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June 24 2005

(SPOILER) A fairly damning indictment of Serenity over at AICN. Not the most favourable review of all time, it must be said (contains the very big spoilers btw).

There really doesnt seem to be any middling reviews, it does seem to be the case that a reviewer either loves or hates the movie.

I respectfully COMPLETELY disagree with this review. I could go on at length as to why but I don't have the energy after being up late last night attending a screening. I will say one thing, though: much - if not most - of the reviewer's problems with Serenity are based on a single, evidenceless, foundational conjecture. The reviewer, a Firefly devotee, believes - without any evidence to back him/her up - that Serenity will not appeal to those who haven't seen Firefly. Why? Because without having seen the characters develop over 15 hours, such people will not be moved, thrilled, and scared by what happens in Serenity. True, there are some enormous plot twists that have more emotional resonance if you've seen Firefly. But to the uinitiated? Serenity is still a scary, taut, thrills-laden, funny movie. No, it isn't Firefly. I don't think you need to know Firefly to have a fine old time at Serenity. It's not Firefly. It's a big-screen flick with different pacing, format, and medium demands. It's Serenity. You may be sad that Firefly is over as a series but this movie is *not* Firefly. It's Serenity. And it's superb.
Just puzzled...if he's such a Firefly fan, does he really believe that River Tam is a minor character of no importance? Sounds a little like someone went to the show with preconceptions about what would be on the screen, and when that didn't happen, was disappointed. Second-guessing Joss Whedon? Hmm :-)
Strange, I actually agree with much of what he says but I disagree with the conclusion. I think non fans will get it. Yes, he could have built up some of the characters more but he had 10 characters (including Serenity) and only 2 hours. And a story to tell. I think it will succeed.
The reviewer says that Serenity "is uncompromisingly dark--and the captain comes off as a real jackass. He is not the fun captain we expect, and he doesn’t go through a character arc to become him in the end."

Excuse me...the Captain doesn't go through a character arc? Wow. Just...Wow. Did this guy even see the movie? Mal goes through a HUGE character arc.

As for the movie being is. But, IMO, all of Joss' shows tend toward darkness. The darkness is good, it's interesting, it's real, and, most importantly, it makes the funny moments downright hilarious.

It seems to me that this guy would have rather seen a two-hour version of "The Train Job", where everything is happy and shiny at the end. It seems as if he did like the movie, but it wasn't exactly what he wanted, and now he's whining about it.
Yes, yes, HUGE character arc. I mean, ....and we were *supposed* to expect a fun captain? What series was I watching?

My mother is sooooo out of the demographic for this movie and she really liked it (and I mean, she didn't recognize Summer at the Houston screening... even after the movie was over!). Previously, she's seen maybe an hour of the entire TV series total. Seeing bits here and there of random episodes didn't give her much background. I think she remembered that Mal was the captain, and that was about it. She even told the Universal rep that the movie was funnier and lighter than she expected it to be.

If she's sold on the movie, just about anyone could get it. I think the biggest obstacle is getting people to the movie. Once their butt is in the seat, then there's a more-than-decent shot of them digging it. And that's what Universal's job is going to be.

[ edited by lalaa on 2005-06-24 16:06 ]
I keep seeing commentary on the 2nd big surprise and how unfair it is and how nobody reacted as they "should have." It makes me wonder if people were actually WATCHING the movie prior to that. I mean, dude just completed the most amazing trick of his life and then whammo. And everyone moves on because they HAVE to. If I remember correctly, the next sight gag is before everyone knows what's going on as well. Honestly, I think it's perfectly handled and wrapped up well with the Zoe/Mal conversation on the hull in the last few minutes.

As to the rest. Pffft. I don't KNOW how this will play to a general audience, but I have a good idea after taking a friend to the film last night. He said "Sci fi movies can actually have CHARACTERS. With real STORIES. And something called PLOT! I mean all the action was great, but did you see the characters?" Having seen only 2 episodes of Firefly, I'm guessing he wasn't exceptionally biased.
Very good point about the characters in Sci fi movies there, GrrAargh. I saw Sith recently and came out of the movie not caring one jot about what happened to any of the characters. The movie was all full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

If there's one thing Joss does well, it's making the audience care about his characters and they will remember them for a long time.

