters. Serenity is self-contained.

For those who equate science fiction with action movies, Serenity has enough explosions and fist fights to satisfy. But there are no bug-eyed monsters and relatively little futuristic technology. Human beings continue to be their own worst enemy, more destructive than any aliens or robots run amok.

Firefly/Serenity is more Western than SciFi–from the clothes people wear, the guns they carry, and most interestingly, the way they talk. There is a 19th-century frontier poetry in the manner of speech which is the one thing that will probably confound newcomers. The cadence takes some getting used to, but when you do, you can’t imagine the characters speaking any other way. The old-fashionedness of it provides a sense of formality and chivalry that becomes the characters, especially the hero, Malcolm Reynolds. Oh, yeah. They also cuss in Chinese, which allowed the writers to interject all sorts of colorful speech on prime time TV without running afoul of the censors. It makes for much more interesting expletives. Now that we hear them all the time, our standard four-letter words have been drained of their value.

The mix of genres is a logical development. I’ve always thought that America’s love of both Westerns and Science Fiction during my formative years was a result of our pioneer inheritance, that itching desire to explore new frontiers, and to (as Serenity does) fly under the radar, always a little out of reach of those meddlesome do-gooders who want to crimp our independence in the name of civilizing us.

One Response to “Serenity”

  1. M2 Responds:

    CGI and realism — at the Alamo preview of Serenity, Summer Glau mentioned that the actors did nearly all their own stunts. I think that came across, also.
    Some people who had negative comments to make about River’s martial arts … they had to design a martial art style around her abilities. I think it worked well, myself. And the people who complained about it … they better not be Jackie Chan fans. If they knock ballet-fu, I don’t wanna hear them praise umbrella-fu. Nuff said.

The surface and beneath the surface