Serenity: Possibly The Most Perfect Science Fiction Movie Ever

Okay, so maybe I’m a little bit biased…but then again perhaps not.

What makes a great science fiction movie after all? Well, in no particular order I’d say; fully developed characters who use clever and engaging dialog, a good balance between emotional elements such as tragedy and comedy, a well thought out plot based on a scientific possibility, a well constructed and believable universe, and lastly general movie stuff like great acting-directing-special effects-ect. (like I said, no particular order).

Shall I start this discussion with an example of a terrible science fiction movie? Sure why not kick up some controversy. I strongly dislike 2001: A Space Odyssey! In fact, it sucks.

To be frank, Stanley Kubrick’s “sci-fi classic” simply lacks too much of the above criteria. Engaging characters? Nope, astronauts David Bowman and Frank Poole are as cardboard as they get and their dialog is as flat as the surface of an ice cube in October. In 2001, there is no balance in emotional elements because there are no emotions. Aside from Hal’s deactivation, the audience feels little to nothing as sterile event after sterile event unfolds upon the screen. Does the movie at least have a fascinating plot? Nope again, perhaps we are as curious as the astronauts about the nature of that big black board thing, but we never get a satisfying answer and neither do they. The universe is also shallow where it’s developed at all and by this point, in this yawn-fest of a film, it’s too late for outstanding visual effects to save it.

There you go, internet, you may now hate on me in the comments to your heart’s content.

So why is 2001: A Space Odyssey considered by many to be the greatest science fiction movie of all time? My theory is because it beat the pants off of much of what came before. In the late 1960s, Americans were crazy for our space program and 2001 took us up into orbit with the astronauts for the very first time in film. Achievement though that was, however, the movie itself hasn’t aged well. And for writers and directors looking to make a good science fiction story, it’s a poor example to follow.

So why do I think Joss Whedon’s Serenity is such hot stuff? After all, it’s not nearly as famous as 2001: A Space Odyssey and is often found in discount DVD bin these days.

I’m glad you asked. First off, If you are familiar with the TV show Firefly, I’d like you to forget about it. True, the show was extremely cool, however, part of what makes Serenity so great is that you don’t need to know anything about Firefly to enjoy the movie that was inspired by it.

The film starts out with a brief “history lesson” scene that introduces the universe, which evolves into  backstory scene as Simon Tam rescues his sister River from a government laboratory, which flows into an exposition scene where we meet the villain, which concludes with a scene on the space ship where the captain talks to (and introduces to the audience) each crewmember in turn which includes Simon and River Tam. Honestly, I think the beginning of the movie is pure genius as the audience is engaged from square one and by the time your butt has gotten really comfy in the theater’s seat, you know everything you need to understand the story unfolding and the universe it’s set in.

The actors are all well versed in their characters (having played the parts already on TV) and are given top notch dialog to banter with one another. The comedy is never silly or distracting but is always there to counterbalance the heavy elements of the story giving the audience a roller coaster ride of emotional ups and downs. This helps, as the plot is quite heavy by itself; dealing with concepts of freedom vs. science run amok in a misguided endeavor to make people “better.” I especially like how the bad guys are not entirely bad guys. The chief antagonist is not a mustache-twirling villain or a knight of the dark side but a human man who sincerely believes that what he does is for the best of mankind in the long run.

Finally, the special effects, photography and directing are all very well done. Of course, we now live in the 21st century and are used to special effects that would have blown an audience out of its seats back in the 1960s. Therefore, a one to one comparison of filmmaking between Serenity and 2001 in that sense is not reasonable and I concede that.

If you have not seen Serenity, I, of course, recommend it. I think you will see that as a film, it is exactly the kind of work that inspires good storytelling while entertaining scientific concepts of social engineering. It shows us what is possible in modern science fiction and serves as inspiration for any aspiring SF enthusiast.

By Clayton J. Callahan



3 thoughts on “Serenity: Possibly The Most Perfect Science Fiction Movie Ever”

