Starring: Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk, Adam Baldwin and Summer Glau
Universal Pictures UK
RRP: £19.99
Certificate: 15
Available 27 February 2006

Set 500 years in the future The Alliance, an oppressive Parliament, controls human civilisation. They are willing to engage in any atrocity for the sake of a debatable greater good including scientific testing of a teenage girl, River. Saved by her brother Simon the two fugitives hide onboard rebel transport ship Serenity. Captained by Malcolm "Mal" Reynolds, Serenity takes on any job that will pay, even if it's not exactly legal. His loyal crew includes his second in command and trusted ally, ZoŽ, her husband, the pilot, Wash, mechanic Kaylee and the muscle, Jayne...

By rights this movie should not really exist. Taking a cancelled TV series (Firefly) and resurrecting it for the big screen sounds like financial suicide. In fact it's the sort of project you expect a group of dedicated fans to make in their spare time with friends, and shoot on digital video. But Joss Whedon, the show's creator (as well as the creative genius behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel), thought it was a good idea. And, to be perfectly honest, it was. Okay, I have a few issues with Serenity, but in truth fans of Firefly will not be disappointed (on the whole).

It's difficult to give all of the characters something to do in such a short space of time. In the TV series, episodes could revolve around one or two characters in order to flesh out their personalities and define where they are coming from to the audience. In a two hour movie that's just not possible. Serenity is more a River tale than anything else. We get to see her origins and we wind up discovering why she was experimented on by The Alliance.

My biggest complaint is that more wasn't done with Shepherd Book (the preacher). This is a crying shame as Ron Glass was one of the original show's most memorable actors. He really could start his own cult - every time he speaks I believe everything he says. Shepherd doesn't appear until almost 45 minutes into the movie, and then he only appears for a few scenes. Whilst Anora doesn't appear until the scene after we are reintroduced to Shepherd (if you ignore her brief video playback scene near the start of the movie) she does get to partake in quite a bit of the action.

ZoŽ, Wash, Kaylee and even good old Jayne take back seats to Mal, River and Simon (it's like the old Kirk/Spock/Bones relationship all over again). As I said earlier, it's difficult to give everyone a fair crack of the whip, but Jayne? Come on... there was bags of potential to bring out his cowardly streak and while there was an element of this thrown in I'm surprised it wasn't milked for all it was worth.

Another slight issue I had was that I seriously doubt anyone that hasn't seen Firefly will get this movie. Well, maybe on a certain level, but it's only really a great movie if you've seen the earlier shows and you have already fallen in love with the characters.

There are at least two nasty surprises in store for fans of the original series. I won't spoil them for you, but I was totally unprepared for what Whedon threw at me. And it was this that made me realise why I've always loved his work. That's what he does best - throw you off kilter, like in the real world. Everything is fine one minute, and then something unexpected comes along and knocks you for six.

Chiwetel Ejiofor has to be about one of the most believable villains ever seen on screen. His character, The Operative, has more layers to him than your usual Bond-like villain that Hollywood seems to love so much. I actually thought his arguments made sense - even if he was just a "yes" man following orders. Although, as he made such a monumental cock-up why did he not fall on his own blade as he earlier demands of someone who had made a similar mistake?

Stylistically I was so glad they didn't do a Star Trek: The Next Generation and make everything so dark that you feel like your wearing sunglasses for the shot onboard the space ships. The movie pretty much recaptures the feel off the TV show - even down to the fake handheld camera look for the CGI and model shots.

Extras are fairly interesting. We get a full audio commentary by Joss Whedon; deleted scenes (14 mins 40 secs) with optional commentary by Whedon; Outtakes (6 mins); Future History: The Story of Earth That Was - featurette (4 mins 33 sec); What's in a Firefly - effects featurette (6 mins 34 secs); Re-lighting a Firefly - a look at how the cast felt at getting back together for the movie (9 mins 41 secs); Joss Whedon Introduction - a short intro to the movie that played at preview screenings (4 mins); and A Film Maker's Journey - featurette (20 mins). There's also a pretty funny extra - it's very fruity... I'll say no more.

So, at the end of the day, it's very difficult to give a balanced review of this film. Non-Firefly fans will probably not enjoy it very much to be perfectly honest. I'd strongly advise watching the series first and then viewing the movie. Despite my issues above, I did enjoy Serenity, and I think you should at least give it a chance. Anyone who takes their project away from the studio system that failed them, and produces a movie this good deserves to have an ongoing series of movies. Although, sadly, I think this will be the last you hear of Serenity and her crew.

Darren Rea

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