I just saw the movie Serenity this weekend. As an avid fan of the Firefly TV series, I really enjoyed it, perhaps more than any other Sci-Fi movie of the past two decades. Joss Whedon's writing makes the dialogue even more entertaining than the action and special effects, especially if you are familiar with the TV series and the history of the main characters. However, since nearly everyone who has reviewed this movie has showered it with well deserved compliments, this post will focus on the stylistic differences between the movie and the TV series rather than add redundant praise.
For those not familiar with the TV series, Firefly was a Sci-Fi/Western set in 2507AD about the crew of a "Firefly" class space ship named Serenity. It was edgy, not politically correct, and filled with witty dialogue, action and adventure. It was unusual in that it crossed multiple genres and had great writing. The TV series often explored the concepts of loyalty, the consequences of oppressive government, gray areas of morality and other weighty issues while somehow managing to keep things light and fun. The new movie Serenity is a continuation of the Firefly TV series, but with some significant changes in attitude. The following is a list of the three main thematic differences between Firefly and Serenity.
Subtle Changes in the "Oppressive Nature of Government" Theme
In Firefly, the
Most Firefly episodes make the viewers resent the oppressive hand of government and rouses Libertarian thoughts of resistance. People who object to censorship, the Patriot Act and intrusive government can use the
Elimination of "Personal Ethics vs. Organized Religion" Theme
One of the main characters in Firefly is the vaguely Christian "Shepherd", who is a kind of itinerant priest. In one episode the captain of the ship says something like "Shepherd, while you are welcome on my ship, God ain’t." When the Shepherd asks at dinner, "Captain, do you mind if I say grace?" the captain replies "Only if you do it out loud". In another episode, the childlike
The crew of the of Serenity consists of secular and self reliant people who have been through hard times and witnessed horrible things. The captain in particular rejects religious faith as he clearly feels that he is the only force in the universe looking out for himself. The conflict between the captain and Shepherd allowed the TV series to work in brief discussions of secular versus religious thought and explore whether or not you can be a good person without a belief in god. This undercurrent helped elevate the TV series and give something of substance for the viewers to consider while they were being entertained. It is unfortunate that Serenity virtually eliminated this theme from the movie, presumably to avoid alienating religious conservatives who might have otherwise decided to protest or boycott the movie.
Elimination of Inara, the Respectable Geisha/Prostitute
One of the main characters in Firefly is Inara, a certified "Companion". A Companion is a sort of highly trained and very educated upper-class Geisha/Prostitute/Consort. Companions are highly respected, welcomed in the highest social circles and treated as minor nobility by the public. Inara is occasionally referred to as Serenity's ambassador, because her presence allows the ship to dock at exclusive locations that would otherwise be closed to the disreputable crew.
Inara provides the main source of romantic tension in the series and each episode is filled with barbed and witty verbal duels between her and the captain. The captain clearly loves her, yet often refers to her as a "whore". His detest for her profession conflicts with his affection for her as a human being.
While all of this may sound far fetched to people who haven't seen Firefly, it actually was executed very well. It lets the show explore the morality of interaction between consenting adults and provides an opportunity to examine societal prohibitions of prostitution. This is yet another example of the TV series giving the audience food for thought along with entertainment. Unfortunately, Serenity virtually ignored this aspect of the TV series and gave relatively little screen time to Inara.
If you have not yet seen Serenity, please do not let my above criticisms deter you from doing so. It is a good movie even without these three themes, especially if you are a fan of the Firefly series. Most of the positive aspects of the TV series were preserved, including the great writing. While I don't want to spoil anything, here are a few things to look forward to:
- women who are tired of supporting actresses playing frail or illogical roles will like the strength, loyalty and sense of duty demonstrated by Zoe during a critical point in the movie
- Some of the mysteries behind both River and the Reavers will be cleared up
- Just because the characters are protagonists from the beloved TV series doesn’t mean that they will survive any given scene unscathed.