Monday, September 26

Serenity: The Return of the Little Green Movie Critic

Sorry to interrupt rather more important postings, notably the updates to Rebtex's condition, but I thought I might as well report.

So I got into the screening! Bloggers were not treated to the VIP press treatment as we were led to believe we would be. We were herded in with the people who got passes from the local radio station and various fan clubs. In the theater, whole rows were reserved for "Press," which didn't include bloggers, only the members of the legacy media. No biggee, in the end, I got in. (On a related note, I received an e-mail from the publicist, Grace Hill, informing me I could get in to an alternate screen on Thursday night, which they added due to overwhelming response --- told ya they were trying to welsh.)

Anyway, the movie is well made and the performances were on target. However, I'm not the biggest critic of those sorts of things, I tend to focus on the story-telling and the script. (I'm sure a more nuanced critic could tell us how different actor's performances were more or less believable; I basically can tell if its adequate or inadequate, and all these were at least adequate.)

The bottom line is that the story is a libertarian polemic. The utopian designs of the alliance's parliament (most analogous to today's U.N., despite the lefty bloggers' inevitable assertion that the Alliance is intended to be compared to the Bush Administration) is scorned. The story demonstrates the fallacy behind, and indeed dangers of, social engineering. Serenity's Alliance is not the good and altruistic organization of Star Wars' Galactic Alliance or Star Trek's Federation. Whereas Star Wars posits that central government run by elites (elected royalty and wizardly wise people) can construct a perfectly harmonious unified society so long as those elites with evil intent are identified and ostracized, the moral behind Serenity is that all encompassing central government is inherently evil--its agents even go so far as to explicitly state their evil intent.

Contrary to the Star Wars ideal, in the Serenity Universe, good people can manage their own affairs more or less on their own, outside of the presence of a large, central government. The heroes of this film accept the inherent fallibility of the human creature, and accept the fact that human competition is the force behind human ingenuity, indeed, the human will to live. Further, there is true evil in Serenity's Universe. An entire clan of humans, called Reevers, make Jihadis look downright neighborly.

Basically good people living in the Serenity universe, like the ship's crew, understand they live in a broken world, where situations that have no morally perfect solution are a daily occurrence. Instead, sacrifices (true sacrifices, where some die for the benefit of others, not the faux sacrifices of foregoing luxuries, which are the traditional fodder for Hollywood morality plays) and compromises must be made. The decisions about when and where to sacrifice are mostly made by the leader, who is oft criticized and constantly reminded of his own limitations and failings. However, the members of the crew also frequently make such decisions when they volunteer to place themselves in danger for each other's benefits, as well as for the benefit of people who have no apparent claim to a right to be defended.

The heroes succeed in their quest by playing off the overt evil of brutal anarchy against the covert evil of utopian central government. The quest itself is essentially one to speak the truth about the failings of the utopian tyranny--a quest that libertarians and bloggers will rejoice in.

The story in the movie is self-contained and provides enough exposition of the characters' backgrounds that a viewer does not need to have seen the series in order to follow the plot. However, long time fans need not be disappointed, as the exposition shows glimpses of the backstory that they knew occurred, but didn't know exactly how occurred (e.g., how Simon busted River out of Alliance hands in the first place). That said, seeing the series would provide more appreciation for the nuances of the character's interaction (e.g., Kaylee's infatuation with Simon). However, disappointingly, Book's background is never really explained, which long time fans had hoped to see.

Last note: the movie is at heart an action movie, and the action is spectacular. Gun battles, fist-fights, bar brawls, space cruiser melees and kung fu expertise abound. But, unlike the usual Hollywood fodder, this action movie, has, you know, a plot, and a true morality play that gives the action enough context that an adult with an ability for critical thought will stay engaged. Further, unlike the Matrix trilogy, the story accompanying the action is more complex than a simple Frankenstein moral updated for the internet age and dressed up with some Platonic ideas about existence.

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