Serenity is a 2005 science-fiction film written and directed by Joss Whedon. It is set in the universe of the canceled Fox science fiction television series Firefly, taking place a few months after the events of the final episode. Like the television series that spawned it, Serenity is a science fiction Western, using elements of both genres. The film was released in the US on September 30, 2005.
Set 500 years in the future, Serenity is the story of the captain and crew of a transport and cargo ship. Their lives of petty crime are interrupted by a psychic passenger who carries a dangerous secret.
Joss Whedon, the Oscar- and Emmy-nominated writer/director responsible for the worldwide television phenomena of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, now applies his trademark compassion and wit to a small band of galactic outcasts 500 years in the future in his feature film directorial debut, Serenity.
Jane Espenson, one of the writers of Buffy and Firefly, announced in June 2003 at a Buffy convention in the UK that Whedon was writing a script for a Firefly movie. Actors Nathan Fillion and Adam Baldwin confirmed this on the official Firefly forum, as did Whedon in several interviews. Universal Studios acquired the movie rights to Firefly.
On March 2, 2004, according to an article in Variety, the movie was officially greenlighted to enter production with a $40 million budget. Principal photography started on June 3, 2004. Joss Whedon said that the film would be released as Serenity, in order to differentiate it from the TV series. All nine principal cast members from the television series (Adam Baldwin, Alan Tudyk, Gina Torres, Jewel Staite, Morena Baccarin, Nathan Fillion, Ron Glass, Sean Maher, and Summer Glau) returned for the movie.
The entire Firefly set had to be rebuilt from scratch for the film, using frozen images from the Firefly DVD set. ZOIC, the CG-rendering company that produced the graphics for the series, also had to perform a complete overhaul of their computer model of Serenity, as its television model would not stand up to high-definition cinema screens (and future HD DVD resolution). The set for the failed colony, Miranda, was filmed on location at Diamond Ranch High School in Pomona, California. (The building into which the Alliance ship is crashed is the DRHS Band and Orchestra's rehearsal room.)
On September 17, 2004 Joss Whedon announced on the movie's official site that shooting had been completed.
- "Earth-that-was could no longer sustain our numbers, we were so many. We found a new solar system - dozens of planets and hundreds of moons. Each one terraformed - a process taking decades, to support human life, to be new earths. The Central Planets formed the Alliance. Ruled by an interplanetary parliament, the Alliance was a beacon of civilization. The savage outer planets were not so enlightened and refused Alliance control. The war was devastating, but the Alliance's victory over the Independents ensured a safer universe. And now everyone can enjoy the comfort, and enlightenment of true civilization."
The resources of Earth have been depleted. Humanity has moved to another star system and terraformed many of the planets. All the planets are controlled by the supposedly peace-loving, but actually authoritarian, Alliance. A frontier justice still holds sway farther from the "core planets", where outlaws like the crew of Serenity can scrape out a living if they keep clear of Alliance forces and the Reavers, savage and cannibalistic humans who dwell beyond the outer planets and raid the Alliance worlds around the rim.
The film opens with Simon Tam (Sean Maher) in the process of breaking his sister River (Summer Glau) out of an Alliance facility where she is being experimented upon. After the pair escape into a ship, the adventure is revealed to be a recording being viewed by the Operative, an Alliance agent working on behalf of Parliament with unspecified (but clearly very great) authority and responsibility.
After a brief discussion between the Operative and one of the doctors in charge of the Alliance facility, the Operative accuses the doctor of allowing vital government information to fall into dangerous hands, alluding to River's psychic "gleaning" of Alliance officials who monitored her in person. The Operative quickly kills the doctor's bodyguards with an archaic sword. The doctor himself attempts to flee, but the Operative paralyzes him with a pressure-point blow to the side of his chest, and lets him fall on the upraised sword. He begins his search for the Tam siblings.
Sometime later, Serenity is on the way to another job; however, the ship is badly in need of repair, and the primary buffer panel comes loose from the bow of the ship in the heat of atmospheric re-entry. In order to earn her continued passage, River accompanies Captain Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), Jayne (Adam Baldwin), and Zoë (Gina Torres) on a mission to steal the payroll of an outer planet security company financed by the Alliance. After a rough landing during which pieces of the ship fall off, the crew pulls off the robbery, narrowly avoiding capture by a Reaver raiding party when River is able to telepathically sense their approach. Wash (Alan Tudyk), the ship's pilot (and Zoë's husband) brings the ship to intercept the crew's surface vehicle, saving the crew from a grisly fate.