[ edited by Chirp on 2005-06-24 16:58 ]
ahhhhhhhhhh. must stop reading AICNS talkback-gives me reaver type impulses.

I think that the subtlety of everyones reactions to "the big suprise" goes completely over this guy head-he may have wanted weeping and gnashing etc which I think would have been pretty inappropriate considering the characters and the situation they were in
Don't want to spend my energy reading it, as far as your comments about his comments, it's suffice for me.

On the matter of appealing to non-fans public.

I think Universal should really try doing a test screening in Asia. As far as I researched, that's a huge market where, Firefly, hasn't been marketed yet. People that are Whedon fans, are also not as common in western coutries, especially, native english speaking coutries.

I've posted in another thread, that there's a not even a slight sign of Serenity, in UIP's Taiwan site. What I assume from this, is that they'll need another marketing strategy to sell the movie over there.

Of course here in South American the exposure has been little also. Fox is a cable channel over here. They did show the whole series - out of order, but they did show it - but most people are still unitiated on the Verse.

I'm not trying to get to some point here, just some random thougts to reflect on.
Problem is that this review falls in one of the same two categories all negative reviews have fallen so far: either A) someone who dislikes Joss and/or his work beforehand, or B) disgruntled fans who didn't get what they expected. (This particular review being the latter obviously) Neither of these types of people can claim to know how the mainstream audience will react because neither of them has the right mindset for it.

(And neither can I. I was a "fully satisfied fan" which is the main positive type of review so far and isn't average mainstream person either.)

I agree with other's comments on this thread that he also seems to contradict himself. Mal is indeed a little darker in the beginning of the movie (although many people seem to forget he could be pretty dark in the show as well) but that is exactly because he DOES have a character arc. There has to be a bigger contrast between the beginning and the end of the story than you usually saw in the show, which had to maintain an average status quo.

And no, River was not a 'minor character' in the show. Even there she was clearly the main force that drove the overall plot of the planned season. Well, same here. Things like this make me not all that impressed with this review since it shows a vital lack of insight to me.

And obviously, certain things will affect fans more, but that doesn't automatically mean it can't affect non-fans at all. That's a mistake I've seen other disgruntled fans make. The tension between Mal and Inara is palpable and that and the text tells you all you need to know as a newbie to the 'verse: there are strong feelings between them that are neither unknown nor truly expressed. Which really, *is* all you need to know to watch this movie. Same with the history he has with Book. I know everything about that as a fan, but if I'd not been one I still would've felt the sense of history between the characters and what it means to them. There are plenty of movies out there that don't have a show behind them that do the exact same thing, and most of them don't do it as well as here.

Another thing is that I find it odd he complains the movie 'only' works as an end to the show, while some other fans I've seen complain it was too much of a start of the story for new viewers. To me it honestly felt like it did both rather well, but...

Well, as ever, I'm curious to see truly unbiased, non-fan reviews start coming out. One thing is clear by now though: being a fan of the show makes it likely you'll enjoy this movie, but not as much of a guarantee as I personally thought.

[ edited by EdDantes on 2005-06-24 17:27 ]
I agree, GrrrAargh and ladysorcha. I my impression was that it was very respectful but not what is commonly seen in popular entertainment. Of course, last night was my first time seeing it so I am still trying to sort things out. Talk about sensory burn-out!

As far as people who do not know Firefly not being able to understand or care about the characters, I was thinking about that. The first episode of Firefly I saw was "Out of Gas" becuase some flans were trying to figure out how to introduce me to the show in a single episode (I had time constraints.) When we watched it, I did not get the same thing out of it that they did. I did not laugh as strongly in some places or at all in others, but I understood it. I liked it. I had never met the characters before, but I understood who they were supposed to be and what was going on. I think it will be the same here. I think people are going to see the movie, realize there is a lot there so they'll get the DVD's and want to watch the movie again. They will not have the same reaction as people who have seen Firefly, but it will be a good reaction.

Simon,a whole bunch of us went to see Sith a few weeks ago, and went to dinner afterwards. It was like a wake, everyone was so sad. The termanally ill patient that we had all known as a robust vibrant and unique force when we were young, had died a long lingering death. At least he had been able to check off everything he needed to do before he gave up his last breath. (Did anyone else keep having a clipboard pop up in their minds each time another item was explained. Not big with the subtlety.) My 9 year old was the only one who liked it so we all tried to be upbeat for him.

