Full disclosure: Grace Hill Media offered bloggers a free screening pass in exchange for writing an entry about Serenity; I participated in that offer.
Well, let’s get right down to it — if you liked the show, you'll love this movie. Heck, even if you’ve never seen the show, you'll probably still like this movie. Now, admittedly, I hadn't really seen the show. Firefly (on which Serenity was based) aired on Fox from 2002–2003. [Typography geek aside: Yes, that really is an en-dash there :).] Anyhow, I watched a few episodes of Firefly when it was first on the air, but I never really got into it. Mostly, it was the steampunk nature of the show that I couldn’t get past. I mean, these guys had spaceships but rode on horses once they landed on a planet? What, someone figured out the jet engine but the old rod-and-piston was too elusive for their society?
I’ not going to go into the plot too much here, for two reasons. The first of which is that any Firefly fanboys may be annoyed if I give away too much of the movie. However, secondly, and more importantly, is this: all you need to know is that there’re plenty of guns, explosions, spaceships and special effects (see also the trailer). If that sounds like it could be your kind of movie, then this is your kind of movie.
Anyhow, other than what I saw in the trailer, I didn’t know much about what to expect as I walked in — I didn’t even know any of the characters’ names. And, by any account, there are some kick-ass special effects in that trailer. All that aside, what most impressed me was the dialog in the film. And, I really have to give writer Joss Whedon credit for this (he also directed the film). I don't really want to give away the punch lines but, as a way of example, I’ve been told that it was he who wrote what may have been the best line in the X-Men movie:
[Cyclops doesn’t know if Logan’s an impostor]
Wolverine: It’s me!
Cyclops: Prove it!
Wolverine: You’re a dick.
It's that kind of playful snarkiness that goes on throughout Serenity, and to great effect. Whedon also has a knack for comic relief — in some heavier scenes, he offers a respite through jesting snarktitude.
Another quality that the movie had going for it was its villain. I’m not really giving anything away to say that the guy goes unnamed, which I suppose is neither here nor there. In any case, unlike countless Bond villains, this guy isn’t crazy! Really, in an action movie, a strong villain is as important as a strong hero; and, a villain who is evil merely due to a mental imbalance just deflates the gravitas of the villain’s perspective. What's great about this flick is that the villain is driven by reason (granted, it’s faulty reasoning, but reasoning nonetheless).
Now on to the downsides, of which there’s one more significant than the other. The more significant of the two is that this movie suffers a bit from The Transporter Effect. In case you haven't seen The Transporter, it’s a movie from 2002 which prominently features driving at high speeds (a good thing). And, if that movie kept up what it was dishing out in its first third, it may have been one of my top-10 favorite movies (you may already see where this is going). However, after about that first third, The Transporter becomes more ordinary and not quite oh-that’s-awesome as the first part.
Such is the case with Serenity. If you’ve seen the trailer, almost all the cool spaceship-chases and action that you see there take place in the first third or so of the movie. Not that the last half is dry, but I was almost left wondering if Whedon cut back on his caffeine intake halfway through writing the screenplay. Another possibility which I’m not entirely discounting is that perhaps either the CG folks ran out of time in which to render scenes that may have been planned, or money with which to buy hardware to do that rendering. I have to give the CG team credit, though, for their astounding particle effects — remember that ship with the smoke pluming out of it from the trailer? That looked even better on the big screen.
There’s one other niggle which I have with the film and I’m going to be ambiguous here since I don’t want to give anything away for those who are going to see the the film. In any case, you might say that a film may embody various emotions from one scene to the next — you know, fear, anger, disgust, sadness, happiness, jealousy, love, and so on. Well, there was a certain set of two scenes where the film changed from one emotion to another emotion quickly and I thought it just didn’t work at all. The two scenes could have worked just fine if they were juxtaposed differently, but that wasn’t the case.
One last thing. This pertains mostly to the audiophile in me, but I couldn’t help but notice it — while the sound design was mostly top-notch, this film had some awful ADR in parts. In case you're not familiar with it (which isn't really surprising), automated dialog replacement is the process in films by which dialog is dubbed into the same language. So, much in the same way that an English film could be dubbed into French for French-speaking audiences, so could an English film be dubbed into English — portions of films are routinely dubbed into their original language. One common example would be outdoor scenes. Due to wind noise or other environmental noise, movie scenes filmed outdoors hardly ever have usable audio.
So, the actors re-record their lines inside a studio; those lines are then synced with the original photography so that the filmed lips match with the words recorded (and, if done right, it’s unnoticeable). The problem is with the acoustics. Just as someone's voice sounds different if you’re talking inside a library vs talking inside a warehouse, dialog-replaced audio recorded inside a studio often sounds like it was recorded in a small room (which it was) rather than (say) outside in a field. And, Serenity had a few such scenes. In some flashbacks, a group of students students are in an outdoor classroom but the dialog sounds like it was recorded in anything but an outdoor setting.
So, all of those factors together, is Serenity a good movie? Yeah, it sure is. Would I recommend seeing it? If you've seen the show, I'm sure you need no further convincing (since those that regularly watched the show are usually rabidly enthusiastic about it, not that there's anything wrong with that). But, maybe you haven't seen the show? Well, take a look at the trailers — if what you see looks like a fun time, you'll find that’s the case.