Simon, now the crew's doctor (and the obvious crush of mechanic Kaylee (Jewel Staite)), angrily reacts to the captain's willingness to put his younger sister in such danger. Captain Reynolds responds by suggesting they leave at the next planet they land on, Beaumonde (a planet they were on their way to in "Our Mrs. Reynolds"), where the crew plans to sell their loot. Simon agrees. The Tams do indeed disembark at Beaumonde, but rejoin the crew at a bar, the Maidenhead where the captain will haggle with their clients. After staring transfixed at an advertisement broadcast for Fruity Oaty Bars, River suddenly attacks the bar's patrons. Despite being a 90 pound (41 kg) girl, she manages to beat up everyone without so much as a scratch on herself, including incapacitating Jayne, and is about to shoot Captain Reynolds when Simon arrives and shouts a phrase in Russian, causing her to fall asleep.
Simon explains to the captain that, during her captivity by the Alliance, she was trained and conditioned to become an assassin. The only thing (short of death) that can stop her once this conditioning has been triggered is the "safe word" he uttered. Despite knowledge of this new danger and his anger at not being told about the possibility of carrying a potential living weapon, the captain allows Simon and River to continue traveling on Serenity.
The crew contacts Mr. Universe, a reclusive techno-geek who dwells with his robotic wife on a planet surrounded by an opaque ion cloud. After watching the security camera footage of the bar on Beaumonde, Mr. Universe discovers that River's outburst was triggered by a subliminal message in a seemingly harmless cartoon advertisement that had been broadcast all over the Alliance during the previous weeks. He tells the crew that before her attack, River had whispered the name "Miranda." He also notes that the footage has been viewed by someone else with high Alliance clearance.
Fearing Alliance pursuit, the crew takes refuge in the Haven mining colony with Shepherd Book (Ron Glass), a priest who once traveled with Serenity's crew. Book warns Mal that the Alliance agent pursuing River is likely to be an "Operative" and very dangerous. Shortly thereafter, the captain receives a call from Inara (Morena Baccarin), another former passenger. Their conversation is awkward but pleasant enough — with no arguing — leading Mal and Zoë to conclude that it's a trap, but they decide to visit Inara anyway, as she is clearly in some danger. Mal's fears are realized; Inara is being manipulated by the ruthless and nameless Alliance Operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor). The Operative offers to let the captain go on his way if he turns River over to him, but thanks to Inara's quick thinking, she and the captain escape the Operative and return to Serenity, which takes off undetected.
Another of River's outbursts shows the crew the meaning of "Miranda". It is the name of an outer rim planet, which had once been inhabited but was thought to be wiped out in a terraforming accident. River had subconsciously learned something mysterious about the planet when she came in telepathic contact with a member of the Alliance Parliament during her training. Traveling to Miranda to learn more would require crossing Reaver territory, which the crew members agree would be suicide, so instead Serenity returns to Haven and Shepherd Book.
On arrival, the crew discovers that the outpost has been ravaged by Alliance forces, its inhabitants killed. Mal finds Book, who has shot down the attacking ship; mortally wounded, he dies in Mal's arms. Several other outposts that had harbored Serenity in the past have also been destroyed. Captain Reynolds receives a message from the Operative claiming responsibility, and promising more of the same until River is turned over.
Mal comes out and orders that Serenity be remodeled to look like a Reaver ship, which involves painting and mutilating the hull, making a dangerous modification to the engine to leak radiation, arming the weaponless cargo vessel with the settlers' cannon, and tying the bodies of the dead settlers to the prow. Everyone protests, but Mal furiously informs them that they can either do what he says or leave the ship now. Serenity, now painted red and looking far more menacing, leaves for Miranda. Sneaking through a fleet of Reaver vessels, the ship finally reaches the other side without incident.
Upon reaching Miranda, the crew discovers a normal, terraformed planet with a completely habitable earth-like environment — but the sprawling cities that dot the planet's surface are empty. Inside the buildings and cars are badly decomposed corpses, without apparent cause of death. There are no signs of violence or disease. It is as if the people simply died.