And one last thing. I've seen plenty of examples wehere someone has written a review where I would swear they were at a totally different show. A live performance of a show on Broadway for instance. The reviewer was supposedly there the same night I was. He claimed the audience did not care about the characters and was not reacting to the lead at all. I found it strange since the whole balcony was so involved that they started cheering and clapping in the middle of her song during the first Act finale. They were so loud I could not hear it. So I take with a grain of salt what reviewers say about how the audience reacted or will react to a show.

...and what Eddantes said.

[ edited by newcj on 2005-06-24 17:33 ]
OK...NOT seeing Firefly I LOVED Serenity. 'Nuff said!
Everything that EdDantes said, except to add that if you know the work of Joss Whedon, what appears to be an "end" is not necessarily an end. Joss thinks more multidimensionally than that, and knows how to approach stories from perspectives most of us would never think of, but would then say "but it makes so much sense, I don't know why I didn't see it before!" Look at the way he revamped "Angel" more than once in the run of the series. How many characters of his died and came back even better than before? In the history of the Jossverse, when has he not been able to pull off the unexpected?
It's interesting to see how the same evidence can lead to different conclusions here. I thought, too, that Mal was darker in the film -- but it was a necessary ingredient, to establish the seriousness of the situation quickly, without the need for a lot of exposition, and to give the character some place to develop. This is what made the film unlike the TV series, where Mal could be essentially the same likeable fellow from week to week, with character development taking place over a protracted period.

It is true that River was essential to the series -- I cannot understand how someone could watch the series and see her as a minor character -- and she was so key that it is only the resolution of her background and situation that could cause anyone to see this film as a conclusion to the series. So, yes, major problem with the reviewer's logic. The other character arcs are clearly left open for resolution in sequels. While I, personally, would have liked to have seen a little more done with some of the other characters, I didn't NEED to see more (hey, Kaylee finally got some, and had perhaps the best line in the film, to boot!)-- something had to be left open for future development. And who goes to a sci-fi pic these days without expecting a trilogy? I don't think the average viewer expects all things to be resolved in one film. Joss is a tease, and I think even the new viewer will understand that there is more to be discovered by jumping on board and staying for the ride.

And regarding the statement about the second surprise. I was totally shocked, did not expect it (although, in hindsight, I should have, knowing Joss) -- and it was the matter-of-fact way it was handled that made it so "real." It was the lack of the heroic end, the uncinematic, unexpected, "accidental" aspect of it that made it so compelling -- and had me on the edge of my seat regarding the fates of all the rest throughout the remainder of the film. It was like a car wreck involving a high school football player on his big night -- something senseless that could happen to anyone at any time. The utter senselessness of it jolts one into "reality," and alerts us to the true costs of war. It made me angry -- wasn't it supposed to?

So, some of the very things that this reviewer thought diminished the film for him were the very things that made this film work for me. To each his/her own, I suppose.
FYI, the AICN review doesn't say River was a "minor" character, it says this:

deals with crazy, psychic River Tam and the crazy, cannibalistic Reavers -- two of the weaker elements of the show, now brought to the forefront

Not that the actual quote is any better, because River (and Summer's performance of River) wasn't a weak element of the show. So the reviewer is still coming out of bizarro world, but he didn't say "minor".
What strikes me about this review is that the guy is making a conclusion about how non-Firefly watchers will respond without being one himself. How can he speak for all these millions of hypothetical viewers.

I have my own complex thougths about the movie...(overall, I definitely liked it), and I worry about the general reaction, but I admit to having only a slight inkling that it will probably work, and work very well, for a mass audience -- though possibly in a kind of a shallow way.

[ edited by bobster on 2005-06-24 20:39 ]
Random comments:

- I think it was Harlan Ellison who said that everyone is not entitled to their own opinion. They are entitled to their own *informed* opinion. From the sound of this review (which I've not read) he sounds like he has some problems with his opinion on the flick. (River Tam a weak element of the show? Um, hello?)

- I saw the movie for the second time last night, and I have to say that knowing what was going to happen to someone in the flick made it even more painful to watch. The entire lead up to it just hurt, I kept wish it would happen this time. Kinda makes me wonder if this is how River feels sometimes?

