October 02, 2005


Reaver Madness

So, I saw "Serenity" recently. All in all, I enjoyed it and was entertained and amused, and will pick up the disc when available, which is about the best I can ask of any movie experience. There was something about it that fell a little flat as compared to the charm of the series--I use charm instead of genius quite deliberately. As one example of my deviation from the homo sapiens puerfanaticus genome, I believe the series was blessedly short-lived, as opposed to cruelly cut down, for reasons that the movie confirmed in its own way.

I suppose there might be spoilers in this post; I'm not going out of my way to avoid them, at least. But mostly it led to a reflection on one of the subtler weaknesses of sci-fi in general, rather than Firefly specifically.

Part of the show's charm was the not-unique but well-realized blend of sci-fi and western. The western is of course a genre all about myth--I'm on about the primary sense of the word rather than the weaker "fiction" sense that it never should have been saddled with in the first place. Barren landscapes whose hostility and barreness is both ugly and beautiful at the same time, hard times, weathered solitary men casting long shadows, standing outside of civilization yet safeguarding it in their own way, knowing full well they're ephemeral--"ghosts waitin' to expire," to quote one particular devil slayer. Sci-fi is, most popularly, a much more optimistic collection of tropes. Mankind being something special in the grand scheme of things, manifest destiny running through, struggles that heroes will win, and everything explainable--there's a kind of bloody-minded literalism shot through a lot of sci-fi.

Extremely tangentially, I blame this last for why "Signs" was received rather poorly, all told. The typical laments that it was stupid even as alien invasions go, I wearily point out that they weren't aliens but demons, and the reaction is typically just sort of blank cross-eyed incomprehension. "But there were crop circles! And lights in the sky!" Literalism.

They're not two genres that mingle well, and again, part of the series' charm is that for the most part, Firefly managed it better than most attempts to do an explicit mingling. (Less explicit fusions are more common; for an easy example, the original Star Wars trilogy--and not the second; this is a tangent I'll return to if I remember by the end of this screed.)

Anyway, that's the element that, I've concluded, was behind the movie feeling a little hollow as compared to series. Almost all the western was dropped in favor of more sci-fi--I can understand why this was done, in an attempt to not be entirely a gooey love-letter to the fandom and to try to appeal to new viewers as well. Sci-fi is inherently more populist than western for a variety of reasons. But it worked to the flick's detriment, the primary example being the post title up yonder.

In the series, the "Reavers" were simply more interesting--they were unexplained, vaguely supernatural, definitely diabolical. They were part of the show's hostile-barren landscape, if you can dig it, simply replacing scrub brush and waterless arroyos with hard vacuum. They were always there; presented as fairy tales in the civilized climes, part of the dread of the frontier. That worked really well. But in the movie, they get explained away. They've only existed for twelve years, and are wholly due to a futuristic Reefer Madness (get the title? Get it?!) in spaaaace. They even have "Reaver territory!" where they're parked cheek-to-jowl. A known mappable threat may still be a threat, but it's far less a threat than something inhuman that can pop up literally anytime from the void. And it was unnecessary; part of the show's strength was that the captain and crew didn't need such things explained to have strong beefs with the Alliance.

This kind of creeping into explaining-things-away that didn't need to be is part of my minority position that the series was best off canceled when it was, because my gift of prophecy shows me clearly that the show would have lost its precarious genre-collision balance in the same direction the movie did, simply slower. We're still left with a fun little sci-fi adventure romp with generally snappy dialogue and only the occasional groaner of a line ("Storm's getting stronger," a somber River states portentously at the end. "We'll pass through it soon enough," intones Mal. That's the kind of dimwitted faux-depth exchange that would fill up entire films by other folks, but it doesn't take away the fact that someone should have slapped Joss upside the head for not exclaiming "what was I thinking?!" and excising it from the first draft upon reread). And again, that's something I'll cheerfully settle for, but am hardly going to settle for cheering for. (You see that sentence? If this was a multidraft post, it'd come out upon revision.)

It's still a very sorry state of affairs that it's no sure thing it'll get a sequel, and much more likely that the Doom movie will probably get a sequel, even if only direct to video. Have you seen the trailer for that? Jesus, it was like being stabbed through the forehead with an icepick of pure frozen stupidity. I can only hope it's the kind of stupidity that transcends--or descends--past itself to become more than the sum of its stupid parts; another entry in the ice-9 stupidity genre. But I suspect it'll just turn out to be crap.

posted by Gar @ 5:49 PM
Firefly was racist anyway because the Reavers were obviously meant to be demeaning depictions of the old "Native American were cannibals" legend.

Yes, I actually heard someone say that today at work. Good thing said moron didn't actually see Serenity or else they A: might have been really pissed and B: might appear as if they actually know what the fuck they are talking about, even if what they are talking about is total nonsense.

That having been said, I thought that if you saw Firefly at all, Serenity was a damn good two hour season ender, ala any of the last few Star Trek TNG motion pictures. Oh yeah, except Insurrection. That sucked hard.

If you don't know anything about Firefly, and yes, it's hard to try to forget what I know about it to get that kind of perspective, I think that you'd end up leaving the theatre damned confused and wondering who these people are and why you should care. But let's face it, a motion picture doesn't have to stand on its own to be good. Meaning that if I had written it, I would have completely dispensed with all background information for the non-initiated. After all, the movie was made for the fans and where the rule that says you have to explain everything, then do a shitty job of it? Oh yeah, it's the rule that says that movies probably should break even fiscally. But I don't think there's a danger of this movie losing money.

Even though our group was only with about 10 other people in the theater (I think) I have no doubt that if only the fans of Firefly see this film it will be reasonably successful moneywise.
Also, regarding the Doom trailer, I think this movie could be successsful taking two possible paths. One would be to use the first person gun barrel camera exculsively throughout the film, while keeping The Rock's face down at the bottom of the screen next to the ammo counter. He could grimace appropriately and drop witty one-liners. This would be fun for about 15 minutes, which is all you really need.

Two would be to just forget that this is Doom: The Movie and let The Rock do his thing. Which is not acting so much as being buff, large, good looking, having good teeth and dropping witty one liners written by specialists in that sort of thing. I submit for your approval "The Scorpion King." Not a bad action flick, but put anyone other than The Rock in it and you have Deathstalker with a budget. Or Beastmaster. Wait, Beastmaster is a bad example because that was actually good. Anyway, the point is, The Rock somehow, "Bob"like, surfed through the mediocrity of said film and managed to turn it, by virtue of his presence, into something reasonably entertaining and not entirely awful.

So please don't try to make The Rock act or get us to actually give a shit about the deep "story" behind the epic saga that is "DOOM." We're not that stupid. Videogame-like violence and nifty special effects ARE, I repeat, ARE a legitimate form of art in the cinema and, done well can be, in the vernacular, a fucking blast and makes for a fun 100 minutes of cinema entertainment. Concentrate on that and I think we can go a long way toward making this film amusing and worth six dollars to see. Oh yeah, and being high as a fucking kite would help too.
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