SERENITY really shouldn?t exist. I mean, who?d make a feature film spin-off based on a failed TV science-fiction series which bit the dust halfway through its debut season? Well, that?d be the incredible Joss Whedon then?

You see, Joss doesn?t take failure lying down. The creator of the ground-breaking modern genre classics BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and ANGEL sincerely believed that his most recent creation, the eccentric space opera series FIREFLY, was his finest hour. I really think he may have been right. I devoured the DVD boxset of the series a couple of weeks before the hotly-anticipated SERENITY movie hit the big screen and, like the blessed few who bought into the show?s rich, colourful mythology, I was hooked. I was hooked by the beautifully-drawn characters, the complex and yet believable future culture, the outer space western setting. I could see why Joss just couldn?t let this one go down without a fight. So the fans ? the Browncoats ? received this stunning little two-hour Valentine as a reward for their devotion. It?s a Valentine which, in the light of the movie?s inevitable poor showing at the box office, is very likely to be the last any of us will hear of the motley crew of the Firefly class ship Serenity. It?s a shame but sometimes you just have to let go of something, no matter how much you love it?

SERENITY is FIREFLY for the big screen but to all intents and purposes it?s a TV movie with ideas far above its station. It?s not big budget stuff and yet every cent is up there in the screen from gorgeous space vistas, spectacular aerial dogfights and space battles, balletic fight sequences (a speciality of Whedon?s) and enough genuine spectacle to expose George Lucas?s vacuous STAR WARS franchise for the empty vessel I always knew it was. SERENITY is the film the latest STAR WARS efforts could have been if Lucas had half the wit and imagination of Joss Whedon. The film?s problem ? and it?s the only one it has ? is that, despite protestations otherwise, it?s clearly a largely closed book to anyone who hasn?t bought into the fourteen episodes of the TV show. Whedon attempts to integrate the backstory into the narrative and it?s not difficult to buy into the story and the characters but it?s fair to say that newbies won?t get the same sense of joy as the Browncoats as they renew their acquaintance with Mal, Zoe, Simon, Inara, Jayne and the rest. For them it?s another joyous ride aboard the shabbiest spaceship in movie history and its equally shabby crew.

SERENITY picks up a few months after the premature end of the series. A flashback shows us just how Simon Tam effected his rescue of his disturbed psychic sister River from the insidious clutches of the Alliance and how a ruthless, merciless killing machine by the name of the Operative is dispatched to track down River before she can reveal the Alliance?s terrible secrets, buried deep in her subconscious. Soon the crew of the Serenity are on the run and everyone they?ve ever met is in danger. But what secrets lie on the abandoned planet Miranda? And what?s the truth about the malevolent, cannibalistic Reavers, marauding killers who roam the spacelanes?

For fans this is great stuff. It?s as if the show had never been away as Whedon?s superb cast slip effortlessly back into character. Fillion is Harrison Ford with his acting head on as tough, weather-beaten Captain Mal Reynolds, Gina Torres is his no-nonsense lieutenant Zoe, Alan Tudyk is Wash, Zoe?s husband and ship?s pilot. The rest are exemplary too, from Jewel Staite as frustrated engineer Kaylee, Adam Baldwin as musclehead Jayne, Sean Maher as Simon Tam and the extraordinary Summer Glau (recently seen in THRESHOLD, another prematurely axed US SF show-boo hoo), a superannuated space-travelling Buffy Summers. Ejiofor is a revelation as the Operative, a totally obsessed murderer who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. Whedon cleverly moves the story of the series forward and while the secret at the heart of the show may be very slightly anti-climactic (and there are one or two plot contrivances which strain credibility just a bit), it leads to a genuinely-thrilling space battle and a final face-off with the monstrous Reavers.

This being a Whedon script, it?s best to take nothing for granted and there are shocks galore and huge revelations along the way. Perhaps the only real downside is the fact that one or two characters don?t get to shine as brightly as they did in the show, but ultimately that?s an inevitability in a two-hour movie with a big cast of main characters. But SERENITY is nothing less than a triumph, a gloriously engrossing and absorbing SF movie which eschews most of the genre?s more tiresome trappings ? no silly bumpy-head aliens or sci-fi technobabble here. Whedon tells stories about extreme people in extreme situations; he?s not interested in spectacle for the sake of it and, like Russell T Davies, the closest Britain has to its very own Whedon, he?s not all that bothered about aliens stomping around on other planets doing what aliens do. As Serenity, even more battered and bruised than normal, takes to the air at the end of the movie ? falling apart as she goes ? it?s heart-breaking to have to accept that this is most likely the final roll of the dice for these glorious characters and their enervating Universe. But for now just revel in this movie and thrill at the thought of what Joss Whedon could accomplish next?

THE DISC: A nice single disc package crammed with tasty morsels, most of which can be devoured in about an hour ? and that?s enough. There are a slew of brief features on Whedon?s future universe, how Firefly died and lived again and how the hoverchase was filmed. There?s five minutes of outtakes, a stack of deleted scenes (which is where most of Inara?s stuff is hiding) and UK fans get the upper hand for once with the inclusion of an R2 exclusive ?Filmmaker?s Journey? 20 minute short. Best of all is a typically witty and informative Whedon commentary. All in all, the first must-own DVD of 2006.]]>

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