The crew discover a log recorded by an Alliance search and rescue team after the disaster. According to the log, the Alliance administered the chemical substance G-23 Paxilon Hydrochlorate, or simply "Pax", to the populace. It was supposed to suppress aggression and thus render the planet free of violence. An unfortunate side effect was that the populace had stopped working, eating, or indeed caring about anything. They simply gave up on life and died in their newfound nonaggressive state. However, approximately a tenth of a percent of the population — some 30,000 persons — had the opposite reaction to the drug. Becoming extremely aggressive and mentally unstable, they mutilated their own bodies and became cannibalistic; a group of them raped, killed, and ate the researchers, one such attack even being recorded on video. They eventually left the planet and became the Reavers. Thus, the Alliance was responsible for the creation of this menace. This also explains why the Reaver territory surrounds Miranda. As the Reavers add more and more to their population, they are expanding into the "civilized" area of the solar system.
Everyone is sickened by this revelation, but none more so than Mal. This was exactly the sort of thing that the Browncoats fought to prevent: the Alliance's belief that they can make people "better"; that everyone must conform to them, regardless of the cost or consequence, and trample on self-determination. For the first time in years, Mal is moved by something greater than himself; a belief, something he thought he'd lost in the Battle of Serenity Valley.
- "This report is maybe twelve years old. Parliament buried it, and it stayed buried 'til River dug it up. This is what they feared she knew. And they were right to fear, 'cause there's a whole universe of folk who are gonna know it too. They're gonna see it. Somebody has to speak for these people.
- Y'all got on this boat for different reasons, but y'all are come to the same place. So now I'm asking more of you than I have before. Maybe all. 'Cause as sure as I know anything I know this: they will try again. Maybe on another world, maybe on this very ground, swept clean. A year from now, ten, they'll swing back to the belief that they can make people... better. And I do not hold to that. So no more running. I aim to misbehave."
The plan is to reveal this secret to all the worlds by using the transmitter equipment belonging to Mr. Universe. Unfortunately, the Operative has predicted this, and is already waiting at Mr. Universe's headquarters, along with an Alliance fleet. When just about to leave Reaver territory, Serenity opens fire upon a Reaver ship. The ensuing chase by all the nearby Reaver warships causes the previously lone Serenity to emerge from Reaver space flanked by a large force of deadly Reaver ships, while the Alliance fleet was waiting near the Reaver space with the intention to destroy Serenity. There is a massive battle between the Alliance fleet and the Reaver fleet, as Wash steers Serenity toward the planet with both the Alliance and the Reavers trying to destroy them as well as each other. During the attack, the Operative's ship is destroyed, but he flees the battle in an escape pod and follows the crew to the surface.
Serenity is followed by a Reaver ship, which fires an electro-magnetic pulse at them, disabling power. Wash is able to restore emergency power at the last minute and effect a crash landing. While Serenity suffers massive damage including having one of its engines torn off, it looks like the crew is out of danger. As everyone begins to relax, a Reaver harpoon suddenly smashes through the window, impaling Wash, who dies instantly. There is no time to mourn, and Mal pulls Zoë away from Wash's dead body, barely saving her from another harpoon fired by the Reavers into the cockpit. Fleeing Serenity to continue their assumed mission of getting the word out about Miranda, the crew decides to set up a last stand in a small corridor to hold off the Reavers and give Mal the time he needs to make way to Mr. Universe and transmit the message.
Mal arrives to find Mr. Universe has been killed. However, before he died, he was able to leave a pre-recorded message with his robotic wife which informs Mal that there is a secondary transmitter in another area of the complex. Meanwhile, the crew is losing ground to the Reavers and is forced to retreat when Zoë and Kaylee are injured. The Operative arrives on the planet and runs into the robotic wife, who repeats the message, informing him where the secondary transmitter is. The crew try to close the blast door, but it does not close completely. This buys them some time, but when Simon, the doctor, is hit by a stray bullet, there is no one to tend to the injured. He tells them he needs his medical bag which he left on the other side of the door. River dives through the gap in the blast door, throws the medical kit back through and closes the door to protect the crew before being swarmed by Reavers.
