As a service to any readers who may have RSS feeds that show them the first few paragraphs of any given post, I'm burying the spoilers more than three grafs down so that I don't ruin anything for you. (Spoilers are not just from Serenity, but from the series finales of Buffy and Angel). Believe me, I've learned my lesson from the whole Harry Potter debacle earlier this summer. Damn you, Entertainment Weekly, you with your magazines that fall open to the page of spoilers...
It's really hard for me to review movies; what I like, someone else may not like, and it's not necessarily a function of the moviemaking, the acting, or the theater experience itself. Also, when it comes to art/entertainment and its relativity, I acknowledge that even if I don't like something because of how it strikes my eye or makes me feel, it still may represent something that is artistically sound, and even beautiful.
Serenity upset me. In that it lived up to my expectations, and even circumvented them a little bit. But if I had remembered my Josstory (that's the history of Joss, and yes, I just made up the word now, so sue me), I would have known to skew my expectations in the direction of the unexpected.
For one thing, Joss, a pop culture worshiper, still manages to subvert the basic expectations that we have of such movies, steering his boat away from cliche whenever possible. Romance threatens like a far-off boom of thunder or a slightly graying sky, but never erupts into displays of gratuitous skin. Don't discount the skinny girls who look like victims waiting to happen, because inevitably, they're the strong ones who will save the day. The most risque lines come out of the mouths of the least likely characters, through unique speech patterns and dialects. And we don't have to see any more than flashes of the brutal Reavers to understand that they're dreadful and to be feared. But the most prominent example of this subversion of the traditionally expected is that no character is safe. And particularly, my favorite characters are usually the ones to suffer and die, either physically or metaphorically.
Take Buffy for example. Tara. Mrs. Summers. Xander's eye. (My god, why his eye?) Two out of three of the Trio. And finally, Anya and Spike. Spike at least had the chance to go out in a blaze of glory and blinding self-awareness--and for this, he got to come back, even in an initially non-corporeal and more annoying form, on Angel.
On Angel, I experienced the loss of favorite characters yet again. Not like I ever had the chance to really love Doyle, but his death was wack. (That the actor died a few years later is just plain eerie.) Lila, fine, whatever. She was evil. And annoying, so no great list. Then, in rapid succession, Cordy, Fred, Wesley, even hot-but-evil Lindsey. [Cue the sound of my heart breaking, especially for "rogue demon hunter" Wes.]
And the metaphorical death that hurt the most: Lorne. It often felt like Lorne was an extension of me, about the songs and the entertainment, coupled with an "it's not easy being green" empathy. His wielding a gun and killing Lindsey when he used to be the owner of a violence-free zone at Keritas seemed like a horror worse than the dragon that flew down the alley toward what was left of our Angel Investigations-turned-Wolfram and Hart employees.
So I should have been expecting it for Serenity. But no, my heart learned to forget, and I expected that all the heroes would live through the final battle. Or at least die and be resurrected. But instead, Joss injected some reality: in a life-and-death battle, there are usually casualties. And sometimes, they're not the people doing the fighting on the front lines. Usually, they don't see it coming, so there are no Master Thespian opportunities for prolonged death scenes. (Actually, there is one such scene in Serenity--which I think was somehow filmed on Tatooine--but somehow I found its presence less disruptive than the other shocking death that followed, and the appalling lack of mourning reactions from most of the crew.)
These particular two deaths will undoubtedly also spark huge blogdiscussion about how a sequel or prequel would even be possible. But for now, I'm going to leave that debate to the Browncoats around the world, because they have greater patience, internet resources and rumors, and apparently, trust funds that enable endless speculation about not-yet-considered sequels when the rest of us have huge rents to pay...
Technically, the movie was wonderful. Glad that I had fastidiously avoided all reviews and spoilers in advance of my screening, I was able to thoroughly enjoy the rapid-fire banter, fast-paced action sequences and more intense character moments. The moments that recalled Star Trek (rebirthing planets) and Star Wars (all I'm going to say is, "Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru") seemed more lovingly worshipful than they did derivative.
Glad that I saw it. Even glad I saw it early, with others as passionate as I. But did my soul feel cheated and empty by the end? A resounding and wistful yes. That requires me to re-rent the series. Or beg for someone to buy it off my wishlist (conveniently located in the left column of this blog).
One other account available here: Dawn Summers. Read it if you'd like to hear every last detail of what it was like to be at that screening with us. Or at least, if you'd like to hear Dawn's version of every last detail of what it was like to be at that screening with us...