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October 04 2005

(SPOILER) Doing Something Right. Serenity gets thoughtful, positive review from Locus Online, a magazine read primarily by print science fiction professionals and fans.

Locus has a pretty small circulation, so this isn't going to put a lot of butts in the seats. But for my money, this is the best review I've read so far -- not because it's the most enthusiastic or eloquent, but because it really nails what I see as the film's flaws and virtues, and also does a good job of exploring its ideas and philosophy.

(The review spoils a major plot point, so don't read until you've seen the movie, or if you don't mind being spoiled.)

Gary Westfahl managed to say exactly what I've been struggling to express. I don't agree with his conclusion though that there shouldn't be a sequel to Serenity. I believe that there are more stories to tell within this particular 'verse and that a sequel might offer the chance to depart from some of the sci-fi conventions used in the film.
With this culminating film, he may have said all that he can say through the medium of this universe, so that film sequels or a return to series television, while still reflecting his considerable talents, would be sterile and repetitive.


This guy so doesn't know what Joss can do. Joss thinks outside a box considerably bigger than Gary Westfahl's, and if given the chance to do sequels, will most likely prove his essay fallacious.
I agree actually with the statement that Joss is not the most imaginative sci fi writer/director out there, because he writes about people best. The squishy insides and messy questions about what makes people tick drive his work, while sometimes the outward plot elements (at least to me) are kinda rote. Which is why I want a sequel -- not to learn more about the 'verse, but to learn more about what happens to these characters.
I have friends (Firefly-loving friends at that) who have also said that a sequel would be kind of pointless -- as in the end of "Buffy" and of "Angel", there is a sense that "Firefly" and "Serenity" tell a complete tale. There may still be stories to tell in this universe and with these characters, but at the same time you feel like the main character has already gone through their arc, has already made a large, complete journey. I hate, *hate* the typical Hollywood logic that if something makes money, it must have sequels ad nauseum.

All of that said, I trust that if Joss thinks a sequel will be awesome, it will be awesome. But I don't think we should fault Westfahl for disagreeing. Nor, Nebula1400, would a successful sequel "prove his essay fallacious" since we're talking about one passing remark that has ltitle to do with the review's main points.
bobothebrave - "there is a sense that "Firefly" and "Serenity" tell a complete tale"

That is a very minority opinion. :)
I read a LOT of SF and there are many writers who are famous for squishy insides and messy questions (great line dotikin) - Ursula Le Guin for example. Just because the story focuses on people doesn't mean its not SF. Some of the most soulless and boring SF I've read has had the most imaginative technology/aliens/etc.
Well I definitely think there is room for a lot more character development and many more great stories that can be told, but Serenity is a great stand-alone film that doesn't really need a sequel. Most of the things that were left unresolved from the series were thankfully resolved in Serenity.
I'll disagree about the need for a Big Damned Sequel: Serenity is complete without one, but I still want one. This is, however, a very good article, and I find myself glad to know it's such a well regarded film from outside our Browncoated ranks.
I think Serenity is complete without needing a sequel but that doesn't mean there aren't more stories to tell. We still don't know what Inara's story is nor do we know about Book's either. There were many hints in the movie regarding Book's past that I think Joss could easily explore and was most likely setting up for a sequel.

For an example, it would've been easy to say that Buffy's story was complete once she defeated the Master but look how far Joss took that storyline.
While there are many points I disagree with, I'll just go with this one--never do any of the characters say that they're getting the signal out to bring down the Alliance. They know they can't, and by the end of the film, What they're just doing is a very small, but what they think is important thing: getting the truth out, because people deserve to know it.

In fact, one of the lines cut from the film, comes from the Mal to the Operative:

Seems to me certain things were missed by the reviewer.

And I for one, see very many possibilities in sequels. Fall out from this film's events, shifting the focus to different character arcs...much to explore. And the closure is no different than the closure you get at the end of his TV seasons. Yet there's still more to tell....

[ edited by pat32082 on 2005-10-04 20:05 ]

[ edited by pat32082 on 2005-10-04 20:06 ]
I think the reviewer might have missed a couple of the points of the movie. I might be wrong too, someone speak up if I am.

Of course, when the only evidence on hand of efforts to improve humanity is a drug that turns some people into inert statues and others into crazed cannibals, the film's deck is pretty much stacked against human-transforming technology, and one might also protest that "making people better" could be said to include putting them in spaceships and giving them terraformed worlds to live on, which nobody in the crew of Serenity seems to object to.