- Finally, last night I was sitting next to a guy who didn't really seem to enjoy the fans before hand. They sang "Happy Birthday" and he leaned over and said, "Is he actually going to be here? Why are they singing?" He didn't really react to the beginning of the movie, like other fans, but at the end, he was clapping along with the rest. Makes me think he enjoyed it as well.
Everything that EdDantes said, except to add that if you know the work of Joss Whedon, what appears to be an "end" is not necessarily an end.

Good point, Joss always made sure he wrapped up a season well enough, but left room for new developments. And the same applies here.

it was the matter-of-fact way it was handled that made it so "real." It was the lack of the heroic end, the uncinematic, unexpected, "accidental" aspect of it that made it so compelling

Exactly. The unexpected way something like that can and does happen in real life when people are in situations like that. That was the whole point.

So, some of the very things that this reviewer thought diminished the film for him were the very things that made this film work for me. To each his/her own, I suppose.

Yeah, and I also wonder if people like this reviewer liked the show for very different reasons than people like you or me did.
The review is the writer's opinion. I don't agree with most of his conclusions, but I don't find it to be totally unsupported. As for me, I liked Serenity a lot - but I'm not sure if I loved it. Sounds as though bobster, with whom I watched it last night in Riverside, may have similar thoughts. I haven't yet come up with a lucid description of how I feel (and may never, frankly), but there it is.

It is great to hear of non-Firefly fans loving it; coming out of the theatre, I had the feeling that Serenity will have a broad appeal for its style, wit, and great acting, but that it doesn't quite strike a - I don't know, - universal-enough note to convert the true unbelievers. But I'd be delighted to be proven wrong.
Like Lioness, I grudgingly thought that some of his comments made sense. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE Serenity! (much to the wearyness of my friends and family who can't get me to stop talking about it!) But, I was concerned about a few things with the character development; mainly River being so crazy and not endearing enough to seem like a "good guy" and also Simon and Kaylee's relationship seemed clunky. I hadn't really thought about Inara but it is true that you don't get a real sense of what she does or who she is from the story, though her acting brought out a sense of depth that transcended story. This is why I believe that this movie will be successful: like others have said, without the time to create arcs for each character, the actors had to make the most of the (sometimes few) lines that they had, and they performed beautifully, speaking 1000 things in one simple line or even a look.

Sometimes, as in this case, having all of the background can be a handicap because we can know too much about the past to experience the present. Many movies have just touched on a character and it works because the audience can feel how much that character meant(as with Book).

While I totally disagree with the reviewer about the future of this movie, I find it interesting to take in all of the reviews, negative and positive, and contemplate them together. I just can't wait to prove this guy wrong on September 30!

And many thanks to Nixygirl, I love hearing that!
I felt that Joss did something quite brilliant. (Yeah, I know, state the obvious.) He gave a plot that was connected to the original show and wrapped it up in a neat little bow. At the same time he left characters and relationships totally open for development. The people are so obviously in the middle or the beginning of journeys and ready to be explored, but he gave closure in the plot so I felt satisfied that I had seen a complete movie, not just a tease.

TVsBrent, I have only seen it once, but that irrational feeling of just hoping that this time it will happen differently is the best sign of well done tragedy. Everytime I see a good Romeo and Juliet a part of me hopes this time she will wake up just a few minutes sooner and everything will be alright. I'd be pretty disappointed if they really did it though. :-D
Everytime I see a good Romeo and Juliet a part of me hopes this time she will wake up just a few minutes sooner and everything will be alright.

Which is fairly remarkable given that the play opens with the audience being told they both die at the end.
Exactly, theonetruebix. Shakespeare knew how to tempt fanwanking way back then, and I'm sure he wasn't the first. I understand that various productions, especially in Victorian times gave Romeo & Juliet a happy ending. Probably wanted to save the sensibilities of the ladies in the audience. ;-)
There is a lot I disagree with in this review, but nothing more than this: "Do we really care why the Reavers became mad-dog cannibal murderers? Is it really that important?"

Answer, it's not important, it's utterly essential. It's precisely why the Alliance is forced to engage in evil behavior. It's why they torture River (and God knows how many others) to build warriors to deal with the monsters they've inadvertently created. And why they have Operatives to engage in horrendously brutal activities.