  1. Very simply , Joss Whedon killed firefly. In my opinion Joss killed the franchise with the movie, because Joss hated the show, and he never wanted it to come back, and why would he?
    The concept was copied from 70’s Traveler Rpg games he played with his friends, Joss only wrote 5 of the tv episodes. What made the show great was the actors and the personalities they brought to the show, not Joss. These actors went on to have great careers, and so did many of the other writers, so it was not them that got firefly canceled. It was 99% a success because of the other writers and actors in my opinion, and Joss wanted complete control and he hated that Fox made him fix certain episodes to make them the greatness they are today. Finally because the changes FOX required Joss to make, changes that mysteriously did not get done in time, the episodes ran them out of order, another failure we can pin on the person in charge …Joss.
    I have heard other excuses it was cancelled because it was in a friday night “death time slot” , but that was the “X files” time slot where it did great. Or that it was because it did not bring in enough revenue to meet it’s costs, but it was cancelled before it even was completely aired and could collect revenue or re-run advertising and dvd/vhs sales. Creating a show is an investment that they had mostly already made, but I think finally FOX cancelled it not because it was a bad show, but they lost faith in who was in control of the project, Joss, and they got tired of dealing with him.
    Now he had a canceled series black mark on his record that Joss would relive with every comic-con fan. “When is the next firefly season?” “Why did it get cancelled it was such a good show?” “Who are you? I want to meet captain Nathan Fillion, you know the guy with the good hair.”
    Joss was tired of being a fraud and getting credit for something he didn’t make great, and something he knew had failed due to his mismanagement. So as his f-u to the fans that kept hounding him and begging him for season 2, he screwed the whole series with the movie. Joss had to write it in a way no one would demand another, which was no small task, and boy did he do it. While we have thousands of Star Wars and Star Trek sequels, spinoffs and episodes, billions of dollars worth there had to be no way the fans would want more.
    The plot of the Serenity movie could have been written in other ways, he could had written something totally stupid and we still would have wanted more, just look at Star Wars episode 2, but Joss wanted it dead forever. The “proof is in the pudding” that he didn’t write it in a way the story would continue, cause he didnt want it to. The fans that asked Whedon for more firefy, secretly pissed him off so much he killed it, and the fans that falsely blamed FOX, even made unsubstantiated claims that Fox was a bunch racists that hated the Wash and Zoe relationship, those that hated FOX wrote letters and petitions, pissed FOX off enough they let Whedon do it, and make a “series killing” movie.
    So even creating Star Wars sized plot holes like Joss makes Malcolm Reynolds a military veteran who knows the risks of war are not worth the lives of his men, just like the episode “heart of gold” where he was ready to run from just one crazy man, but now Malcolm breaks character and does exactly that to revenge the death of Shepherd Book, which was not like getting revenge was going to bring Book back from the dead, risking his ship and all the crew he loves taking on an entire armada of Alliance ships which even the entire brown coat army that he was in could not defeat, and true to this one of his men gets killed doing it, ok maybe that’s a good story but it did not have to be because of Book’s death, James T. Kirk did it over a different red shirt every episode. But then Joss also kills Wash with no ceremonious or relevent death, not even at the direct hands of the real enemy (the Alliance). And then for the double series killer, making River into a JarJar Binks superhero, “mesa ruin whole series”. Turns out she never really needed anyone’s help throughout the whole series and could have just killed all the bad guys with her brain and rescued herself.
    I have heard all the illogical rumors from pro-impaler Whedon fans it was refusal to sign on for future contracts that killed Wash and Book, but Ron Glass and Alan Tudnik did not have any other careers other then appearing at comicons as firefly crew, so why would they refuse to sign any contracts for more movies? And even if that was the case why not have them “lost at sea” so there was a way they might come back or… might not?
    Firefly is my favorite show since I watched a marathon on the Sci-fy network, only to be lifetime-ly heartbroken to find out it had been canceled years before by FOX. The show that went from being the greatest sci-fi series ever, to with the movie, completely changing genres and being a coming of age superhero story with a dead end retirement. I like many other fans, walked out of the movie theater, and didn’t even ever want to see it again. I saw force awakens 4 times in a row. Eventually I bought the Serenity movie dvd for a $1 at a yard sale. I tell my friends to watch the show, but not the movie.
    And this is all just my opinion, anyway. Maybe Joss was just clueless and did what he wanted without thinking, maybe cause he was trying to get in Rivers pants and promised her a super hero roll. Maybe he was a sadistic bastard and enjoyed causing the fans pain who had inadvertently rubbed his failure in his face for years. But either way, he missed out on a billion dollar franchise that could have continued for generations. “Oh but he loved the series” Ok so why did he kill it? What was his future plans for it and why havent those movies been made yet? Why didn’t anyone else pick up the series from Fox? He alone ruined the series, he hurt my friends- my fellow fans- my crew- my captain, and me, and Joss alone is accountable, sorry not sorry.
    Do I blame Summer, or any of the other cast for not reading the script and all walking off the movie set together, no, but they should have. Ironically if Nathan Fillion was half the man Malcom Renolds was (I know your saying blasphemy right, but hear me out), he would have walked off of the set and said “Now this is all the money Niska, I mean Fox paid us in advance, you bring it back to them and tell them Whedon’s script didn’t work out. we’re actors but were not acting, the point is we are going our way and Whedon should go his.”.
    But I don’t want to be the negative guy that goes to cons and waits in line to ask the greatest cast and heros of my fantasy life the question,”Why didn’t you all quit when you read that psychopaths movie script?” But I am not going to be some pro-impaler boot licking ass kisser and tell you Whedon wasn’t 100% wrong on this one.
    We still demand more and now comics and books, all which are set before the movie ruined it, are wildly successful. “Why does he give us more comics if he hates it so much?’ UMM money, and maybe he feels remorse, maybe even more now that Ron Glass died.
    But be damned sure when someone says they are a firefly fan, it means they are a fan of the original firefly series, and it does not necessarily mean they are a Serenity movie fan.
    I have adopted the opinion of many other non-movie firefly series fans, I just look at the movie as Mal’s bad dream from ” out of gas”, and my crew is still out there shiny.


    1. Wow, I disagree with a lot of what you have to say but respect the way you say it. You bak up your opinions well and I find that rare on the internet. Bravo.


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