High- and low-brow cultural goings-on in the Second City, brought to you by a roving microtechnoanthropologist

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Thursday, May 05, 2005

Serenity: The Experience & The Movie

So M and I just returned from viewing the rough cut of Serenity. The whole evening is really brought to you by a grant from M's employer. There's no fucking way that he would normally have been awake before my 8:30 class to see that the tickets were on sale, let alone ring in soon enough to get two. However, on that day of days, the Overlord did, in fact, call a three-hour, all-IT meeting held on fucking gymnasium bleachers, starting at 8 AM. That's 6 AM PST, where the rest of M's group is.

We had dinner reservations at 6:30. On the way, the M expressed fear that there would be costumes in the crowd. I pointed out my stylish brown coat and he rolled his eyes. Had I been thinking ahead, I'd have totally done Shepherd Book hair. And you know I could.

We finished up dinner around 8:30 and made our way back to the theatre. A handful of desperate souls were holding up signs begging "one ticket" "two tickets" and so on. We printed our tickets out at the kiosk and got in the back of a pretty substantial line, inadvertantly stepping in front of a lone dork on a cell phone who clearly had had a ticket foisted on him on the premise that he represented a "normal" "nonfan" or something. You can see why we were confused.

There were a fair number of brown coats, of course, and good representation on the Wash Hawaiian shirt front. A group of three guys had black suits and blue gloves, which sparked questions from the concession staff, it seems:

Employee:Are you here for a preview or something?

Hands o' Blue Guy: Uh . . . yeah?

M: No, he's just REALLY germ phobic.

One enterprising soul behind us had a great Mal face on a stick (uh, like one of those Baptist Lady fans, not like a pike). Ahead of us were two great full-color, full-size stand ups of Mal and (I think) Zoe. An extremely geeky guy a few people ahead of is in line wandered around taking photos of the crowd, blinding people with his flash.

Two incredibly ancient ladies wandered on down the line and handed out surveys. One side was basic demographic information and expectations/level of fandom. The other was meant to be filled out after the movie.

When we got there, I needed to use the bathrooms, all of which were above on the theatre level. The ticket taker assured me that they were letting people in "in about 5 minutes." This was perfectly true; however, they were only letting in about 25 at a time. They're lucky I don't have my father's bladder.

As we made it upstairs, private security folk asked us to turn off cell phones and checked our bags. They had confiscated at least one video camera along the way. Some other nice folk handed us pretty card stock with the title logo and checked our tickets again. Nearer the door, they marked our stubs and gave us logo keychain.

There were two seats in the last row before the break (stadium seating), near the end, and we snapped them up. Others seemed to be avoiding the front section, but thy were more or less where we would've sat given our druthers anyway. I spotted about 4 or 5 Inaras in the crowd, ranging from a vague brocade tank, long skirt and shawl to an obviously hand-sequinned get up, and a third individual with a nasty blonde poodle wig that Michael Landon would've turned his nose up at. Two of the Inaras were also with someone in a very creditable Simon get up, as we saw walking out at the end.

Someone, possibly a high-level Browncoat, announced that she had thank you cards going around for someone at Miramax (?) and another for the owners of the theatre. Those never happened to make their way around to us, so I hope no one embarassed themselves in print.

Before the movie itself, there was a short intro by The Man himself. Schlumpy as ever, he thanked the fans for their commitment and joked about how crazy it is that the film got made at all. It was funny. It was touching. It was Joss, and oh how I've missed him.

The movie itself? It was . . . I don't really have words for it. Excellent, remarkable, wonderful. They all sound a bit cool and reserved. I loved it as much as I loved the best episodes of the series, and then I loved it a lot more than that. I hadn't watched the trailer, and I guess I hadn't really formed any expectations of it. I think part of the reason for that is that I loathed the ending of Angel so thoroughly, I was afraid to form any. But this isn't my first fandom barbecue. I've lived through the Major Motion Picture stage before. And while I walked out of the theatre after MST: The Movie with an affectionate, fuzzy glow, I needed to make allowances. I needed to talk myself into being thoroughly enchanted with it. No work was required on my part with Serenity. I was very nearly as much of a wreck as I was after Chosen aired.

Ok, I just watched the trailer. It seems to have been made with Matrix fans in mind and with an eye to satisfying SciFi fans who are driven crazy by the lack of food pills and neurotoxic blasters---those who consider the persistence of ballistic weapons in the future to be an affront to the entire concept of human cultural and biological evolution (don't get me started). On that level, the marketing worries me somewhat.

One complaint that I've seen regarding trailer is "It makes the movie seem like 'The River Show'." I'm not sure I see that, but then again, I've just seen the movie. It's emphatically not "The River Show." It's beautifully, gloriously, deliberately not "The River Show."

