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September 28, 2005
Movie Review: Serenity

The distribution partners for the new film Serenity, the sequel to the short-lived television series Firefly, have decided to embrace the blogosphere in order to promote its movie. They asked bloggers to set up pre-release screenings across America (or to attend previously scheduled screenings) for free as long as the bloggers agreed to write about the film on their blogs. They did not demand or even suggest that the blog reviews be positive or encouraging, just to write something.

One might assume that Universal might have taken this approach for one of two reasons. The first motive that occurred to me was that the studio did not have confidence that Serenity would score with traditional critics and wanted to bypass them, which would indicate a poor effort. The other option was that the studio didn't have confidence that a sci-fi film based on a failed TV series qould find an audience in the fall season, and they wanted to get some buzz going so that a good film would not fall off the radar screen for moviegoers.

I'm happy to report that, based on the film itself, Universal must have had the second motive in mind. I never saw more than five minutes of Firefly, so I have no idea how this fits in with the series. I can tell you that this may be one of the better sci-fi films I've seen in the theaters in a long time. It has some flaws, but they remain minor and do not interfere with a movie that does not take itself too seriously but also does not kneecap itself by insulting its audience with dumb gag lines, either.

It takes a while to understand all the plot elements -- perhaps because I was unfamiliar with the series -- but the story coalesces around the sister, River, of the doctor, Simon, who rescues her froma secret facility that has programmed her for some heavy-duty purpose. A government operative (played with monstrous humanity by Chiwetel Ejiofor) sets out to get her back, which puts him on the trail of the ship Serenity. Mal decides that he must protect her, a decision that he will come to regret, but one that may also unlock a way to finally prevail against his enemies.

I won't tell you more than that; for the purposes of this review, it isn't necessary to give anything away. Very little of what follows is illogical or unbelievable, but most of it will surprise viewers. The film unpredictably navigates an incredibly complex universe, almost never allows viewers to rely on a pure good/pure evil paradigm, and puts its main characters on the line like no movie will risk in an age of focus-group testing and reliance on sequels.

Its characters do not rely on speeches and noble slogans (much), and most of them have their own sense of gallows humor that come from their own unique identity. The laughs the movie gets come honestly from realistic dialogue, from having the characters on the screen say what the audience is thinking, but avoids the "I like you, Solly, I kill you last" kind of goofiness.

In fact, the only major complaint I have with the film is its rating. The film has far too much horrific violence for a PG-13 rating. I thought it must have been an R, and only after the film ended did I discover its MPAA rating. Some of the futurespeak got on my nerves as well, but that gets less troublesome as the movie goes along.

My recommendation: Sci-fi fans will love this film. It reminds me of the best of the classics, where the purpose of all the hardware and the costumes is to remind us of our humanity and how easily it can be lost. It's good enough that many who do not normally enjoy sci-fi might find this one an exception to the rule. Don't bring the kids, though.

Back to the marketing. Power Line arranged this showing, and over 150 people came out to see it. Between then and now, John has heard from other studios that would like to have blogger pre-release screenings for their films as well. It makes a lot of sense; for a low cost, a movie that may not have a built-in audience could get some Internet momentum going for its launch. That might not mean much for an expected blockbuster, but we may see this model used more and more for the midlevel releases or those films that might develop a cult following.

Bloggers who love films may have hit upon a way to combine their passions. I say, as long as we get no pressure to praise a movie, pass the popcorn and bring on the feature film!

UPDATE: John at Power Line says that he has offers to do more of these pre-release screenings. Great! I hope I can make it to all of them. He also gives his review, although he has a number of caveats that might tend to undermine his credibility just a tad on sci-fi action films.

And yes, I did have to pay for the popcorn ...

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 28, 2005 9:44 PM

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» Serenity from The Other Corner
Serenity is a new science fiction movie, based on the short-lived TV series Firefly, that is soon to hit the theaters. Power Line authors and their readers were invited to a private screening of the new flick. Hindrocket, who admits that he is not a ... [Read More]

Tracked on September 29, 2005 6:06 AM

» Just Got Back From Seeing Serenity... from Abracadabrah
What a great film! It manages to epitomize the American foundation myth, using its power and its appeal to drive forward the thrust of the story. Superpower though we may now be in the world... [Read More]

Tracked on September 29, 2005 9:10 AM

» More Serenity Blogger Reviews from Literal Barrage
There were quite a few additional reviews of Serenity posted by bloggers over the past 24 hours. Here's a recap of the ones I've found thus far: Citizen Smash would pay $10 to see it again, even though he was a "Firefly virgin"... [Read More]

Tracked on September 29, 2005 9:44 AM

» Serenity: Bloggers Loved It from M.A.W.B. Squad
As everyone knows by now, bloggers were invited to a preview of Serenity on Tuesday night, which somehow escaped my notice prior to the event. (Not that I'm complaining. A rigorous course of anti-depressants should eventually dull the pain. It's [Read More]

Tracked on September 29, 2005 9:45 AM

» No. They’re not gonna see this coming. from A Goy and his Blog
If you’ve seen the various Serenity previews, you may have seen Captain Mal Reynolds utter that ominous line. He’s referring to the Alliance, and an artful, unexpected and fairly effective bit of misbehavin’ he and the crew of his &#... [Read More]

Tracked on September 29, 2005 1:40 PM

» Serenity REVIEW - finally! from reverse_vampyr
It's characters like that, and the history-revising tactics of the Alliance, which draw some sobering parallels with current and historical governments. Readers of this blog know I both love and hate politics, and viewers of this film will be able to... [Read More]

Tracked on September 29, 2005 4:58 PM

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