Serenity (Director: Joss Whedon)
Introducing Whedon to an internet audience is like introducing Brett Favre to Packers fans, but we'll go on right ahead. Whedon is the man behind first, the movie Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which then got transformed into the mega-cult classic TV show and its spinoff "Angel." He got his start writing some episodes of "Roseanne." He's also a co-writer of Toy Story and I must agree with Jonathan here, something was up when he wrote Alien: Resurrection because it contains little of his wit. Serenity is written and directed by the man; it is based on the short-lived TV show "Firefly." Here, Whedon tries to pull off the reverse of Buffy, where maybe the movie will be more popular than the series, and maybe pull off its own "Family Guy" resurrection, just not in the Alien sense.
You can group Whedon with guys like J.J. Abrams and Judd Apatow, guys who have been behind critically-acclaimed shows with no love to show for it. Apatow never really experienced TV success but finally won some on the big screen with this year's 40-Year-Old Virgin, while Abrams just recently tasted blockbuster status with "Lost" after "Felicity" and "Alias" got moderate numbers (he's going to have a surefire film hit with Mission: Impossible 3 next year). Whedon really experienced this in reverse since "Buffy" was such a huge hit, along with "Angel," but fans did not follow him to Fridays for his big splash on Fox in 2002 (Fox may very well have the record for shows that were loved but dumped).
I can't really describe the plot of the TV show here, because the movie is sort of the next episode in the series, but standing alone as its own story, here's what I can tell you: Captain Mal (Nathan Fillion) is the leader of the ship Serenity, and he fought on the wrong (but good!) side of a war against "The Alliance." After the war, he began a life befitting of Han Solo and started pirating, finding jobs that could pay him and his crew: First mate Zoe (Gina Torres), pilot Wash (Alan Tudyk), scallywag Jayne (Adam Baldwin), and ship engineer Kaylee (Jewel Staite). He once had a "companion" (glorified prostitute) by the name of Inara (Morena Baccarin) on the ship, but she's on another planet as this film begins.
The ship contains two highly wanted fugitives in Doctor Simon (Sean Maher) and especially his sister River (Summer Glau), whose psychic powers are of great interest to the government for some reason. The Alliance has hired an assassin to kill the escaped River, a calm, cold-blooded monster played by Chiwetel Ejiofor (who stole what there was of this August's Four Brothers). So Serenity must keep zooming away and hiding--not an easy task considering that The Alliance is all over the place, as are the mysterious Reavers--think Lord of the Rings' orcs with less discipline.
Serenity does have a hard time making a transition into a full-blown movie. The medium of TV and film is clearly different due to time. What is usually snappy and to the point now has some odd beats, some breathing room, a gradual unfolding. That's not a bad thing, but it has a hard time escaping its "TV-ness." Where the film makes its mark is in the pulse-pounding second half, where the main characters are put into more peril than I have seen any movie put its heroes since (don't laugh) 1986's Transformers: The Movie. It has a tremendously satisfying tactical setup and a nicely different take in treatment of its main villain. Serenity also contains one of the funniest, well-written lines of not only the year, but the decade, spoken by Kaylee in the oddly polite but unrefined manner of her speech. Also, a very funny "reveal" near the end.
So, how do I rate this movie overall? It's certainly not perfect, but it's good. I think fans of the show (and I consider myself a casual fan) will cream their jeans over it, especially during that second hour. If you're walking into this uninitiated, some questions will arise as to who certain characters are, like Shepherd (Ron Glass). You may also wonder if Mr. Universe (David Krumholtz) was a part of the show (he was not). Those questions may very well leave you hanging a little bit in some sections, as will some of the backstory. That's what makes this film a unusual experience. It doesn't quite stand on its own ground. I'm not going to end the review like that, though, because I feel like even a "Firefly" virgin can enjoy this.
UPDATE by Mike: Instalaunch! I emailed Instapundit, and he included this entry with a number of other Serenity reviews. Thanks Glenn! Visitors, if you like movie reviews, Chris reviews every movie he sees, which is a lot of reviews. We'd love to have you come back.