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September 10 2005

(SPOILER) Serenity review at Shiny Shelf. A not-completely-impressed review of Serenity from Doctor Who novel author Mags L Halliday at Shiny Shelf. Some minor spoilers.

"By raising the ideas up to the big screen, a little something that made 'Firefly' the great television it was has been lost."

What can I say? As a Firefly devotee, I can only disagree with the notion that this movie doesn't deliver for fans of the show. I re-read the shooting script yesterday, and am even more enthusiastic about seeing the movie again (I saw both pre-screenings in DC), as is my wife.

Some of these negative reviews seem, to me at least, to be more about what the reviewers wanted Joss to make, rather than what Joss in fact did make.
My reaction to this review is basically "Eh."

Yes, all of us Firefly fans really want "Firefly" back on TV, don't we, but is that grounds to criticize the MOTION PICTURE because it's not the T.V. SERIES? This review never suggests any SPECIFIC way Joss could have gotten around the real limitations of a 2-hour film geared toward a mass audience. C'mon guys, we should be glad to we have a motion picture that the masses will love and which might revive our Firefly verse!

Now's a time to take a lesson from Buffy and find time to 'bask.'
"By raising the ideas up to the big screen, a little something that made 'Firefly' the great television it was has been lost."

No, FOX cancelling Firefly is what made the great television it was lost. Raising the ideas up to the big screen it was makes the story mightly. We cared too much to just let it die (ironically, how I felt about ANGEL, but we all know how that bitterly died. Stupid Jordan Levin).

[ edited by MySerenity on 2005-09-10 16:56 ]
I think that review is pretty fair. The film definitely compromises something of the series, but then I'd have been shocked if it hadn't.

C'mon guys, we should be glad to we have a motion picture that the masses will love and which might revive our Firefly verse!

So the reviewer should have been more generous simply because the film managed to get made? That wouldn't be very objective now would it? ;)
No, she should've graded it as a film, not a season finale.
Exactly, The Dark Shape. Review the actual movie, not what you wish the movie had been.
How can you review a continuation as a separate entity? That makes no sense.
Because it's "Serenity", not "Firefly". Film and TV story telling can be like comparing apples and oranges. IMHO :)
For most of the world it will be a separate entity. That is why I have felt all along that the fans who loved Firefly the most were going to be Serenity's harshest critics and had the potential to be its biggest problem. I am hoping that they still get people to go while not expecting too much, making them pleasantly surprised and enthusiastic. The other result is that people may not go and that would be a shame because I think the general public would really enjoy this movie. They do not have the baggage of expectations of what Joss should do and should include to make Serenity an acceptable continuation of Firefly that seems to take some of the joy out of the experience for some fans.
The storytelling is different, of course, but that's not the point. There were different modes of storytelling within the series itself, but it was still instantly recognisable as Firefly. Serenity should stay true to the universe in which it's set, otherwise what's the point? If it's supposed to be totally separate then why not start from scratch and not bother with all the recapping/exposition?

Anyway, I still don't see the objection to the review. The first paragraph says "it is neither a great film in its own right, nor something which will please all fans of the original TV series ('Firefly') on which it is based", which says to me that the reviewer tried to consider the film both as a separate entity and as a continuation of the series. Personally I do think it's a great film, but only if you've seen the series beforehand.
Actually, my problem with this review (and I'm not the kind of fan who can't understand ANY bad review of the film - I've read quite a few with valid points so far) is exactly that first paragraph: "it is neither a great film in its own right, nor something which will please all fans of the original TV series ('Firefly') on which it is based".

Let's take the last statement first: No 2-hour film will please all fans of a TV series completely - that much is given, and doesn't really need to be argued for. Everyone will miss something - for one, because there won't be room to fit adequate character development for every single one our Big Damn Heroes into such a tight schedule.

And secondly because film should be somewhat regarded as a completely separate medium: for example, on the rather technical side, handheld very rarely works well on the big screen - and especially not in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio that Serenity supposedly uses (I thought I read 1.85:1 somewhere - which would be better for the handheld aesthetics - but have now seen lots of reports saying 2.35:1).

