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September 29 2005

(SPOILER) When Harry met Serenity. AICN's main man shares his thoughts on Serenity, Jewel and Summer and "the ugly fans" who nearly caused him lose any enjoyment he had for the film (major spoilers in this article).

It's more a train of thought than a review so it gets posted on the front page rather than in the "All Reviews Here" thread. Plus for many of us, I think it's the one review we've been waiting for.

yeah, I've been waiting for and dreading the review and... it was relatively painless. It's hard to read the review of someone who is dedicated in his antipathy to the series, such that his praise, lukewarm-ish as it was, is a relief. Actually, I think his review is a good thing: here's a guy who's kinda somewhat determined not to like it, based on his feelings about the series, and he comes out endorsing the film as "good sf". He makes his prejudice known, and admits that he still found the film-going experience enjoyable. I liked what he said about each 10 minutes being better than the last 10, though he lost me on the criticism of the Operative.

And frankly, my opinion of his taste is pretty low. He raved over Revenge of the Sith, which I nearly napped through -- I wasn't even tired, it was a darn soporific! -- and his list of great science fiction tagged in the end all rates an "eh" from me. Except for Empire Strikes Back; even Pauline Kael liked that one.
Yeah maybe Joss played it safe when it came to the origin stuff to make sure he got it all in. There are a lot of characters and they all have various interpersonal relationships and by the time you work all that in, maybe it cuts in on the time you can devote to the plot. Let's not forget the original draft came in at 200 pages. I think X-Men suffered some of the same obstacles being an origin story with a low budget but what it sets up hopefully is a payoff in a second film. If I have a problem with Harry's review it is that it's a little short sighted. Firefly was set up to work on TV. There has to be a transition to make it bigger for the big screen. The ship was nothing more than a pest to the government and Whedon had to come up with a story that would allow these nobodies to effect the universe in which they live. Again this significantly raises the stakes for the next story (fingers crossed.)
Oh come on Wrath of Khan is a great great movie.
Plus for many of us, I think it's the one review we've been waiting for.

Why? Are Harry's reviews that influential? I like the AICN site, but I've never liked his reviews – he's neither a good writer nor particularly insightful, and I quite often really disagree with his opinions (he liked Troy, for god's sake!).
Anyhow, I'm glad he mostly liked the film, but I'm much more curious to see what folks at some of the major dailies (NYT, LAT, WP, etc) think of it....
acp - I agree, Harry is not a good writer or reviewer. If he'd given the film a rave, great, but what he gave wasn't even really a review. The man has too much power and no idea what to do with it.
"I didn’t love anything about the show. It just wasn’t my thing."

So...he doesn't love good acting when he finds it then? 'Cause there's not exactly a wealth of that in sci-fi programming and films.

He admits to only watching three episodes and it sounds like he saw them on DVD, so I'm assuming in the correct order. I can see how some people might not be hooked after only Serenity, The Train Job, and Bushwacked. I recently showed a friend the series this week. She's a big Joss fan, was a way bigger X-Files fan than me, but not into space-set sci-fi at all. She didn't call me to say that she loved the series and was watching it in 2 and 3 episode helpings at a time until after Out of Gas/Ariel (and we had fun talking about Our Mrs. Reynolds as well).

"had the production values all been kicked up an extra bit to give it more than that “TV SCI FI MOVIE” feel – I think I might could have loved it."

Arg, what does that mean ?!? And "production values" is such a generalized term that gets thrown around like crazy that I often wonder if the person writing it is even using it in the proper context.

"Her brother being so protective of her after being fed the, “She’s the deadliest thing known to man” thing… well it just felt ridiculous."

I can't disagree with this point. Maybe Simon's overprotectiveness won't play as well without Firefly as a background. Which is why I'm still trying to hook as many people before Friday as I can and encouraging some to go the second or third weekends instead of trying to drag a large group with me this week. I think Firefly helps you enjoy Serenity exponentially more than seeing it cold.

The rest of the review seemed fair, but ya just get that feeling of, "man, if this guy would just bear with the series for a bit longer..." It wouldn't have been many episodes to get through to be fully prepared and informed for a two hour film you're gonna watch anyway. Sounding like the uber-geek he nearly deems himself to be, the least he could've done was his homework.

