Serenity (2005)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #82

They aim to misbehave.

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 119 minutes
BBFC: 15
MPAA: PG-13

Original Release: 29th September 2005 (Australia)
US Release: 30th September 2005
UK Release: 7th October 2005
First Seen: cinema, 7th October 2005

Stars
Nathan Fillion (Waitress, Super)
Summer Glau (The Initiation of Sarah, Knights of Badassdom)
Chiwetel Ejiofor (Dirty Pretty Things, 12 Years a Slave)

Director
Joss Whedon (Avengers Assemble, Much Ado About Nothing)

Screenwriter
Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Toy Story)

Based on
Firefly, a TV series created by Joss Whedon.

The Story
In the far future, a crew of renegades harbour a fugitive who knows a terrible secret about the totalitarian rulers. When a ruthless assassin comes for them, their only hope becomes to seek out the truth behind one of the regime’s darkest acts…

Our Heroes
The crew of the Firefly-class spaceship Serenity. Led by Captain Mal Reynolds, they’re a gang of rogues and thieves, but are also honourable sorts (well, mostly) forced into that life by a harsh universe. They’ve recently taken onboard Dr Simon Tam and his mysterious sister, River, who has certain skills…

Our Villains
The Operative, an efficient and moral assassin sent by the Alliance, the universe’s ruling body, to retrieve River — at any cost. But if he’s the rock then there’s also a hard place: Reavers, bloodthirsty perverted cannibals who stalk the uncharted regions our heroes will need to venture into.

Best Supporting Character
Shepherd Book, a preacher and former member of Serenity’s crew, now living on the appropriately-named planet of Haven. Has some very insightful words of advice for Mal.

Memorable Quote
“I don’t care what you believe in, just believe in it.” — Shepherd Book

Quote Most Likely To Be Used in Everyday Conversation
“Shiny” — as a synonym of “great”.

Quote Most Likely To Be Found on a T-Shirt
“I am a leaf on the wind, watch how I soar.” — Wash

Memorable Scene
After the history-lesson-within-a-dream-within-a-hologram-within-a-scene pre-titles, Whedon introduces us to the crew and their titular ship with a four-and-a-half-minute unbroken tracking shot. I do love a long single take, and this one excels by introducing us to all the main heroes, their personalities, their situations, their relationships — all at the same time — while also establishing the geography of the ship; and, by extension, the incredible set, which featured the entire interior of the ship built across just two sections (there’s an invisible cut in the middle of the shot to transition between sets).

Technical Wizardry
I created this category to highlight any elements of production that were especially striking — things like cinematography, editing, design, costumes… No offence to any of them (and considering the film was produced for a slight-for-a-sci-fi-blockbuster $40 million, they all do a super job), but the real star is Whedon’s screenplay. Packed to the gills with the literate, witty dialogue he’s famed for, it also manages to be emotionally affecting, make points about governments and their power, engage with themes of belief and the importance of freedom, and weave in a subtext that reflects the real-life story of Firefly’s death and rebirth — though Whedon claims that last one was an accident.

Letting the Side Down
The public. It didn’t gross enough; there weren’t any sequels. Damn you, mankind!

Making of
Talking of the impressive Serenity set (see: Memorable Scene), it was built in the same way for Firefly, but the blueprints were lost between Fox destroying the series’ sets and production on the movie beginning. When Nathan Fillion learnt this at a production meeting, he was able to supply the blueprints himself — he’d been so excited to be on the show, he’d taken photos of all the pre-production material he’d seen, including the set blueprints.

Previously on…
Serenity continues and, to an extent, concludes Joss Whedon’s criminally short-lived TV series Firefly. Mismarketed by US network Fox, the series wasn’t a success on original broadcast, leading to cancellation after just 11 episodes had aired. Thanks to word-of-mouth and availability on DVD, it has developed a massive following since.

Next time…
Despite the distinct and disappointing dearth of sequels, the Firefly/Serenity franchise has continued on, mostly in the form of various comic books, which have plugged gaps in continuity, revealed long-awaited character histories, and even continued the story after the movie.

Awards
1 Saturn Award (Supporting Actress (Summer Glau))
1 Saturn nomination (Science Fiction Film)
Won the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation Long Form

What the Critics Said
“With its Hawksian attention to group dynamics and its skilful definition of character through action, this supremely entertaining hybrid-movie plays like Rio Bravo in space. The textured narrative is peopled by precisely delineated characters who employ a salty retro-future-speak, in which twenty-fifth century slang is morphed with frontier Western archaisms (‘take umbrage’, ‘confound these bungers’). The settings and tone are hyper-real, yet the human behaviour is grounded and credible, the moral conflicts complex and involving. Shiny, intelligent fun.” — Nick Funnell, Time Out London

Score: 82%

What the Public Say
“We get a decent story, providing lots of action, a huge amount of wit and plenty of suspense. It’s extremely entertaining. It’s well written too, with information smartly hidden beneath breezy dialogue, and looks very cinematic. (The camerawork is often expressive and classy.) Maybe what’s most impressive is the economy. Many scenes are doing double-duty, servicing plot and character, action and exposition, drama and comedy… There’s just a sharpness to everything, which means the film rattles along and is never boring.” — Ian Farrington

Verdict

Regular readers may have picked up that I don’t re-watch films much (I can’t identify at all with people who claim to have seen the same film dozens or hundreds of times). Despite that, I saw Serenity in the cinema four times, two of them back-to-back. Such is the genius of writer-director Joss Whedon, and the quality of the Firefly universe — it’s a situation where every element just clicked to make a perfect result. (Well, every element except the original TV network, anyway.) No doubt Serenity is best viewed as a capper to the fourteen-hour TV series — that extra investment in the characters and universe makes the film’s best bits sing — but it’s accessible to newcomers also, being so cleverly structured and packed with all the information you’d need.

