Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Review of the Tuesday Screening of Serenity

Either you get why cowboys in space are cool or you don’t. It’s just that simple. If you need to make a decision on if you should see Serenity or not, then that’s the question you’re going to have to ask. There are some who will groove on the mixed up pop culture jambalaya that makes up the world of Firefly. For them, the mixture of Mandarin curses, evil space empires, cute girls, tough guys, six shooters and space ships clicks, and for them Joss Whedon made this movie.

Serenity is a movie based on the canceled television show Firefly. The show was created by Joss Whedon, best known for bringing Buffy the Vampire slayer to life. It’s the story of a jaded space captain who was on the losing side of a civil war. Picking up the pieces after the war, Captain Mal Reynolds assembled a crew, found a ship and set off to make a dollar any way he could. Along the way he picked up a young girl on the run from the government, and her brother. The actors from the television show resume their roles, and story picks up where he had left it. Browncoats, as fans of the show call themselves, helped to keep the show alive, and if pop culture wasn’t broken, it never would have happened.

The tragic flaw of pop culture is that in the digitized, on-demand world of the twenty first century, no aspect of culture is really all that popular. It hasn’t been for years. Gone are the days where a generation might find a voice in a single band, like the Beatles or where a nation might all tune in to see who shot JR or how Mary Tyler Moore is going to end. "Popular" is no longer 75% of a generation, but instead only a small part. What we have in it's place is a post-post modern culture where every individual finds his or her own voice, and what resonates for them will either bore or repulse the person down the street. It’s a culture built upon the trash heap of a hundred years of American culture, where we all scavenge bits and pieces that we find shiny, and assemble something cool out of the results. Writer and director Joss Whedon is the personification of a broken pop culture. He’s also an example of why a broken pop culture isn’t a bad thing at all.

The mind of Joss Whedon is the mind of “geek culture”. It’s a world that’s created when you grow up on comic books, Star Wars, the information age and television. It’s a world where you can be ironic, campy, deep and shallow, and sometimes all of them at once. It’s a world where you have all the accumulated knowledge of the human race at your fingertips, but odds are you’re just going to use it to debate the meaning of what Han Solo meant when he said that he “made the Kessel Run in under twelve parsecs”. It’s a world where you can make television shows about vampires or cowboys in space, yet even if you can't take the subject matter seriously, you can still find the emotional center of the characters and tell a story that’s as deep as anything you’ll find in “high culture”.

Serenity is all these things. If you’re on the same wavelength as Joss you’ll laugh, cry, be scared and be entertained. It’s a movie that will shift its gears in a heartbeat, and if you’re not hanging on to the concept it’ll knock you right off. Those people who stay on will be rewarded. Serenity is shock and awe, and somehow it manages to be something better than it really should be. Still, if you didn’t have a love of both space battles and cowboys in the first place, there’s no way you’ll make it to the end of the line.

Audience reaction in Buffalo was a strange thing. Everyone laughed together. Everyone jumped in fright together. Everyone cheered together, and yet by the time the credits rolled everyone had a different reaction. Some walked out in disgust. Some scratched their head. Some cheered. Like some bizarre cinematic Rorschach test, how you feel about the movie may depend more upon how you view the material than the quality of the material itself.

Universal may have made a brilliant decision by inviting bloggers to the review. It’s really the perfect medium to review a movie where the perception of it hinges so much on the individual. It’s a movie for a segmented audience, so a segmented media might be the perfect place to advertise it.

Will you like the movie? Who knows. Do you like sci-fi movies with cowboys?

spoilers in the comments section