[ edited by Kris on 2005-09-29 14:21 ]
WHO GAVE THIS GUY THE RIGHT TO WRITE ABOUT MOVIES? So he's seen a lot and likes to gush and sprawl 80,000 words of dribble, managing to say nothing at all about a movie other than "I like it" or "I didn't like it." Why should anyone care?
Aint It Cool News pulls a lot of visitors, that why people care. That said, I don't think Harrys review of the film is in any way interesting or good work.
Personally, I think we need to give the guy a break. Harry's just a guy who likes movies. He likes to talk about movies. He's not giving college dissertations over at AICN. I like Harry's reviews because he speaks from the voice of a fan, and is unashamed of his own likes and dislikes.

Not everyone's going to be interested in the concepts of Firefly. Harry does sound rather sad that he couldn't get into the show like the Browncoats do. I'm glad he enjoyed the movie. It gives me hope that the BDM can overcome indifference to impress people.

When you take away the all the hyperbole and snarkage you see in most reviews, it does all come down to if the critic liked it or didn't like it. It's why Siskel and Ebert pioneered the Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down rating system. Harry's review was a Thumbs Up. Works for me.
I haven't read AICN unless there has been a link from this site for some reason. I was glad he liked it, but I got a picture of him from the review that did not make me, personally, value his opinion much. Many of things about the film can be picked apart, but the things he chose didn't make much sense...to be picking apart that is.

"Her brother being so protective of her after being fed the, “She’s the deadliest thing known to man” thing… well it just felt ridiculous."

Like Kris, this really made me stop in my tracks, totally perplexed. She is his little sister who, as extra motivation, is obviously psychologically fragile. It does not matter if she turns into the Incredible Hulk, (No that's not a spoiler and don't let anyone tell you it is. ;-) ) protectiveness towards a younger sibling, to your child or anyone you love and whose welfare you have been responsible for doesn't just go away.

I mention this only because it was something that really clued me about where the reviewer was coming from. It seems like such an obvious human trait that if he doesn't get that, he probably is not going to get Joss's stuff in general. 'Cause Joss kinda likes playing with those human traits.

Taking the above into acount, his take on the Operative then follows pretty naturally. Interestingly enough, common wisdom says he is absolutely right about bad guys in general, and I agree...in most circumstances. IMO though, he is just not getting the extra dimensions of this particular bad guy that makes him fit common wisdom and then add to it. Since most people seem to be getting it just fine even if they don't get anything else, I have the feeling that Joss and this fellow are just not a good fit...which is why they make so many flavors of ice cream.

That said, it is encouraging that he liked it at all.
It's a better review than I expected out of Knowles.
newcj, nice post. I'd also have to agree with acp, gossi, TheZeppo, etc. that this entry by Harry leaves me cold (as do his entries in general). My reaction is not to the negative stuff in this particular review by Harry but to the writing itself: uninspired, uninteresting, prolix. I get that he's "just a fan" and "just a guy who likes movies" but I have many friends who fit that bill who would give much more interesting on the spot reviews if you stopped them in the street. I'm mystified as to why he has the power that he does, but power he does have. I'm glad he sort of liked Serenity.
His review doesn't make much sense. One one hand, it seems it was a really great movie, but then he needs to downplay his praise by saying how it's really not that great afterall. It felt like he was writing it as he was watching the movie.

"I think I might have loved it...tedium upon tedium...ridiculous...really begins to shine...every 10 minutes the movie gets twice as good as the previous 10 minutes...[insert multitude of movies that were better than Serenity]"

And 'worst' of all:

"It’s much better than most of the sci-fi that we’ve gotten on the big screen recently, but that’s more of a sad statement regarding the state of science fiction, than heaping amounts of praise on this." Has a line like that ever been complimentary? No, and Harry confirms it.

Don't get me wrong, I can totally understand having complaints about a movie you generally like, but I'm not even sure that's what this is. Maybe he has things he likes about a movie he generally didn't like. It's kind of hard to tell, with all his "Having said that"s. I'm not even sure he knows what he thinks of the movie yet! This is just a muddled, poorly written review, in my opinion.
Harry liked "Troy? Geesh.

