Hooooo. I really don’t know how to start this. I’m still a little dazed from the experience.
Let’s start by talking about filmmaking genius. During the seventies, two young filmmakers emerged who would own the skies for an entire generation. You know who I’m talking about: the illustrious Steven Spielberg and George “Star Wars” Lucas.
The eighties gave us another of these fine creatures: James Cameron pulled his mantle of King Of The Worldliness about him, and we all rejoiced.
I assume my point is clear. Joss Whedon has elevated himself into this echelon of master storytellers. What’s amazing about this is that he hasn’t even really done this through filmmaking. He’s a TV guy, for cryin’ out loud. What makes him absolutely amazing, to me (and I believe to much of the landmass that makes up his raving hordes of fans), is his writing.
I never thought I’d see the day that writing would struggle into the lead, out-doing special effects and wow-factor. Ever see Twelve Angry Men? It had pretty much nothing but writing in it, and it’s a fantastic film. But such efforts now can only be found on the rough-and-tumble outskirts of the filmic universe; that non-place known as the indies. Alas, there’s little money to be made in good writing with not very many blowing up explosion things, and so our best industry talents exert themselves creating… well, films that I enjoy, generally, but still.
I’m going to try to not say a single thing about what goes on in this film. If you haven’t watched the series, go buy it and watch it. If you haven’t seen the film, go see it.
This Sunday evening, I sat down with my brood to watch the film, with some trepidation. I mean, I had heard it was good, but who knows? Folks have been wrong-ish before.
I needn’t have worried. Here’s the thing: I brought with me into that dark theater everything that Joss Whedon needed to fuck up my whole weekend. By the end of it, I was apologizing to my kids for crying and whooping and gasping through the whole thing. They said it was okay. Mostly because they had chosen to sit in the row ahead of us, and so no one knew that the blubbering insane guy behind them was related to them in any way.
I was utterly astounded at how deeply I care for these characters. Seeing them up on the screen… one is tempted to remember the first time the Star Trek cast graced the silver screen. But… this was nothing like that.
First of all, it’s exactly like the show. Where Star Trek seemed to want to take all its extra money and pour it into special effects and more detailed costume design, Serenity took it’s additional filmic boost and put it towards… complexity? Consistency? The primary difference I noticed was more complicated tracking shots; the cinematography was better, but they stuck with the rough-camera style they established in the film, and the effect was wonderful.
Second of all, it’s exactly like the show. Where the Star Trek films seemed to want to take their hour-and-a-half and tell you a much bigger story than the tales they told on the teeny TV screen, Serenity wants to tell you exactly the same story they were telling in the series. Right from the get-go, we were totally re-immersed in the already established world, and carrying along with the tale. It was almost like the entire second season had been reduced (on a high simmer) into a single film.
Given that it’s exactly like the show, how is it, then, that it doesn’t end up feeling like a cheap film adaptation of a TV series? One thing, and one thing only: genius.
Joss Whedon’s writing, in particular, holds the entire tale together. I didn’t go see that movie to see the space battles and gunfights (although, I must admit, that does hold a certain appeal). I went because I wanted to know what River’s deal was. I wanted to see how Mal was going to handle all that crap. I wanted to watch Jane stumble his way through it. I…
Well, I care about those characters. I walked into that theater caring so deeply about those characters that the only thing I wanted from Mr. Whedon was another chance to hang out with them and enjoy their adventures together. Which is precisely what he gave me. Which I thank him for. With my money.
It’s funny: I expect that people will want to talk about the film, and break down its strengths and weakenesses, and talk about how they liked this part or that part more or less, and how he could have done this better, and how come he didn’t explain about that one thing, and wasn’t it hokey when…
But I don’t care about any of that. I really don’t. Mr. Whedon has convinced me that he can be trusted with his own characters, and so I give him full license to tell me about what happened to them. I don’t care much what happens, as long as he continues to make as much delightful sense as he has so far, and he doesn’t get all “I can do whatever I want to with my story!” on me. For now, I am quite, quite content to sit back, watch the light of the campfire illuminate his face as he cavorts about, and listen to his tale, exactly the way he tells it.
He is, after all, pretty good at it.