So, the outcome of a judgment of the film on the basis of being the same as the series is predetermined: If you expect a film version to be a direct 1:1 adaptation of the TV series, you're going to be disappointed - either that, or the director doesn't know the limitations and strong sides of the new medium he's working in, and his film will fail as a motion picture on so many levels - much in the same way as adaptation of literary works.

And that's where the first part of the statement enters, and becomes rather important: "it is [not] a great film in its own right". Nowhere in the review does Halliday support this view. She may very well (and probably does) have her reasons for thinking so, but she never tells the reader those reasons. Which makes the review almost entirely pointless.

At least to me =)

[ edited by Serge on 2005-09-10 22:25 ]
Yep, completely agree, Serge.

I was, by the way, also kinda puzzled on the whole missing the Mandarin swearing thing. Now I might be crazy, but the use of mandarin is in the movie. Repeatedly.
And that's where the first part of the statement enters, and becomes rather important: "it is [not] a great film in its own right". Nowhere in the review does Halliday support this view. She may very well (and probably does) have her reasons for thinking so, but she never tells the reader those reasons. Which makes the review almost entirely pointless.

Well I thought it was summed up in the section on characterisation:

"Unfortunately, the thing which has been lost in the translation is one of the very things Whedon is best at as a writer: characterisation......This isn't the fault of the cast, all of whom are excellent, but because the characters have been made subserviant to the plot. This may, obviously, be one of those criticisms which anyone who hasn't watched the series will not have with the film."

I think she's right, and I also think it's a complaint that can be made whether or not you've seen the series. Even given the reduced timescale of the movie, I still think there was more room for moments with the supporting cast.

Anyway, all this talk is only making me want to see it again all the more, this time not sitting in the absolute worst seat in the house ;)
Well, Halliday herself says that may be (even "obviously") one of those criticisms which anyone who hasn't watched the series will not have with the film. And I think she's right. Which begs the question, which criticisms WOULD anyone who hasn't watched 'Firefly' have?

Ensemble casts (note: insert "in my opinion" wherever you feel it's needed) tend to lead the way to wooden characterization, if you don't have the time of a series to develop them through.

"The Fellowship of the Ring" may be a great adaptation, but its characters really aren't very nuanced - and Jackson has three hours for that. After nine hours there's still few of the characters who have much depth.

The "X-Men" franchise only survives on those terms through the character development of the comics (if at all). Hardly any of those characters seem like real people.

"Magnolia" managed to draw nine nuanced, human, characters (in three hours) - but it (thankfully) didn't have to deal with an action plot too =)

Drawing characters that you feel with, root for, and understand, while still making them interesting, is just as important in an action film as in films like "Magnolia", but you really don't have the time, if you have nine people to juggle in two hours. "Serenity" (the pilot) did a great job on that account, but there are still characters left relatively unexplored until later episodes - and, again, it's a (great) TV episode, not a feature film. In that role, it would seem disjointed.

Whether Joss' attempt with fewer of the characters works, I have yet to see. But giving less time to some of them isn't an argument for Serenity not being "a great film in its own right".

[ edited by Serge on 2005-09-11 14:55 ]
Whether Joss' attempt with fewer of the characters works, I have yet to see. But giving less time to some of them isn't an argument for Serenity not being "a great film in its own right".

Only if you assume that it's impossible to write a film which gives them more time. I'm convinced Joss could have.

Which begs the question, which criticisms WOULD anyone who hasn't watched 'Firefly' have?

I seem to remember someone saying they found it irritating that every single character had jokey lines. It's something Whedon fans take for granted, but I can imagine it being a little surreal first time out. Other than that it's hard to say. It's pretty difficult to dissociate yourself completely from Firefly if you've seen it all already...
Even if it's possible to write a film which gives them more time, that's still not an argument for Serenity not being "a great film in itss own right". Would be the same as saying Citizen Kane isn't a great film in its own right because it would be possible to write a script that spent more time on Kane's childhood. Or a script with more monkeys.