But this isn't a bad review; he says he liked Serenity.

As for the bad fans, most of you won't have to suffer that, since you will be seeing the film in a theater where it will *not* be followed with a Q&A featuring the film's cast. Lucky you, huh?
This is just a muddled, poorly written review, in my opinion.

That's pretty much the way I feel about all Harry's reviews. For Mick the Knife and others who like him, I get that he gives a fan's perspective, but I feel like with all the practice he's had reviewing movies in the last few years, he might have developed just a few stronger writing skills.
When I read a review, i want to know if the reviewer liked it, yes. But that's only a part of the enjoyment from a really well-written review (in fact, some of the best to read are great reviews of terrible movies). It's an art form. But even if that isn't what Harry aims for, I wish he'd at least organize his thoughts a bit more so we don't have this stream-of-consciousness, here's-what-i-was-thinking-at every-moment-of-the-movie kind of thing.
I think part of the reason AICN gets so much traffic is because they often are the first to review movies, and they get so many scoops. And, of course, they're fan-boys themselves. But it wouldn't hurt to develop a few more critical-thinking/writing skills along the way...
Well that's better than expected but like others point out, Knowles has never been a good reviewer. Moriarty's reviews are the only ones really worth reading for me on AICN. Still this was indeed not as bad as I feared.

I have to say I'm surprised at his dislike of Firefly and the whole 'verse in general. And ever since Herc and Mori made him watch it and he didn't like it, he's been very condescending and patronising about 'those Whedon-fans', which coming from a guy who dubs himself the 'Head Geek' was very odd, (not to mention more than a little dissappointing) behavior. As soon as it's enthusiastic fans of something he's not so much into, he gets as dismissive of them as many people are of him. Nice, Knowles, real nice.

Oh and a detail, I really was surprised at his contempt for the opening for the movie. It's just a tiny bit of exposition which really gives you the barest basics of what you need to know and cleverly get things rolling with very little talk necessary. Now Harry may obviously feel differently, but as I recall, he loved it when Fellowship of the Ring opened with a similar (but longer and less original in structure) recap of Middle-Earth's history. Pick an opinion, any opinion.....

I didn’t need to know she’s an incredibly deadly living machine of death. It would have been so much cooler to have her just suddenly doing it
Uhm, Harry, that IS how it happens. They don't tell you she's a 'living death machine' at all and she starts 'just doing it' later on...did he even watch this?

Still overall he is indeed pretty positive, saying it gets better and better and that he was really invested in the characters towards the end. Wouldn't mind seeing it again even. More than I was expecting. But seeing how he still has to toss that 'wasn't THAT good' bit at the end makes me wonder a teensy bit if part of him just doesn't want to admit to liking it too much after all his talk of the last few months.
Ain't It Cool is one of those bad habits that I've been trying to kick for a while. I suppose now's as good a time to start as any.
OK, Harry's forte is not his writing. He writes everything stream of consciousness (which is how he can get a review out just a couple of hours after the event) and that's why it sounds inconsistent in parts. The reason I personally read his reviews is because he knows movies and he loves movies. I have maybe 10% of the love he has (the guy's built his life around it), but probably not 1% of his knowledge, so I trust his experience.

[edit] Good point, EdDantes, thanks. I do think there is some bashing going on, but a lot of it is fair critique of his fair critique. I've edited my post down, what I cut will stay quoted in your post, for the record. =)
[one more edit] And also for the record, I didn't call anyone an idiot, lest anyone misunderstand your comment.

[ edited by jam2 on 2005-09-29 18:45 ]
It's become increasingly apparent to me that badmouthing the critic is directly proportional to their dislike of the movie, in other words if they don't like it, they're an idiot. That's just not fair, guys. (...)I'm just saying, I think he was very fair to the movie, we should be fair to him.

Uhm, what thread are you reading? Seriously, most people here are being quite fair, pointing out he was more positive than expected, saying where they disagree with him and giving their honest opinion on his writing. Sounds pretty fair to me.