Mal reaches the second transmitter and finds that it is inconveniently located on a platform surrounded by a large drop. He is about to attempt to reach the platform when the Operative shows up. They have a stand-off, which results in Mal being quicker on the draw and shooting the stun gun out of the Operative's hand. Mal then attempts to reach the transmitter, but the Operative follows him. A fight begins between the two men, with the Operative employing the same pressure point that killed the Alliance doctor at the opening of the film — however, in Mal's case, that particular nerve cluster fell victim to a piece of shrapnel during the war, and Mal had it moved.
Mal doesn't kill the Operative, and instead disables him with a similar move and leaves him trussed up to watch the recording from Miranda. Returning to the crew, he is informed that River was trapped on the other side of the blast door with the Reavers — presumably killed. The door opens a moment later to reveal River, standing with her head bowed around a roomful of dead Reavers. After a moment, Alliance troops blow in the wall behind her and enter, but instead of giving permission to shoot her, the Operative orders the squad to stand down.
After the crew buries the bodies of their friends Mr. Universe, Shepherd Book, and Wash on Haven, the crew patches up Serenity in a repair yard on the planet Persephone. Just as they are ready to leave, the Operative makes his own exit, telling Mal that the Alliance has been weakened and promising him they will never encounter each other again. In the payoff to a subplot from both the series and the film, Simon and Kaylee finally make love. Zoë tells Mal that "she's tore up plenty, but she'll fly true," ostensibly referring to the ship but also describing her own state, and Serenity heads back into outer space, with Mal in Wash's seat at the helm, and River acting as his copilot. The final shot shows the ship flying off triumphantly, until a random piece of metal (presumably the primary buffer panel from earlier in the film) flies from the back of the ship and hits the camera, prompting the movie's final line from Mal: "What was that?"
In addition to traditional advertising methods, Universal sought a few unique approaches to promoting the film. Hoping to generate buzz through early word-of-mouth, Universal launched an unprecedented 3-stage campaign to sneak-preview the movie in 35 US cities where the television series had earned high Nielsen Ratings. The first stage of screenings was held in 10 cities on May 5, 2005. The second stage, held on May 26, 2005, added an additional 20 cities and was also the source of controversy when individual theatres began selling tickets before the official announcement was released, leading some shows to be sold out before being announced. The third round of screenings, with an additional 5 cities, was held on June 23, 2005. The screenings proved a success, with all three stages selling out in less than 24 hours, the second-stage screening in DC sold out in a mere 22 minutes and the second screening in Phoenix sold out in 8.
Australian audiences were the first outside North America to get preview screenings. After an exclusive Sydney test screening, Melbourne held a public screening on July 21, 2005. This was followed by a film festival screening on the Gold Coast on July 22. Public preview screenings were held in Adelaide and Sydney on August 1, and Perth on August 4. Further screenings were held in Victoria, Tasmania, and Queensland in late August. A showing of the finished film billed as the "Gala Premiere" was held at the Edinburgh International Film Festival on August 22, followed by an interview with Whedon the next day, and preview screenings across the United Kingdom and Ireland on August 24, in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Dublin. Several of the screenings in all the countries featured the attendance of Joss Whedon and the film's cast, followed by a Q&A session with the audience. Whedon also attended two Q&A sessions after sold-out screenings of the finished film in Melbourne and Sydney on September 12 and 13.
Universal also utilized a viral marketing campaign, producing five short videos that were released on the internet between August 16 and September 5. These short films, known as the "R. Tam sessions," depicted excerpts of counselling sessions with the character River Tam while she was being held at a "learning facility" known only as "The Academy". The counsellor in these sessions is played by Joss Whedon himself. Taking place before the events of the film or the television series, the videos shed some light on the experiments and torture "The Academy" conducted on River. They "document" her change from a shy child prodigy to the mentally unstable character of the television series. One aspect of River's psyche often overlooked is that once the secret of Miranda came out, she no longer was unstable. Presumably, the visit of the Alliance officials happened during these sessions.
On October 5, 2005, Universal also made the first nine minutes of Serenity available online. A browser plugin allowed the viewer to see the opening of the film in full-screen broadcast quality (bandwidth permitting). The clip was removed a few weeks later.
