Dir/scr: Joss Whedon. US.2005. 117mins.
Nine successful StarTrek movies and one X-Files outing on the big screen are ampletestimony to the enduring attraction of cult sci-fi television. That factoralone should be enough to ensure muscular box-office for Serenity, afeature spin-off from the short-lived Joss (Buffy The Vampire Slayer)Whedon sci-fi western series Firefly which was axed in 2002.
The hot ticket at thisyear's Edinburgh Film Festival may have played to sell-out audiences andhysterical fans - but non-aficionados were left wondering what all the fuss wasabout. The film feels like watching a feature-length episode of a TV series andlacks the budget, originality or star power to compete on an internationallevel with blockbuster draws like X-Men or The Fantastic Four.
But the low-tech approach,emphasis on the human element and jocular tone may seem refreshing to someafter the run of soul-less summer blockbusters and let's not underestimate thepower of a cult as Whedon already seems prepared to turn Serenity into afranchise. Serenity opens in the US on Sept 30, followed by the UK onOct 7 among others.
Moving at breakneck speedto allow newcomers the chance to catch up, Whedon sketches in the basic storywhich is set 500 years in the future. Humankind has colonised various planetswithin the Solar System leading to a war that has been won by a coalition knownas The Alliance.
The outer planets resentthe dominance of the Alliance and have become like lawless frontier towns atthe time of the American West. There is also the threat of the flesh-eating Reaverswho roam the galaxy.
Captain Malcolm Reynolds(Fillion) and the crew of the transport vessel Serenity are mavericksfor hire who have given sanctuary to Rain (Glau), the psychic sister of DoctorSimon (Maher). Like Jet Li in Unleashed she becomes a whirlwind ofpunches and kicks at the sound of a certain trigger word. She also seems tohave memories of key events on the planet Miranda that are considered sodangerous to the future of the Alliance that they send The Operative (Ejiofor)to terminate her.
A mishmash of influencesfrom television westerns to samurai codes, Star Trek and BattlestarGalactica, Serenity has a little more texture to its characterisations anda better sense of irony than we have come to expect from such ventures. Itmight even acknowledge the influence of John Sayles Battle Beyond The Stars (1980),a space-age reworking of The Magnificent Seven.
However endearing, it stillfeels like second-hand goods, right down to the actors stumbling around thebridge as the vessel comes under attack and the presence of a token Britishactor, in this case a clipped, implacable Chiwetel Ejiofor.
Fillion plays Reynolds as across between Han Solo and Indiana Jones and the cast offer variable degrees ofsupport with Gina Torres gun-totin Zoe and Adam Baldwin's tough guy Jayne themost memorable, Jewel Staite is the weakest as wide-eyedmechanic Kaylee.
Whedon's direction isworkman-like without showing any great flair and the thunderous score fromDavid Newman feels as conventional as some of the on-screen material.