Friday, September 30, 2005

Serenity Blogger Preview Review

A few words to the people who arranged for bloggers to see the movie at a preview showing. Thank you for the opportunity, the free showing of the movie, and the freebie hat.

Now, get your head out of where the sun doesn't shine.

First, as I said in my first post, the whole point of blogging is us out here with our words, commenting on other people's words, deeds, actions... or just relating our life experiences. If you want people to take note of something you think is important, ask us to link those words, don't tell us that we have to post them for you. And, it helps if you proof-read those words first.

Second, use some common sense. The email you sent was a little on the heavy-headed side, plus a little vague, which was why I brought along money in case it wasn't free. Second, it does you no good when your "studio representative" says that we can't sit in the reserved section because that section is reserved for "the real press." As stupid as that makes you look, when the theater collapses the ropes later and lets anyone sit in those seats to fill up the theater, you look beyond stupid. There were perhaps a dozen bloggers present in a theater that sat 400... exercise some judgment!

True, I didn't see Glenn Reynolds there, but then I didn't see any local TV anchors either. Trust me on this, there are bloggers out here in the blogosphere with audiences that dwarf all but very few audiences in the main stream media. You would get some very bad PR if you treated someone with a large audience badly... and with bloggers unless you know a whole lot more than you seem to, best to treat everyone well. Of course, that's what everyone should do all the time...

Pay attention to what blogs are and what they aren't. If you want to create a good "buzz" among bloggers you don't want anything to make you look bad. It was good that you had my name spelled right, although you messed up my blog's name (I can understand that, though). It's nothing that PR people haven't been doing since forever, but as since forever, you have to care enough to send your very best not your very much mediocre with a propensity of putting a foot in their mouth.

Serenity Movie Review

Serenity - Directed by Josh Whedon, screenplay by Josh Whedon -- an extension of the TV series “Firefly.”

Nathan Fillion plays Captain Malcolm Reynolds, the commander of the spaceship Serenity set some time in the future. Mal as he is called, commands an eclectic crew that carries cargo, passengers, or engages in outright thievery to scratch a living. His crew, consisting of pilot Wash, played by Alan Tudyk; two fighters, one named Zoe, played by Gina Torres and the other, Jayne, played by Adam Baldwin; an engineer named Kaylee played by Jewel Staite; a fugitive doctor, Simon Tam, played by Sean Maher and his messed up sister River, played by Summer Glau; plus two who were on the crew in the TV series, but who don't start the movie on the ship with the others -- Inara, the “registered Companion” played by Morena Baccarin and Shepherd Book played by Ron Glass. There is also a notable, although chilling performance by Chiwetel Ejiofor playing The Operative and David Krumholtz plays Mr. Universe.

To say that I was looking forward to this movie more than all of the others of this year is a pale expression of what I felt. I enjoyed the TV series... it was quintessential Josh Whedon, with quirky story lines and witty, clever dialog. True, the theme of Star Trek meets Wagon Train isn’t original, but Whedon did a good job. I could go into the long list of fan complaints about what the network did to torpedo the series, but if you don’t know and are curious google “Firefly.” There are ten thousand people who’ve retold the story, and every last one of them upset about it.

In the past, every year or two there would be a TV show that everyone watched. It was a staple at the office water cooler and all the “cool” kids in school talked about it. The same was true with movies. Everyone went to see Cleopatra, or Bridge on the River Kwai, Doctor Zhivago, the Sound of Music, the latest James Bond movie or John Wayne bonanza.

Hollywood was given over to the bean counters, slowly but surely, and the result was that as the market changed and aged, instead of nurturing new TV series or letting a movie director take some risks, they allowed less and less. The quality of the fare suffered and instead of going back to what had worked in the past, they grew more frantic, giving shorter leashes and fewer chances... The resultant decline in quality drove more people away and still the suits in the studios turned the screws, ignoring history, ignoring the results, and ignoring the changing market.

What has this got to do with the movie Serenity? Because the fans and the success of Josh Whedon’s marketing campaign (not to garner viewers of the movie, but to gather support to get it made) something that has never happened before -- a TV show cancelled in mid-season, with un-shown episodes still in the can -- was brought back to life.

The movie is a pastiche of clichés. Worse if you’ve seen more than two trailers for the movie, you’ve heard them or seen them before you sit down to watch the show.

