Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Italian Job Heads West, Up, And Away

I'm running low on superlatives to describe Joss Whedon's new movie Serenity, object of an opening-night family excursion at the weekend. Whedon wearing his Buffy- and Angel-creating hats has put in most of the snappiest dialogue on TV in the last few years... i.e., anything that didn't come from ex-West Wing Aaron Sorkin or the Green Wing team. First-among-equals captain Malcolm Reynolds (take a bow, Nathan Fillion) is getting compared to Han Solo pretty much everywhere, and there's no question that his crew of freebooters would flatten the Millennium Falcon lot on the off-chance they went all Feltham High Street round the back of the cantina.

Serenity's equal parts sf, heist caper and western, and only made it to the screen because its prequel TV show Firefly got pulled, and Joss Whedon doesn't appreciate being interrupted. (Apparently the movie heads where Firefly would have gone by the finale of season 2.) The Big Idea with Firefly was to make an honest-to-goodness cowboys-sheriffs-and-saloons western, which just so happens to take place in the 26th century long after we've evacuated this solar system. We're talking way out West. And believe it or not from a guy whose TV heritage is squarely Monsters Inc, there's not a bloodsucker, flying saucer or little grey in sight: for once with Whedon, the human capacity for evil is more than enough.

Western TV's been a growth industry recently (qv. the potty-mouthed Deadwood, unhelpfully showing on Sky One here), so Firefly should have landed on its feet. Still, TV's loss was cinema's gain, and at least no-one's had to wait a year and a half to find out why the planetary Alliance (funny how there's always an Alliance) couldn't let psychic ex-agent River and her doctor brother get away. The western-sf fusion was an idea waiting to happen, now that it's a film-studies commonplace that all the spacefaring science fiction is just the next episode of Americans vs. The Big Bad Frontier.

I enjoy not-particularly-intelligent, blowing-up-very-big-things-and-getting-away-with-it sf movies as much as the next woman (and sometimes more, if I've got a good reason). Serenity, on the other hand, is in a different class, unless you're trying to fill up a Movie Cliché Bingo scorecard (I'll excuse Whedon his Spiderman-style action-scene one-liners, since most of them were his in the first place); in fact the longest foray into cliché-land is its ostentatiously setting up the sequel. Do I hear the word trilogy...?

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