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bad guy visits the ranch homestead - western imagery in Serenity

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high impact space visuals - Serenity crossing genre borders

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Serenity
cast: Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk, Adam Baldwin, and Summer Glau

director: Joss Whedon

119 minutes (PG-13) 2005
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Universal NTSC DVD Region 1 retail

RATING: 9/10
reviewed by Alasdair Stuart
The little series that could, Firefly's cult status was assured almost before it aired. With an impeccable pedigree of writers and actors, the series was smart, funny, surprising and unlike anything else on television. Unsurprisingly, it lasted half a season. Surprisingly, it's back.

Unprecedented DVD sales led to a movie being given the go ahead and this is the end result. The entire cast are back, Whedon is back, and the result is unlike anything else in the genre. Believe me that's not an idle boast, there are moments in Serenity which no other sci-fi franchise would dare try, let alone succeed at.

Picking up six months after the final episode, Serenity sees Mal Reynolds' crew beginning to fall apart. Inara and Book have both left, times are tight, and Mal finds himself forced to turn to petty crime to pay the bills. The good news of course, is that the crew are very good at it. The bad news is, the Alliance have had enough...

Serenity is packed with incident, whether it's designed to fill in gaps in the backstory or move the overall story ahead. From the opening, showing Simon rescuing his sister from the Alliance test facility she was held at to the closing, astounding action sequence the film never lets up and never once lets the characters or viewers forget how big the situation is. Mal & Co are playing in a different arena now, the stakes are higher and there are moments where the tension is almost unbearable. In particular, I defy anyone to watch the final 40 minutes without covering his or her face at least once.

However, the script is a lot more than simple character beats. Mal, always one of the most interesting characters on the show, is really brought to the fore here and taken to some remarkably dark places. The brutal, stoical pragmatism that got him through the series is tested to breaking point and there are several points where it becomes clear that at best he's deeply disturbed and at worst, completely insane. The fact that Mal is also one of the most decent people in this universe is not lost on the other characters or the viewer.

Whilst the new format means the cast don't all get their moment in the sun, most of them still find room to impress. Jewel Staite is given arguably the best lines in a script crammed full of them, Gina Torres, Alan Tudyk and Adam Baldwin all turn in impressive work and Ron Glass and Morena Baccarin impress with the small amount of time they're given. However, the other standouts amongst the crew are Maher and Glau as Simon and River. Glau in particular is superb; combining terrifying physical prowess with moments of beautifully judged deadpan comedy. Topping off the cast is Ejiofor as the Operative, the Alliance officer sent after Mal and co and once again, he does nothing but impress. Polite, intelligent, convivial and sociopathic, the Operative is one of the best villains Whedon has ever created and Ejiofor even manages to make him sympathetic at times.

It's not just the film that's a cut above the rest. The DVD release has some great extras, including 15 minutes of deleted and extended scenes, some genuinely great outtakes and behind-the-scenes featurettes. The real star here though is Future History: The Story Of Earth-That-Was. Finally answering a couple of vital questions about the series' past, this not only helps the film but the TV series as well. It's also rounded out by Whedon's surprisingly emotive introduction to an early screener of the film.

Serenity is one of the most impressive science fiction films in years. It's both a continuation of the series and a story in its own right, balancing comedy with tragedy, horror and action to tremendous effect. Epic, human, and gripping from start to finish this is a quality release of a quality film. Not to be missed.
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