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September 28 2005

(SPOILER) Hollywood Stock Exchange Serenity Review. "Fans of the original TV series will be more than pleased to spend 119 minutes with their old friends, but newcomers will be less satisfied with the pedestrian plotting and small-screen sensibility." (minor spoilers, but I thought I'd play safe). Another review in a similar vein at Australia's "At The Movies".

"But let's remember that this is Whedon's directorial debut, and despite my carping, gives a fine, enjoyable ride. I can't wait for Wonder Woman"


Overall, I think it's a fairly positive review that is unbiased. In related news, Serenity stock is featured on the front page as having increased (however, it is still below the all time high... what gives?)

For those that don't know, HSX is a site where users buy and sell imaginary stock in movies and stars. The site also collects statistics that it uses to offer predictions on the performance of movies.

Another choice quote:

"[Ejiofor's] performance is so compelling that I could not help but wonder how much better Episodes II and III of the Star Wars saga would have been had he been cast as Anakin Skywalker instead of Hayden Christensen"

small-screen sensibility


What does that mean, in terms of the movie? I have already read critics that Serenity was (or could be - for those who criticize before having seen the stuff) just a 2h long episode of a TV show, that it looked like TV and not a feature film.

But I wonder what elements of the movie attract such critics: actor directing, framing, sfx? other?

PS: I haven't read the review on HSX since I don't want to be spoiled (so the review might specifically answer my question, I don't know...).
The spoilers are fairly minor, you can probably glean all the information from the trailer. I'm just playing it safe. It mentions the general plot, and one scene specifically when talking about the pacing.

Personally, I disagree that it looks like an overblown TV episode. It is definitely a big damn movie.
The problem is, Serenity, in a lot of ways, does look like Firefly. But Firefly didn't look like anything else on TV. I really don't know how having unbalanced frames, wide-angle lenses, extreme high and low comic book angles, hand held camerawork, chiaroscuro lighting, lens flares, zooms, long steadicam shots, and jump cuts reflect a "small screen sensibility." Unless, unbeknownst to me, Altman, Godard, and Peckinpah all got together to pitch a new sitcom to Fox.

I think the subtext when they say the film has a "small screen sensibility" is that it feels cheap. I kind of felt the same way...parts of the film did look low budget in terms of production values. But ultimately, who cares if the sets aren't quite as pretty as they are in Star Wars, when the characters, dialogue, and action are so much better than anything else out there. People always accuse big Hollywood action movies of being shallow, of having nothing to praise but the effects or photography...well now we get a movie with TONS to praise apart from these production values, and some critics just snipe "I wish it had better production values."
This occasional criticism of the film being "like television" is odd. The only other time I've heard a film or films be criticised in the same terms were the Star Trek Next Gen films - again films based on a TV series. I've never heard of a film criticised as seeming "like TV" without it actually being the silver-screen version of a TV series.
"Unless, unbeknownst to me, Altman, Godard, and Peckinpah all got together to pitch a new sitcom to Fox."

Well said, bonzob.
I thought the review was positive too (though not very much) - however the summary on the front page says:

Whedon's work will please the faithful, but lacks the hooks for broad appeal.

which I think is a pretty bad signal to send.
I wonder if it wasn't a tv show before, if reviewer would keep calling it "too tv-ish".
There has been several movies this year, that felt very "tv-ish", but can't recall movie reviewers saying that they had "small-screen sensibility", and even using it as if it was a inferior things.
He seems to really enjoy the movie...and then slams it for being like a TV show.

If he's talking about it being like Firefly, then I can't see how that's any kind of negatory. Almost every episode of Firefly looked better than most "motion pictures"...
extreme high and low comic book angles


Yes, that low-angle look was pioneered in Citizen Kane, another film remake of a failed TV series.

jump cuts


Used to extreme effect by Woody Allen, among others. Woody went to movies 'cuz he couldn't cut it on TV.

I could go on. Grrrr. Arrgh.
I definitely feel that the reviewers who accuse it of "small screen sensibility" are only doing so because it came from a TV show: they go in there with preconceptions, and write up what they had already planned to. Hell, I often wonder if reviewers even watch half the films they review, and certainly not properly.

Serenity to me in no way felt like extended TV. It definitely felt like a "proper" movie - albeit an unusually good one. Maybe it felt "small screen" to these reviewers because they aren't used to movies working on so many different levels and cutting across different genres.

I can't judge for myself how non-fans will react, but people I know who have seen it with non-fans say they have loved it, and not had problems understanding it. Most of the criticisms in the piece are easily answered, and I don't think the detail is the problem. But the headline is, and if it puts any non-fans off seeing it, then shame on it.
It's funny how it's always a minor put down to say a movie has a TV sensibility -- yet it's always supposed to be a big compliment to say that a show like "Deadwood" or "The Sopranos" are cinematic.

