Last week’s A History of Violence relocated the western to the contemporary American heartland. In this week’s Serenity, Joss Whedon finds the old West in outer space, where noble outlaws struggle to stay ahead of the corrupt Alliance (think Star Trek‘s Federation with the whole “boldly go” aspect replaced by pure, autocratic evil).
Making his feature debut as writer and director, Whedon fashions a story line that slyly mirrors his own efforts to keep his short-lived show Firefly alive. Serenity focuses on the struggles of a ragtag band of outsiders trying desperately to get a high-tech videotape played on intergalactic television. The Alliance will do anything to keep it off the air, including murdering the only independent broadcaster in the ‘verse. The film, right down to the tagline (“You can’t stop the signal”), is one big middle finger to Fox TV executives.
Of course, it remains to be seen whether anyone who couldn’t be bothered to watch Firefly for free will pay $10.75 to see Serenity, but those who do will be too engrossed by the film’s effective blend of humor, horror, and action to contemplate what they’ve missed. Though richly allegorical, Serenity also works as a rousing and unabashedly manipulative adventure that never takes itself too seriously. Whedon, who always delights in blending genres and tones, has assembled his most frantically disparate collection of pop culture quotations, boldly and cleverly going where plenty have gone before.