I admit that River was never my favorite part of the series (on the front of the survey the only things I didn't check as reasons for coming to see it were "Summer Glau" and "Morena Bacarin." No big hate-on there, they just were never key to my enjoyment). That said, the movie fleshes out River's story extensively, and that's a plus. Summer Glau gets more of a chance to act and the Crazy Waif thing is not so overwhelming on the big screen. But the River Show becomes triumphantly trivial, bordering on irrelevant, as the plot unfolds around her story.

In some ways, the series is about the liminal, the marginal. Our heroes are interesting, powerful, sexy, and dangerous because of the lives they live between outposts. But that time and space they occupy---ritually charged and crackling with possibility as it is---must be transitory by nature. If it's not, it traps them, disempowering, disenfranchising, rendering them rootless and without purpose. It's postcolonial, postmodern, and fucking brilliant.

I don't if people at Fox blanched when Joss pitched a show with 8 main characters on a space ship. I sure as shit know I would've. Is every last one of them really necessary? In a very practical sense, why is each and every one of these characters here? In some ways, I'm not sure that question could really have been answered as expertly, thouroughly, and beautifully as it is in the movie.

That doesn't mean that I don't want to cut every last one of the motherfuckers who canceled this show. It doesn't mean that rootless wandering, occasional respite, and brilliant intervals of power and transformation shouldn't have gone on for at least another 12,000 episodes. But sweet jeebus is the movie a practical and existential payoff for the superficially cliched ragtag band of misfits. Can't stop the signal indeed. It's not the medium, it's the message.

Dialogue-wise, this movie works and works and works some more. There are a few spots where I can see Mal's Western-speak jangling peoples' nerves, but overall, I think this and the Chinese have been worked into the fabric of it with a bit more finesse than in the series (or, again, it may be a big screen/small screen thing). It's hilarious and touching in near-perfect balance.

The pacing, overall, is good. I'd have liked to see more of "Haven." I'm greedy for a lot more of Shepherd Book in this overall, but I also think seeing our heroes at rest and play would underscore the bonds among them that are always there, however strained they may get. I don't need convincing, but I think a more casual viewer might.

On a similar note, the M and I both wondered whether the relationships within the crew were made apparent enough. To me Zoe and Wash were very clearly established as a couple from the beginning, but he felt that a bit of elaboration was needed. In retrospect, I think this cut relied a bit too much on Zoe/Mal shorthand maybe without clearly establishing the "forged in a hopeless battle" nature of their relationship.

For as nonfocal as Inara was in the movie, the romantic subtext between here and Mal went a long way toward humanizing him. I'm torn between feeling that his solo mission to "rescue" her was a plotting mistake that took too much time away from the rest of the crew and again with the team spirit and knowing that we needed to see the well-oiled (ahem) Mal-and-Inara machine (a la Shindig) to show the potential for more than just sexual tension between them.

But how does it look, people will want to know, as I'm told that these moving pictures are a visual medium. Fantastic, in my opinion. The main set is the same old Serenity, but good use is made of the additional budget to show us more of it as a home: Mal's quarters are not so bare; there's a funky lounge-like space, and we get to see them living their lives. The Alliance spaces are nicely done (and, yes, I'm a sucker, I love the still hologram with Action!River and Action!Simon). The planetside spaces where whackiness inevitably ensues are still dusty low-down dives, but they've got just enough shiny Bladerunner squalor to bring things up to big screen snuff.

The big battle scenes rocked. The Reaver fleet winking into existence was probably telegraphed from a mile away, but I was too caught up to not gasp when they did. The harpoon-like weapons they use were visually way cool and made for a nice variation on the balls-out space battle.

So are there any flaws? Any at all? Well, I can see an argument to be made regarding The Operative. The actor is great and many of his scenes are a treat. He and Nathan Fillion play off one another extremely well. However, I'm not sure he's developed as well as he needs to be, given that he's the one with his finger on the big red button. The ideas are all there, but they're presented in a bit of a simplistic rush. That's less of a problem if he's going to be finished off in a big moment (although I think it would tremendously dampen the impact of Mal's actions specifically and the whole crew's existential purpose more broadly if he were), but given that he's slated to survive the movie, his practical and philosophical framework need to be constructed a bit more deftly.

M says that people were arguing about there being sound in space. I honestly don't recall hearing sound in space. I also don't give a rat's ass about it. As to where the placeholder effects and music are, again, I was far too caught up everything to really notice, so there are bound to be technical holes that others will see.

In short, I cannot fucking wait for September. In the meantime, I'll be in my bunk constructing my pink froo froo Kaylee costume for the real premiere.

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