And once again, the point of the question wasn't that there's no criticisms from people who haven't watched Firefly, the point was that this review doesn't tell, in spite of claiming it doesn't work as a film for non-fans. Which makes that claim as helpful and insightful as just saying "it sucked" (and no, I know Mrs. Halliday doesn't say or imply that).

There's plenty of valid criticisms for non-fans: Might be too evident that the director comes from TV; might have totally flat characters with no motivations due to none of them getting enough development; might hit too many clichés; might, as you say, be hard to suspend disbelief when people crack jokes all the time. The point is, criticism is subjective, and this review does nothing to support the major part its criticism.

[ edited by Serge on 2005-09-11 16:14 ]
Even if it's possible to write a film which gives them more time, that's still not an argument for Serenity not being "a great film in itss own right".

Of course it is. As it stands, I think Serenity is good. If the characterisation had been handled a little better (and a few cliches binned), I'd have said it was great without a doubt.

And I finally see what you're trying to say about the review. I can only presume there was a limit to it's length and the reviewer decided to concentrate on the comparison side of things, given that most of the people reading the review are likely Firefly devotees.
Of course it is.

No. It's not. =) It's an argument for Serenity not being a film every Firefly-fan will love. Nothing more. But I can't possibly continue to argue for that, since it's all right there, in too many, too lengthy, posts. But oh well, here's one more, with a slightly different starting point. =)

Your reasons - "[i]f the characterisation had been handled a little better (and a flew clichés binned)" - are very valid, but those are not reasons given by this review.

The "lack of characterisation", is defined by the review - through examples - as the film leaving out a few specific storylines that the reviewer wanted to see on screen: Zoë/Wash, and Kaylee/Simon. And this (supposed) "lack of characterisation" is flat out stated as (again): "[maybe] one of those criticisms which anyone who hasn't watched the series will not have with the film."

And she's right. The non-Firefly-fan won't start complaining "why didn't Kaylee and Simon get it on? Why are Zoë's and Wash's marriage only seen in the background?" And we're running in circles.

As for limit to length, yes, the reviewer decided to concentrate on the film as seen by Firefly-fans, but in that case, she should have cut it a whole lot of words shorter, and her judgment should have been:

"Whedon is undeniably a great TV director, and a great writer, but the transition to the big screen doesn't quite work. In fact the film falls between two stools: it is neither a great film in its own right, nor not something which will please all fans of the original TV series ('Firefly') on which it is based."

In that case, the review would have been justified - as the opinion of a fan who doesn't agree with most of the other fans who've seen the film. This may sound like an attack at Halliday's skills as a reviewer, but it's not, really. Way too many (especially internet-published) reviews - of Serenity or anything else - fail to actually say WHY their judgment is the way it is, which makes them pointless, because one important purpose of a review is being a consumer guide telling you if you should spend your money on this film or not. And just stating "isn't a great film in its own right" makes no point.

Maybe the film is clichéd, but maybe I don't care about that. Maybe it doesn't have $100 million special effects, but maybe I don't care about that. Maybe it's just entertainment without depth, but maybe I don't care about that. Maybe there aren't enough monkeys, but maybe I don't care about that. Maybe Zöe and Wash aren't the stars of the film, but maybe I don't care about that (that's where Halliday does exactly right).

That's why a review must always (and they teach you this at journalism genre courses too) put forth those reasons. Because I might disagree on the terms of the judgment, but it'll still make me able to get an idea of whether I'd like the film - without needing to have exactly the same values and taste as the reviewer. It's the art of giving objective value to a subjective statement.

When reviewers don't do that, they might as well sit on IMDb and post troll remarks on the film's board like "This movie sucked soooo baaaaad!". And we get more people who'll say "I don't read reviews. I like to form my own opinion".

Sorry, enough ranting, if this doesn't make the point clear, nothing will ;)

[ edited by Serge on 2005-09-11 19:28 ]
I understood what you were saying about the review, that's not what I was quibbling about.

Anyway, it seems we've thoroughly hijacked this thread so I'll shut up now.

This thread has been closed for new comments.


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