But it’s not the simplistic nature of the elements that make something like Serenity unique; after all there are only 26 letters in the English alphabet. Shakespeare, Dickens and thousands of other authors over the years have done a notably successful job of arranging them into interesting patterns. Whedon does as well.

The Alliance wants River Tam back and if they can’t have that, they would just as soon see her dead. River Tam is a lot like ammonium iodide... it doesn’t take much to set her off. She goes berserk in a bar, mowing down the patrons by the handful, including her fellow crewmembers. She has a great deal of antipathy for Jayne (who puts the word 'mercenary' in mercenary), who feels an equal amount towards her. Sparks fly whenever the two are close.

Mal learns that the Alliance is once again chasing them in earnest and...

Er, stop. No... I don’t want to tell you what happens in the movie. Go and see it. Take your friends. Take people who aren’t your friends, but you wish were: this will help you meet a lot of nice new people. Talk about the movie next week at work, or tell your pastor as you shake his hand and tell him how much you liked his sermon -- because it reminded you a lot about Serenity the movie.

The movie is about core values. Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. What makes us human, what makes us monsters. Friends, family, duty and debts of honor. It’s all there.

As I told a friend before we sat down to watch the movie, it’s true when you watch Serenity that you have to suspend disbelief, just as you do in all movies and books. Then you have to lock it down double hard, put your foot firmly in place and don’t let disbelief rear it’s ugly head until afterwards. Afterwards, you won’t care.

I’ve seen some reviews that say that the story is a Rorschach test for pop culture. Look, I’m sixty. I don’t do pop culture very much (during Clinton’s Monica days I famously needed to have the use Altoids as sex toys explained to me).

Whedon spends the first few minutes of the movie drawing the characters. Ensemble casts are hard to do in a TV series, nearly impossible in a movie, yet Josh Whedon pulls it off better than most. The sound is a little overblown in places, there are a few characterization missteps, and some of the CGI looks rushed. The nice thing about having your foot firmly holding down disbelief is that you can ignore all of that and just enjoy the movie.

One last word. The movie is rated PG-13, but it’s definitely at the higher end of the PG-13 spectrum rather than the lower end. People (including children) are cut, shot(bullets and needles), stabbed, hacked, chopped, desiccated, flambeau and skewered as well as the more plebian punched and kicked. One needs to exercise some judgment about taking the tender-hearted to see the movie without at least warning them first.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Serenity is more than a state of mind

Premiering later this week is the movie Serenity, written and directed by Josh Whedon, he of Buffy, Angel and Firefly fame. Firefly is the heart of the matter, as it was an offbeat, whacky, half-western, half-science fiction TV series from 2002. A series the network did it's level best to obstruct from before the first day. It is a rarity in TV and movies: a TV series cancelled in it's first season before all of the episodes aired -- and which was resurrected by it's fans when it was issued on DVD. Now Whedon brings it to the silver screen.

I could go on and on about the show... but it's best described by watching it. You don't need to have watched the TV series, but some day when you have nothing better to do, rent or buy the DVD set and enjoy...

I saw a blurb on Instapundit about bloggers being invited to early showings of the movie if they would review it. I went over to townhall.com and promptly applied. A few days later I received an emailed invite -- but with some caveats. I will link to their site and I will put in the summary that they requested. I also freely admit that the day after I watch the movie, the piss poor excuse for ad copy that they have for us to post is going to get cut. I did better in the first paragraph of this post, and it was a rough draft with zero thought. You'd think an ad agency could do better.

So here is the link to the Serenity web site (be advised it's a flash site and a not terribly well done site at that): Serenity the Movie.

Here is the required summary:
Joss Whedon, the Oscar® - and Emmy - nominated writer/director responsible for the worldwide television phenomena of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE, ANGEL and FIREFLY, now applies his trademark compassion and wit to a small band of galactic outcasts 500 years in the future in his feature film directorial debut, Serenity. The film centers around Captain Malcolm Reynolds, a hardened veteran (on the losing side) of a galactic civil war, who now ekes out a living pulling off small crimes and transport-for-hire aboard his ship, Serenity. He leads a small, eclectic crew who are the closest thing he has left to family – squabbling, insubordinate and undyingly loyal.

I did correct one typo in it, but left in several factual errors. But hey, it's not my ad copy.