Sunday, September 11, 2005

One Thing I (Already) Dislike About Serenity

As I said in my previous post, I haven't written too much here about Katrina because I have been, for the most part, too heartsick to do so. Still am.

So instead I will turn to a happier topic: a movie I'm looking forward to. The movie in question is Serenity; it is the movie which is based upon -- continues the story of -- the wonderful, sadly-aborted TV series created by Joss Whedon, Firefly. So to celebrate the forthcoming resurrection of this tale in a new medium, I will start a series of posts about what I liked about Firefly.

(In case anyone out there hasn't heard of it, Firefly was a TV series produced by Joss Whedon, executive producer of those other wonderful series Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. Only 14 episodes were made before the show was canceled -- and they were run out of order, so the show was never really given a chance. But it sold very well as a set of DVDs, so now a movie of the show, called Serenity, is coming out on September 30 -- watch for it! And if you haven't seen the show, check it out.)

But before I begin that series, let me list something I don't like about Serenity.

Now, I should make clear that I haven't actually seen the movie yet -- primarily because it isn't being released in the U.S. until September 30. That isn't quite decisive, actually -- there have been an unusual number of pre-screenings of the film, so I know people who've seen it; but none of those pre-screenings, for some reason, were held in the teeming metropolis of Ithaca, New York. So I haven't seen the film.

But yes, I already have a complaint:

It's too short.

Don't get me wrong. I'm delighted that Universal gave Whedon a chance to make a film of Firefly -- that that story, those characters, that universe will continue. I'll list some of the reasons why I am glad in forthcoming posts on this topic. And I'm fairly sure, given the reactions I've heard about to the pre-screenings of the film, both from friends and on the web, that I'll love the film. It sounds terrific.

But damnit, I don't want to see a film of Firefly. I want to see the next season of Firefly -- better yet, six more seasons. This is not simply irritation that I'll get two hours of entertainment rather than twenty-two, or a hundred and thirty-two. It's also that, frankly, I think the basic story involved would be a lot better as a TV show. Joss Whedon has said that what gets sacrificed in a film is character moments; in many ways, this is obvious. TV does slow development of character very well, just by the nature of its structure. A lot of facts about these characters, a lot of dangling plot threads and outstanding questions, would be wonderful answered slowly, over the course of many episodes. Whereas in a film -- or even a series of films -- they will be answered with a bang, if at all. The universe is so complex, the characters so rich, that it really ought to have been a TV show -- no surprise, since after all it was designed as one.

One example -- not even one example, since it is the basic structural fact that gets to the heart of the matter. In the 'making-of' feature that's in the DVD set, Joss Whedon talks about expanding the number of characters from five to nine, because a deeper and more complex ensemble would be better for TV. And so it would; but if he'd started out to make a film, I'd bet he'd have stuck with five. Again, don't get me wrong: I wouldn't want to sacrifice any of the nine. (For that matter, my vague impression is that Book has a small roll in the movie -- which I for one will be sorry about if I'm right.) But nine characters are simply too many for a movie to handle well. The only way you'd do it is if the movie was based on a pre-existing source -- such as Lord of the Rings (which never would have been made in anything like its actual form if it were an original movie: apart from the number of characters, which would have unquestionably been cut, can you imagine them bothering with the sizes of the hobbits? Or creating a CGI character with such a big role (given the technology of the time)? And so forth.) Or Firefly. Oh, it's not impossible: original film scripts (i.e. not based on anything else) with that many characters have been made. Gosford Park comes to mind, which had a lot more. But it's difficult, especially in an action movie, which is what Serenity appears to be. (Whedon originally intended Firefly to be mostly a drama.) So while I'm glad the pre-existing show forced his hand on the number of characters, it doesn't quite fit the medium.

I expect that I'll have to eat these words in a few weeks, at least to some extent, since I expect, as I said, to love the film. And I have sky-high hopes that Whedon will, in fact, manage to deal well with so many characters, such a complex place. But I suspect that on some level, no matter how great the film is, I think I'll always be sorry that it didn't stay on the air as a TV show.

Enough griping: the next installment will list some of the other reasons I like Firefly. (Huh? Other reasons? You haven't listed any yet! -- Stay tuned, Noble Readers: the answers to that question will come soon.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Stephen, this is nonsense! Keep up the good work. Best and more, Uncle John.