Saturday, October 08, 2005

Obligatory Serenity Review

I have a really good friend who does a mean "Comic Book Guy" impression because the stereotype just about fits him. He's about to become a high-powered NYC attorney; I don't know what this says about comic book nerds or lawyers, but one does worry. He often invites me out to movies that he's already seen but would like to increase the box office turn-out for. So, in recently, I've gone with this character to see Sin City, Batman, what was it? Begins?, and this evening, Serenity/

For the sake of those bloggish readers who are heartily sick of Serenity, I have put the rest below the fold. I don't think the full post contains any spoilers, though.
Seeing a cult film with a devout cult member has its upshots. I now know what the Whedon-fan boards are saying about the various aspects of interest in the movie--such as that one noted poster has taken to using the wise-crackin' pilot's quasi-zen line "I am a leaf in the wind" as a signature line, and that nobody has managed to find a source for the line. I was also apprised before the film that the actress playing River had been a professional ballet dancer, and so I was able to get into the many shots of her astoundingly expressive feet without feeling funny about it. I went into this movie with no back-experience in the Whedon universe--but someone was around to give me play-by-play background!

I very much enjoyed Serenity; it is high-camp space opera, with at least a couple of compelling characters. Not as many as the writer might have hoped, but at least a few. The ship captain Mel has some of the charms that Han Solo did: he is a sometimes mercenary pirate--but here he has a raffish morality as a former rebel--saddled with an impossible love and an unreliable starship. Government-trained psychic and one-woman army River is the center of the movie, but since audience sympathy for someone so exceptional is necessarily limited, the movie cleverly keeps her point of view to the sidelines, as far as could be possible.

I neither love nor hate the patented Whedon clever-banal dialogue. It's one way of going about dialogue, one a little more self-conscious than others, and it's usually finely calibrated in this movie. (Exceptions seem to show up when the plot desperately needs a transition.) Here, in general, the bantering dialogue helped to normalize the everydayness of a fantastical situation, so, in general, I'd say it created a net plus.

My only real criticism of this movie would lie in the shallowness of its world-building. I simply don't buy that in a full-length movie there wasn't room for some more explanation about the galactic media network that ends up being the major plot-mover. If there is one hacker in a totalitarian galaxy, there are probably 50,000, and a hacker culture to boot. If there is one community living off the net, there are a thousand. This underground should add up to more in the movie's than simply symbolic characters and plot-points.

My Comic Book Guy friend defended Whedon hotly on this score, claiming that Whedon was going about world-building in a radically different way, but the defense seemed to rely on the possibility of further episodes. It's funny: we met up in the Barnes & Noble SF section and both claimed a lack of interest in long-ranging SF series.

If someone turns Mieville's novels into movies, then I'll go to the mat. For now, I'm willing to say: fun space opera, worth seeing if you appreciate broken-down spaceships, and there are a few touches in the movie that suggest something much more than the pop-culture that it inhabits. Pursuing those touches, however, would take away somewhat from the pop-culture perfection that this movie has just almost attained.


Blogger rilkefan:

Mieville? Thought the first one started ok but became awful to the point that I reassessed liking the beginning...

10/11/2005 01:29:00 AM  
Blogger Jackmormon:

Ok, kiddo, you're going to have to get specific here, and quick-time.

I'll admit that Perdido St. Stn. is more generic SF than the later novels (while I recognize that "Iron Coouncil" is the break-through achievement I still prefer "The Scar," but I'll still go to bat for the first. So, would you like to pick a fight? Let's go.

10/11/2005 11:02:00 PM  
Blogger rilkefan:

Fortunately for me I can't remember PSS very well. Mostly what stands out is a sense of reading some extraordinarily pretentious self-indulgent awful sentences, a feeling of horror at the junk-yard computer cliche, a growing annoyance at the side-tracking of the something-or-other character and then revulsion at the author's use of her, and finally a scornful amusement at the hawk-guy's mawkish story. Clearly Peake was a genius, and less- or (as in this case) much-less-talented writers should not take him as a model. See Michael Moorcock's _Gloriana_ for an honorable failure in the post-Gormenghast mode.

10/12/2005 12:58:00 AM  
Blogger Jackmormon:

I'll admit that the bird-man story was the weakest link in PSS. His interior dialogue suffered the worst purple prose, and the subplot about who gets to judge his guilt didn't really hold me.

The treatment of Lin, and especially the plot-twist that just ravages her, is a much trickier proposition. It's just vicious, incommensurate, and that made it interesting to me. Mieville talked to readers appalled by Lin's fate here (scroll down to section 2.2)

What I really enjoy in Mieville's stuff is how he treats his cities as social and economic webs, although that sounds very pretentious as well. Since you obviously didn't like him at all, it's hard to see how to go to bat for him. But really, check out the later novels; The Scar has--to me--a much more compelling protagonist (b/c she's cold, proud, unlovable, and not particularly powerful), and Iron Council is just something else. Check out the Crooked Timber seminar linked to above for more sustained rah-rah-ism. Mieville's gradually been moving away from first-person pseudo-lyricism: a positive development.

I remember reading Gloriana many years ago, but perhaps I should pick it back up since I've no memory of its being particularly much of anything.

10/13/2005 05:22:00 PM  
Blogger rilkefan:

_Gloriana_ is ok - some fine sentences and bright scenes - I meant to draw the contrast. _Gormenghast_ and _Titus Groan_, whatever their frustrations, are (in my view) in another world of quality. My favorite work by Moorcock is _The Warhound and the World's Pain_, a novel that uses Moorcock's erudition and imagination in a richer way.

Anyway, ok, I'll be less closed to the Mieville idea in future.

10/15/2005 07:13:00 PM  

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