Obligatory Serenity Review
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.