In a way, I know what people are getting at -- most TV has a somewhat flat look, mainly because it's done so dang quickly - but the size of the screen has nothing to do with it and I'm not sure at all that this is fair cop on "Serenity," which looks pretty great IMO, though I'm not saying it's perfect. I guess, I'm arguing that it's not the size of the screen, but the motion of the directial ocean.

And, once again, re: this reveiw. Once again, the success of "Firefly" proves to be a somewhat mixed blessing. Another Whedon admirer with his quibbles -- it's all very much like what happens when a beloved book is adapted for the movies. It's just human nature to want something you love essentially repeated.

I wanna see some reviews from freakin' civilians.
It seems to me that many movie reviewers have a very inflated notion of what movies in general are and what reviewers in particular do.

I frankly don't like movies or TV in general. Most movies are, to my mind, trite and cheesy, TV, too. The Whedon stuff is so far apart from (and above)the normal Hollywood tripe that I'm thinking some of these reviewers just don't know what to make of it, so they fall back on tired cliches like "small-screen sensibility" and such. Too bad.

God, I hope this film is a blockbuster success.
I wonder if it wasn't a tv show before, if reviewer would keep calling it "too tv-ish".

That's what I've been saying. And I sincerely doubt that any of them would. And no, they *never* explain why they feel it's 'too tv-ish', not a single one I've read so far. They just say that it is. Which is, of course, extremely easy.

Let's not forget though that critics, very often(obviously not all of them) can be a very snobby, elitist bunch who feel they're part of the movie world themselves. And I truly think there's some underlying sense of "Who does this TV guy think he is, playing at being a movie director. Who let this little man into the club, old chap?"

I've read one review where a complaint was that most of the fight scenes didn't even have 'a special atmosphere'. Right. Because all other action movies all have very special atmosphere in their action scenes. Hell, it's what action movies are known for, right? WTF?? When has anyone ever read THAT complaint about a SF action movie before? It's like they're trying to come up with stuff sometimes just in order to justify their turning their noses up to it.

(Let me add btw, that so far the majority of the reviews has been positive, so I'm just talking about certain, badly argumented negative ones)
Personally, I think it takes a healthy dose of ego to become a movie critic in the first place, and that one way this shows itself is this tendency to look for something easy to gripe about, to make a criticism that is standard which one doesn't have to defend, yet makes one sound like an expert: "Mr. Whedon's directorial style still shows he clings to his small screen roots."

Well, even if this were true (which it isn't)... so what? I have to agree with what one online reviewer said: "The most important rule of storytelling is this. First and foremost you have to make your audience FEEL. If you canít make them feel, then you have to make them THINK. If you canít make them think, then you have to make them LAUGH."

But for the movie critic, you need to sound like you took a film class. One needs to sound like he or she would be a BETTER movie director than anybody out there if handed the reins (which most professional movie reviewers secretly wish they could have the chance to prove). Just my opinion.

[ edited by Ronald_SF on 2005-09-28 17:19 ]
My god, EdDantes, I think you and I were making the exact same point and typing mini-essays about it at the very same time. It's cool to find people I agree with at Whedonesque! ;)

[ edited by Ronald_SF on 2005-09-28 17:19 ]
My god, EdDantes, I think you and I were making the exact same point and typing mini-essays about it at the very same time. It's cool to find people I agree with at Whedonesque! ;)

Hehe, that's funny. And yes, it is cool.

to make a criticism that is standard which one doesn't have to defend, yet makes one sound like an expert: "Mr. Whedon's directorial style still shows he clings to his small screen roots."


Gawd, exactly one of the ones I meant. And of course, not a single letter is expended to say specifically what he actually means by that. Another example was: "Whedon directs his interior sequences in a visually constricted way that shows his small-screen origins."

And again, no explanation of what this 'visually constricted way' actually entails. I see wide shots, close ups, low angles high angles...just like any other movie. But because Joss comes from TV, when *he* does it, it's 'visually constricted' somehow.

I swear, I doubt most of them would even come up with these vague terms if nobody told them that Joss was a TV creator before this. You could show them a new Spielberg movie and tell them it was from a TV director and they'd suddenly be complaining about 'visual constricted TV style' before the end credits even rolled.
EdDantes speaks the truth.


You can talk about the movie's relatively small scale compared to other Sci-fi action pics but the TV compliant just seems lazy. Sometimes you just don't like something and you can't articulate a good reason so you just throw something on the page. That's what the 'small-screen origins' compliant & it's ilk feels like.

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