- 2005-09-29 The Netherlands (browncoats.nl)
- 2005-09-30 Canada and the USA (serenitymovie )
- 2005-11-02 Belgium and France (IMDb)
- 2005-11-04 Sweden, and the UK (IMDb)
- 2005-11-10 Australia (IMDb)
- 2005-11-11 Finland (IMDb)
- 2005-11-17 Argentina (IMDb)
- 2005-11-24 Czech Republic (IMDb)
- 2005-11-24 Germany (IMDb)
- 2005-12-02 Norway (filmweb.no)
Critical and popular receptionEdit
Awards Serenity won film of the year awards from Film 2005 and FilmFocus. It also won IGN Film's Best Sci-Fi, Best Story and Best Trailer awards and was runner up for the Overall Best Movie (Batman Begins received first place). Won the 7th annual 'User Tomato Awards' for best Sci-Fi movie of 2005 at Rotten Tomatoes. It also won Nebula Award for Best Script for 2005. More recently Serenity won the 2006 viewers choice Spacey Award for favourite movie.
Serenity received mostly positive reviews from film critics, with a "fresh" rating of 81% from the movie review website Rotten Tomatoes, which compiles reviews from a wide range of film critics. Ebert & Roeper gave the film "Two Thumbs Up," and The San Francisco Chronicle called it a triumph, while The New York Times described it as a modest but superior science fiction film.
However, some reviewers felt the film was unable to overcome its television origins, and did not successfully accomplish the transition to the big screen. USA Today wrote that "the characters are generally uninteresting and one-dimensional, and the futuristic Western-style plot grows tedious" while Variety declared that the film "bounces around to sometimes memorable effect but rarely soars".
Despite critical acclaim and Internet buzz, Serenity performed modestly at best at the box office. Although several pundits predicted a #1 opening, the film opened at #2 in the United States, taking in $10.1 million its first weekend, spending two weeks in the top ten, and totalling a box office gross of $25.5 million. Movie industry analyst Brandon Gray described Serenity's box office performance as "like a below average genre picture".
Serenity's international box office results were mixed, with strong openings in the UK, Portugal and Russia, but poor results in Spain, Australia, France and Italy. Universal International Pictures cancelled the film's theatrical release in at least seven countries, planning to release it directly to DVD instead. The box office income outside the United States was $13.3 million, with a worldwide total of $38.8 million, slightly less than the film's $39 million budget, which doesn't include the promotion and advertising costs. The film's creators and supporters are hoping that strong DVD sales, similar to those of the Firefly television series, may lead to a sequel production. As of 2006, Joss Whedon himself has stated in at least one online interview that because of lackluster box-office performance, Serenity will not see a sequel. [source?]
(From IMDb.com. Subject to change.)
- Nathan Fillion as Capt. Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds
- Gina Torres as Zoë Warren
- Alan Tudyk as Hoban 'Wash' Washburn
- Morena Baccarin as Inara Serra
- Adam Baldwin as Jayne Cobb
- Jewel Staite as Kaylee Frye
- Sean Maher as Dr. Simon Tam
- Summer Glau as River Tam
Notes and referencesEdit
- ↑ Serenity at the [[wikipedia:Edinburgh International Film Festival|]]
- ↑ Reel Life: Joss Whedon Live Onstage Interview at the Edinburgh International Film Festival
- ↑ R_Tam_Sessions_Full.mov (The site's FAQ states that it was not involved with the making of these videos in any way.)
- ↑ http://video.vividas.com/CDN1/3929_Serenity/web/index.html
- ↑ Films Of The Year at [[wikipedia:BBC|]]
- ↑ Serenity at [[wikipedia:FilmFocus|]]
- ↑ The Best of 2005. IGN Film.
- ↑ Serenity (2005) at Rotten Tomatoes
- ↑ Hartlaub, Peter (2005-09-30). 'Serenity' earns director Whedon spot on sci-fi's Mount Rushmore. San Francisco Chronicle.
- ↑ Dargis, Manohla (2005-09-30). Scruffy Space Cowboys Fighting Their Failings. New York Times.
- ↑ Karger, Dave (2005-09-29). Back in Commission. Entertainment Weekly.
- ↑ Gray, Brandon (2005-09-29). BOX OFFICE FORECAST. Box Office Mojo.
- ↑ Box Office Forecast. Box Office Report.
- ↑ Serenity (2005) - Daily Box Office. Box Office Mojo.
- ↑ Gray, Brandon (2005-10-17). 'Fog' Tops Soggy Weekend. Box Office Mojo.
- ↑ Serenity (2005) - International Box Office. Box Office Mojo.