Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Yin/Yang of Serenity

It seems that Serenity is still the topic du jour, the 'thing' most consuming sci-fi fandom these days. There's practically a war going on over at Ain't It Cool?, although, frankly, isn't there always?

Anyway, I just think it's very interesting how a single work of art can hit two people in competely different - even opposite - ways. Some people love this movie passionately and would go to the ends of the Internet to defend it. Others are underwhelmed, and want to actually destroy the film.

But fortunately, both the "pro" and "con" side of this debate also boast intelligent, thoughtful representatives, writers and fans who are willing to really examine and back-up their opinions with lively, well-thought out commentary.

So, below, I'm excerpting arguments from two recommended blogs, the first pro-Serenity, the other anti-Serenity. Go ahead and visit these blogs and decide for yourself based on the full pieces. It's a Serenity Death-Match! Just kidding; I think it's really interesting reading. I know and like (and respect) both authors, and that's all I'm going to say. I think everybody knows how I feel about the movie, but I don't want that to color your perception.

But whichever side you're on, these are damn interesting posts, and maybe these writers will change or reinforce your own thoughts.

Excerpt 1: "Serenity Review Part One"

To my taste, good science fiction is allegorical. Good science fiction is philosophical. Good science fiction is about something. It’s about something human, something fundamental. A well told science fiction tale has the ability show us ourselves, our history and our future potential from a distance. That distance provides an objectivity that can open our minds to different ideas and perspectives in a way that few other storytelling forms can quite match.

My favorite sci-fi films tend to be those that present themselves as Rousing Adventure Tales while centering on much deeper meanings and a consistent thematic structure. Planet of the Apes (1968) may be the finest example of this kind of filmmaking that we have. I’m also more than a little partial to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, with its overarching themes of life, death, entropy and renewal.

Joss Whedon’s new film, Serenity, is about something. It’s about faith, family and the nature of freedom. It’s about belief in something greater than oneself, in whatever form that may take. By my estimation, within these parameters that I have attempted to define, Serenity is good science fiction.

For those who remain unmoved by my pretentious diatribe, I have good news for you too. Serenity is also a damn fine adventure film. Charismatic outlaw heroes stand their ground against impossible odds. There are western-style gunfights, terrifically rendered space battles, excellent martial arts sequences and some good old-fashioned fisticuffs. There is also heart, soul and above all, character.

Excerpt 2: "I Saw it...My Serenity Review"

Now I am going to try as hard as I can to articulate exactly why I did not like the film. When it is a matter of taste on my part I will admit that. I may reference Star Trek in my review because it is what I know best and provides me with a frame of reference that I think most people will understand. I don't, however, want my mentioning of Star Trek to be misunderstood. My dislike of Serenity is not simply because it is not Star Trek. So, enough with the set up and on with the analysis.

I don't like Joss Whedon's style of dialogue. I never have and I never will. I get the idea that Malcolm Reynolds speaks in a way that is meant to evoke the dialogue styles of old time western movies. To me, he speaks like a weird mix of a Little House on the Prairie character and Joss Whedon's "aren't I oh-so-clever" speech patterns. I've never been able to put a finger on how you can describe the Whedon dialogue. I do know that it sounds forced and contrived. It is also very rooted in his own environment of Southern California slang. It is referential in a way that it not as obvious or as legitimately hip as that of Tarantino. His characters speak in a way reminiscent of movie poster tag lines and book dust jackets. Add in intentional use of big words and grandiose phrases and you get a style of human speech that grates me like fingernails on the blackboard. This is clearly a matter of taste on my part. I prefer my characters to either have legitimate eloquence or to speak plainly. Whedon may think he's clever and smart but I don't.

The characters were completely uninteresting to me. Honestly, I own all three original Star Wars films on multiple formats, I don't need a poor man's Han Solo. The worst part about not caring about any of the characters is that the plot revolved around the worst character in the movie, River. I am not at all fond of psychics and other paranormal nonsense in science fiction. I can barely tolerate the Betaziod culture but at least, for the most part, that was used for comic relief and generic "he's bluffing captain" lines. River is an awful mix of Carrie White, Kes, and season one Deanna Troi that just so happens to be a kick-ass fighter...

Interesting pieces, no? Both writers are grappling intelligently with a vision an artist has put out in the world, and responding to that, as well as their own experience. Because, after all, isn't how we receive and interpet art based on our own biases and beliefs? I'm impressed by both pieces. If these writers aren't careful, I'm going to start assigning them weekly projects. Next up: "George Lucas and the Star Wars Special Editions vs the original cuts?" Any takers there?

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