And, not to be glib, but you're the only one who used the word 'idiot' on this page.
I agree with everyone who's said the review is written very poorly. It took so damned long just to get to the actual review, and it is so muddled and convoluted, that it became irritating - even as he said some positive things about the movie. I don't know why his reviews are so popular (or maybe there are just a handful of people saying they're popular...), because getting through them is a test of my patience at best.
As much as I enjoy AICN and check in with it regularly, I have to take issue with uber-geek Harry Knowles on much of what he wrote in his Serenity review.

He is dead wrong about TV sci fi. From a writing perspective, TV sci fi has overtaken movie sci fi. Movie sci fi has hit the glass ceiling so-to-speak with what it has to offer the genre. Its one note stories have for the most part grown stale. There is only so much a movie can do anymore with special f/x and universe-threatening cataclysm. How the characters are affected by the cataclysm they face is what draws a viewer in. Not explosions.. not cgi nor models nor puppets. Characters need hours of screen time to develop and this can't happen in a darkened theater. It does, however, happen on TV with every new season. Character is the crux of good sci fi.

I haven't read all of the posts yet so I apologize if this obvious point has already been raised: how hard could Harry have tried with the Firefly series if he didn't learn Simon and River were brother and sister until watching the film? It seems to me their relationship was one point that came up over and over again in the series.

My overall response to Harry's review is "whatever". There are enough other reviewers on the AICN 'staff' who are praising Serenity. And I believe someday Harry WILL watch the entire Firefly DVD set. Soon after will come an 80,000 word piece on what an asshat he realizes he was for not having a little more patience with the series in the first place.
It's become increasingly apparent to me that badmouthing the critic is directly proportional to their criticism of the movie

Actually, speaking strictly for myself, my response to a review, including to reviews of Serenity, has nothing to do with whether the critic likes/dislikes a movie or whether I agree with the critic. Some of my favorite reviews are ones I completely disagree with, but which make excellent, thoughtful points or are highly entertaining to read.
Harry liked Serenity; that's great. My comments were more idle wondering - independent of his good/bad assessment of Serenity – as to where his popularity comes from. I have a hard time making it through any of his reviews. I sometimes think the huge AICN fans think that the reviewers at that site are the only ones out there who truly love and "get" movies. When in reality, i think there's hardly a movie critic out there - even the snarkiest and most critical - who didn't get into the business because of a burning passion for film. They might have different taste than some readers, and we might be disappointed when they don't laud the latest superhero flick, but almost all of them really love film, which is why they got into the business, and why they can tolerate sitting in a darkened room for so many hours each week. They've also honed the craft of reviewing, though, which is something I appreciate.

Just my opinion, and I don't think Harry, or almost any critic, is an idiot. I'm just a little mystified by his seeming mythological status.
I would actually love to read a negative review that made sense or wasn't an obvious 'joss hater' taking glee in the fact that they can trash Serenity. Because I totally acknowledge that I watch the movie through rose-colored fan glasses, and it's hard for me to distance myself enough to see the negative points, which every movie has. So I'd like to see it through a non-fan's eyes, someone who doesn't have as much invested in it as I(we) do and that can look at it objectively. Because I can't. No one thinks their own baby is ugly, ya know?
I had a hard time reading the review, not because of what it said, but because it was boring. So very much of the review was about how very cool the reviewer is, which is always off-putting.

I had the same reaction as Kris, above, regarding his 'production values' comment. It was a pretty fuzzy comment and I'm left scratching my head, which is OK, cause it itches.

Hopefully his review might get some uninitiated AICN readers to go see the movie.
EdDantes, thanks for pointing out that the River-is-machine-of-death angle actually does happen just like he would want it to rather than like he thought it did. I thought I had forgotten something there. In fairness to Harry, I do think the opening is the weakest part of the film but alittle clairity there would be nice.

On the topic of Harry mssing stuff that is in the movie, The Operative may be aware his deeds are 'evil' but he only does them for the greater good (as he sees it) which is more complicated than he lets on and also a lot closer to the kinda villains he likes.

Btw, I think we are all doomed to the Sci-Fi TV Movie refrain. It seems pretty consistent now. When I see the movie again, I am going to be way to focused on the quality of the effects. Darn it.

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