Monday, October 17, 2005

I hate science fiction. I hate action movies, too. In fact, I hate pretty much any genre of film in which things explode on a regular basis. On the other hand, I love good writing, intelligent humor, postmodern genre-bending, and movies that can scare you without resorting to cheap tricks. "Serenity," Joss Whedon’s debut as a feature film director, has all of the above.

To get a few things out of the way: yes, “Serenity” is set on a spaceship. Its name supplies the movie’s title. Yes, there are cowboys in it, with horses and funny hats and old-timey dialogue. Yes, the movie also features “Reavers”, mindless zombie-like cannibals who can somehow figure out how to fly spaceships. No, that doesn't make any sense at all. But it's entertaining, and movies are ideally a form of entertainment. Whedon brings a refreshing, edgy pomo sensibility to his work, which elevates it from schlock to art. The plot is dorktacular ("sixteen-year-old girl is tortured by evil empire, becomes psychic action hero, fights space zombies; cowboys help"), but it’s self-aware, and tips its hat to every Western, space opera, and zombie movie in recent memory, while moving in directions that you’d never expect. Furthermore, I swear that you will be honestly moved by those zombie-fighting space cowboys. Things will explode, and you will care.

Whedon is a character-driven writer, and his protagonists are human in all the best senses of the word. The titular spaceship is staffed by seven people; they each have their moments, and their interactions are believably chaotic, intimate, and moving. River, the action girl, has a sweet, sheltered brother who can't stand to see her put in harm's way. Captain Reynolds, the Han Solo-esque hero, has an ex-girlfriend with intimacy issues, who just happens to be a sex worker. The other characters fit the conventions of the genres that Whedon toys with (dumb muscle, wholesome farm girl, stone-faced soldier, wacky comic relief) while they subvert them: the muscle gets the best laughs, the farm girl has a filthy mind, and the comic relief has the saddest moment of all. Stereotypes are just as much a part of science fiction as ray guns and "aliens" with prosthetic foreheads, but "Serenity" eschews all three. That’s what makes it special.

"Serenity" is in theaters now, but it's fading fast; movies like this, that take chances and thrive on word of mouth, are in danger from the moment they hit the screen. My advice: go now, and pay the insane ticket prices with glee, because movies that play to your intellect and your adrenaline are rare enough to pay full price.


Blogger Blogenfreude said...

I live in Manhattan - talk about insane ticket prices!

2:06 PM  
Blogger heather said...

You have managed to explain perfectly what makes me love Joss's writing so very much.
I love his characters. They aren't one dimensional.
I also love that he knows how to write a strong female character without making her cliche or over the top and lame.
I really hope Joss will have a very good career.

2:20 AM  

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