It was named “Film of the Year” by the BBC’s Film programme; it topped an SFX poll for the best science-fiction film of all time; and its DVD is a permanent resident on the International Space Station to entertain the crews. Cào nǐ, Fox.

#83 will… get busy living or get busy dying.

Knights of Badassdom (2013)

2014 #135
Joe Lynch | 86 mins | Blu-ray | 2.40:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

Knights of BadassdomAfter being dumped by his long-time girlfriend, Joe (True Blood’s Ryan Kwanten) is persuaded to join his friends Eric (Treme’s Steve Zahn) and Hung (Game of Thrones’ Peter Dinklage) for a weekend of fantasy LARPing — that’s Live-Action Role-Playing to you and me. But things soon go south when it turns out Eric has accidentally released a real demon onto the world, and it’s up to these wannabe-warriors — along with gamemaster Ronnie (serial guest star Jimmi Simpson), ‘warlock’ Landon (Community’s Danny Pudi), believes-it’s-real Gunther (Brett Gipson), and his cousin Gwen (Firefly’s Summer Glau) — to save everyone.

Knights of Badassdom is perhaps best known for its behind-the-scenes wrangles, which saw it taken out of director Joe Lynch’s hands and re-edited in a way he wasn’t happy with. Having been shot in 2010, and gaining some anticipation in certain circles online thanks to funny clips/trailers and general hype, by the time the edited version was released Stateside in early 2014, reception was poor. A lot of this was put down to it still not being Lynch’s cut, but I disagree for two reasons: one, I thought this version was good fun; and two, based on what I’ve read, I’m not convinced Lynch’s preferred cut would help any of the elements that might need helping.

The film as it stands is primarily a comedy. I mean, of course it is — it’s about a bunch of people who spend their weekends dressed up as knights, wizards, orcs and the like, running around in the woods pretending to fight each other with rubber swords and ‘magic’. Whether the film is respectful to this group or taking the piss out of them is a matter of perspective, as I’ve read reviews that firmly assert both sides. Generally, it seems to be people involved in LARPing who think it’s fine, and those who aren’t who think it’s being insulting, which suggests they do have a sense of humour about their inherently daft pastime. En garde!It’s a fine line to tread, and it seems to me that Knights of Badassdom manages it well. You get a sense of why people choose to do this and the fun that it can be — indeed, the final epic battle between the two factions of LARPers, complete with grand pre-fight speeches from each army’s general, and an awesome surprise, is kinda cool. Equally, the film doesn’t hold back from riffing off the sillier aspects of LARPing, including the rules of combat.

The flipside to this is the ‘real’ supernatural element: the unleashed demon that wreaks havoc, murdering innocent LARPers and eventually intruding on the aforementioned battle. This, it would seem, is where most of the cuts to Lynch’s vision have occurred. He’s a horror director, by both form and intent, and while some incredibly gruesome sights remain (a jaw is ripped off in unexpected and graphic fashion) this is apparently the element most reduced from the director’s cut. Personally, I’m fine with that. As my previous comment should imply, there’s already more than enough of it — literally, because much time in the middle of the film is wasted on the physical manifestation of the demon wandering around the woods and killing people. There’s no plot to that bit, just multiple setups for gory demises. Maybe Lynch’s version linked these better, but the impression I’ve got from interviews with him is he wants to put more gore back in.

Gorehounds are, naturally, excited for this; but as I see it, Knights of Badassdom is a comedy horror, a genre in which the emphasis falls firmly on the comedy side. There’s room for blood and guts in there, especially when used to humorous effect, but it’s not about the visceral thrills of seeing someone eviscerated — Furry D16if that’s your bag, there are plenty of films to cater for it; is a comedy about role-players really the occasion? There are elements of the film that could do with tightening up — the beginning is a little slow, as well as the issues with the middle, and towards the climax it’s sporadically jumpy in a way that makes it clear something has been excised — but just adding gore is not what this film needs to improve it.

On the bright side, the gore is at least well-realised, with a commitment to using physical effects. I’ve read several reviews that criticise this side of the film, and I just can’t understand it. There is some weak CGI, but considering the budget of the movie it’s not too bad, and it’s barely featured anyway. Besides, it’s mostly used to depict a portal to hell — how do you know a real-life portal to hell doesn’t look like cheap CGI? The practical effects are all very good, including a final form for the demon that’s a man in a suit. OK, it doesn’t look real… because it’s a bloody hell demon and those things aren’t bloody real, are they! Honestly, I don’t know what people expect from special effects sometimes — it’s not like most of the effects in $250m movies actually look real, they just look better. But I digress.

According to the most recent interview with Lynch that I’ve found, this version of Badassdom has actually sold and rented pretty well, and the distributors (who aren’t the same people who messed with his cut — it got sold on at some point) have been in touch about possibly releasing his cut. At some point we may get to find out the truth of the matter, then, but I rather suspect those who were expecting a tighter, funnier movie may be disappointed, even if those who just want more blood may be satiated.

Knights at nightAs it stands, Knights of Badassdom is an entertaining way to spend just under 90 minutes. A more restrained approach might yield a tighter movie, one that could be funnier by percentage (the trailer remains popular, and you don’t get more condensed than that), but I think it’s still well enough constructed to keep genre-minded viewers entertained.

4 out of 5

The current cut of Knights of Badassdom finally makes its way to UK DVD today, and will be on Sky Movies from Friday 27th February.