Another thing about the Reavers: this talk of "how do crazy cannibals shoot straight, let alone pilot space ships" is ill-informed. The Reavers are horribly violent, of course, but you have to remember that they are totally rational human beings, fully stripped of any decency and morality, with all of their destructive, rapacious impulses ratcheted up beyond the stratosphere...they are doing exactly what their psyches tell them to do, and they do it with the high-level training, knowledge, and expertise that Alliance citizens and scientists and other professionals and, yes, pilots, would normally bring to their activities...which now consist pretty much exclusively of sub-humanly annihilating human beings.

So, yes, it's important to know how they got that way. They got that way becasue the Parliament of the Alliance played God and got the usual (throughout folklore and literature) horrible result, albeit this time on an intergalactic scale.

Without the Reavers being created by the Alliance, the Firefly story, while thrilling and wonderful, doesn't really hold up. It's fun and worthwhile, but somewhat lacking. With this, the story more than holds up; it reaches epic stature.
mainly River being so crazy and not endearing enough to seem like a "good guy"

That's a complaint I heard once before I think, and to each their own, but I don't understand that at all. It seems to resonate with a fear I have that especially american audiences will react that way, since they prefer characters to be either clearly 'good guys' or 'bad guys' and no ambivalence whatsoever. I have never been of that school of thought so it's a little alien to me. The ambivalence of Joss' characters in pretty much all his work is one of it's strong points. Almost no one is ever really just a 'good guy'.

In River's case it's even more baffling to me since it's not even a 'bad' side to the character (like Jayne for instance. he has clear bad traits) but that she's 'too crazy'. First of all, her craziness is obviously shown to be a result of the experiments and underlines her status as a victim more than anything else to me. It also creates more suspsense since it adds a huge element of unpredictability which makes it hard for the crew not to wonder about her and even fear her. That makes her in turn more lonely and latches onto the victim element again. The powerful scary girl, but who is lost, scared and alone. The lost little girl....but with power. It works fine for me. How an issue as 'good guy-level' even has anything to do with that...I'm sorry, I really don't understand.
I've been reading a few of these "reviews", but they're not really by professional movie reviewers who can spell, are they? They're just bloggers. When this person complains that the movie wasn't "fun", that tips their hand. The fun, frothy element that they wanted in the movie is quite present in the review, and I can't take it seriously. I'm going to wait for the professionals (and diss them too, if they don't like it!) 8-)
Chris in Virginia, very good points about the Reavers. I agree that their origin is integral to understanding the Alliance and the fundamentals of the 'verse in general. I hadn't been overly bothered in the 15 hours of Firefly that we didn't have an explanation for the Reavers. I presumed one was coming and was looking forward to what Joss came up with. That he tied together River, the Reavers and the Alliance was brilliant, in my book.

SNT, I really look forward to reading a more in-depth review by you of last night's screening - should you decide to write one. Since you are one of Whedonesque's most intelligent posters (hey! moderator!), I can't wait to read more of your thoughts if and when you wish to post them.
Okay, there's more I need to comment on:

"These pre-screenings really serve no purpose, since there will be no re-shooting or re-editing."

This is an unusual marketing campaign, to be sure, but the reviewer seems oblvious to the prospect, discussed in the Weekly Standard article posted earlier.


"At least when we left the show with 'Objects in Space', there was still the open-ended hope of new adventures. Now, with Serenity, the coffin is nailed shut."

Did the reviewer not see the last meeting between Mal and the Operative in which the latter warns Mal that, though weakened, the Alliance still wields the power and will come back after him. Nailed shut? The reviewers eyes and ears, perhaps, but the prospect for many story angles remain wide open.
Yeah, no pressure, SNT! ;)
ChrisinVirginia, great points, all. Especially your thoughts about the Reavers.