The point that Mal objected to was making the people themselves better, not their environment.

and, as if sensitive to the charge of borrowing from George Lucas, Whedon does have the Operative say of the Alliance that it is "not some evil empire" but audiences know better


This was a line to explain the Operative's character. It tells the audience that he really believes in what he is doing, and he believes it's the RIGHT thing.
I know that overall Westfahl's remarks and review were positive, and many of his critiques of the movie have merit; however, the best sci-fi deals with the human condition and deeper issues (i.e. man's inhumanity to man, power and powerlessness, etc.). I think Joss could come up with some very powerful future stories with what he has laid down as a basis for that storytelling between Firefly and Serenity. I don't see it as an end, but a new starting point. If anyone can continue with these characters in their setting and tell an entirely new story that is still a natural extension of what has been told, it's Joss. Furthermore, Joss has a way of coming at something from a totally unexpected angle which is fresh and original - and I fully expect that he can write great sci-fi for the screen; but he's also a genre-bender, and nothing he writes is pure sci-fi, or pure adventure, or pure comedy, or pure drama. He creates stories that defy classical definitions or categories, so his sci-fi is never going to be pure sci-fi. It's going to be a hybrid that is uniquely his. Even though it may have been a minor point in Westfahl's essay, it shows that he doesn't fully know what Joss is capable of.

Of course, I would also openly welcome anything new from Joss that is not connected with any of his previous 'verses.
redfern - I absolutely agree. That, more than anything else, was the part of the essay that I disagreed with. When Westfahl claims that "science fiction may not be Whedon's forte" (because he doesn't seem all that interested in traditional science fiction speculation and worldbuilding), I wanted to shout, "What about Philip K. Dick? What about Ursula Le Guin? What about William Gibson? What about arrrrgggghhh."

pat32082- I think you're right, but I also think that in the final cut of the film, a lot of that is obscured. If I remember correctly, all that we get regarding the fate of the Alliance is So, judging from the *film itself*, thinking that the alliance is a perfectly fair conclusion.

I do think that the one key point that Westfahl misunderstands is the role of the Alliance, that it really *isn't* an evil empire, but rather a mirror of both the virtues and faults of the contemporary United States. But I think it's hard for anyone who hasn't read interviews with Joss to see that on the first viewing (and I don't think it's fair to ding him for not catching a line *that wasn't even in the finished film.*)

Overall, it seems to me that Westfahl didn't so much miss things as interpret them differently. Which isn't to say that his interpretations might not be *wrong*, particularly when judged in light of Joss' stated intentions. But I think saying Westfahl "missed" points (implying that he would see things the way we do, if only he had paid more attention) is to do him the same disservice that many reviewers did to Joss when they said "Serenity" didn't have any ideas at all.

[ edited by bobothebrave on 2005-10-04 20:39 ]
I guess the thing I like about this review is that it has something you can think about and argue with, rather than reviews that just say "That was fun!" or "That was awesome!" Not that those reviews aren't a good thing for the movie, they just do a lot less for me as a reader.
And honestly, I never saw the Alliance as an Evil Empire, either. It's a government that probably began with the best of intentions, and then....the corruption started. It only takes a few bad apples.

It's run by a Parliment, not a dictator (as far as we know), and outside of certain large, moral errors that Joss implies (in his History of the Verse) were committed by secret bodies beyond the Parliment's knowledge, which they chose to cover up after learning about. A huge mistake obviously (our government has made some moral and otherwise mistakes throughout history too), it's just a government. Not some grand, "BWAHAHAHA!" body of evildoers.

Their biggest error (besides, THAT one) is ignorance of their impoverished citizens, which, well...sounds familiar. Which I think sets the Firefly universe apart.

ETA: bobthebrave, yeah, it is kind of obscured, but the fact that the Operative says

[ edited by pat32082 on 2005-10-04 20:41 ]

[ edited by pat32082 on 2005-10-04 20:42 ]

[ edited by pat32082 on 2005-10-04 20:44 ]
One thing I love about Joss is that the focus is on the human aspects of the story, but all of the genre stuff is still pretty cool and interesting. With Buffy and Angel for example, the different monsters and mythology and characters still give it a unique feeling and can be fun or scary or just interesting.

To me, it doesn't feel like any of Joss's universes are finished. Firefly, particularly, has a lot more life left in it. I do feel that we could see a lot more of the Buffyverse characters and universe again, but even more so with Firefly because we only have 14 episodes and a 2 hour movie, as opposed to 254 episodes. I thought that one particular aspect of River's story was brought to some closure, but not her character as a whole, nor indeed any of the other characters.

The same with Buffy and Angel, I feel there is a lot of mileage left in the characters and even more so in the universe itself, for example something like Tales of the Slayers or Fray would work as a film or miniseries or something. I don't feel like the Firefly-verse or Buffyverse is over, not by a long shot, and from each of them you get the sense that the story continues after the fade to black, that these characters will endure more struggles and experience more happiness in their lives.
Hmm. I think Serenity's main theme is the construction of history and the difference between history and mythology. The mythologising of the history in Serenity/Firefly is no different from the mythology of the American Civil War that was formed during the reconstruction... and has only continued to grow. (I'm an Australian, so I'm very familar with the dialetic between history and myth and its importance in being a battle ground for the construction of national identity).

In other words, the Alliance is meant to be analogous to the Northen States both ante and post bellum. [SPOILERS FOLLOW SO ALL INVISIVBLE]



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