EdDantes, thanks for another point of view. I definitely agree with you that our heroes don't have to be all "good" and is is clear that "good guys" was really a poor choice of wording. What I really meant was that since River is such an important character, it seems important to me that her role as the little sister type who is valued and cared for by the crew (well most of them) be felt a bit more emotionally. But, I am glad that you saw it another way.
None at all, SNT. I didn't stay up until 2:30 in the morning or anything to end up with your "The movie was good. I'm very tired." So, if you ever feel like saying more, it's clearly welcomed. :)
I must be something of a dim bulb because I never caught on to the fact that River's "conditioning" was a direct attempt to create a killer specifically targeting the Reavers (although "River", "Reaver"? the same but different?), so thank you, Chris in Virginia, for pointing that out. The teeny, tiny complaint I have about the movie's logic is: how long ago were the Reavers created? The impression I got was that it was not long enough for an entire planet to be disappeared from everyone's memories. Also, if the Reavers are going to sit around in tight bunches in one specific location, why hasn't the Alliance just bombed the crap out of the area? These are just nitpicks that occurred to me after the movie was over. During the time, I just sat there tensely, with the occasional break (thank God!) for a guffaw or two.

[ edited by Anne13 on 2005-06-24 21:32 ]
The teeny, tiny complaint I have about the movie's logic is: how long ago were the Reavers created?

Mal says it was 12 years.
What I really meant was that since River is such an important character, it seems important to me that her role as the little sister type who is valued and cared for by the crew (well most of them) be felt a bit more emotionally. But, I am glad that you saw it another way.

I can see what you mean, I guess, but I think that element of River was more suited for the show. Joss was still going in the same directions obviously (hints of River's capabilities and the crew's fear of them were starting already) but he would've done it slower. And in between the developments he wouldn't have been able to treat River all the time as she is in the movie, and she would've been more the way you describe, while landing in the same place eventually.

Here though it's hard to do that. I think in River Joss wanted to play against type in a comparable way as the 'girl in the alley' thin with Buffy. Which means not playing River solely as the tiny little girl that needs protecting. She still is that here, but she is also the thing you might need protection from. Well, to each their own, but I think it works.

Did the reviewer not see the last meeting between Mal and the Operative in which the latter warns Mal that, though weakened, the Alliance still wields the power and will come back after him. Nailed shut? The reviewers eyes and ears, perhaps, but the prospect for many story angles remain wide open.

Yeah I thought that too. Myriad possibilities for future stories are easily spotted. I honestly have no idea where this reviewer is coming from with that conclusion.

I must be something of a dim bulb because I never caught on to the fact that River's "conditioning" was a direct attempt to create a killer specifically targeting the Reavers (although "River", "Reaver"? the same but different?)

Well her parents named her 'River' long before she was ever experimented upon so I'm not sure that's how we should see that. I'm also not sure that River was specifically molded to fight the Reavers. I thought the idea was just to have a great weapon/assassin which an government like the Alliance would always have use for, but I could be wrong. Anyone else thoughts on that?
Name aside, the idea of River as a specifically created "reaver-killer" would explain the ending pretty nicely.

[ edited by bobster on 2005-06-24 22:52 ]
EdDantes, I'm extrapolating a bit when I believe that the Alliance wanted to create a warrior caste to fight the Reavers...they didn't need super-warriors to quell the rebellion, and their power is not only unmatched but unmatchable by conventional I draw from that that the reason they felt compelled to create these hyper weapons was because of a very different, horrifying threat.

Again, for me it comes down to *why* go through all this incredible trouble and take such extraordinary measures of secrecy (and butchery) when you already rule the roost completely.
Hmm. I figured River was a govt weapon who could get the job done, Reavers or whoever. Especially Reavers. Was thinking about River/Reaver sounds during the movie. :)
Chirp, sorry if I ruined anything. Wasn't my intent, but I thought that if the thread was marked "Spoiler" it was cool. Am I right? Or do I need to stick to invisitext in the future?
Even if you rule the roost completely you don't want to blatantly spit in the face of your supporters. An example: In one of the episodes from the series Inara makes a comment that she supported unification. I'm sure she, along with countless other high society types, etc., would begin to rethink that position if they were found to be doing all sorts of nasty towards their own people. All the secrecy seems to be purely an effort to keep that small insurgency of independents from growing again to a number that could potentially overthrow the alliance. I would bet my milk money that any sequel made would at the very least touch, if not focus, on a growing independent movement rising again due to the information made public in Serenity...

[ edited by CrazyMutha29 on 2005-06-25 04:17 ]
Yeah CrazyMutha. I'm hoping for more emphasis on the independants in a sequel. I was surprised we didn't get another War flashback with Mal.
Although she may not have known the extent of their vitriol, I seriously doubt Inara was ever under any illusions as to the methods or intentions of the Alliance.

Maybe that's just me, though...

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