Science Fiction

SERENITY (2005)

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Director: Joss Whedon
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 119 min.

Science fiction fans everywhere wept when Joss Whedon’s phenomenal television series “Firefly” (2002) was canceled after just one season.  The 2005 film Serenity picks up roughly where the show left off and ties up some of the most frustrating loose ends of the plot.

When the Earth’s environment began to die out, the human race colonized other planets, terraforming them to support human life.  When the governments of the wealthy central planets decided to unite all planets under one Alliance, the “less civilized” border planets fought back.  Among the Independent soldiers were Mal Reynolds and Zoe Washburn.  After their crushing defeat at the Battle of Serenity Valley which ended the war, Mal and Zoe got themselves a ship (a Firefly class ship that Mal named Serenity) and a crew and began to travel, picking up any jobs they could get, most of them illegal.  Among the crew members that they assembled over time were Simon, a former Alliance doctor, and his little sister, River, who he had rescued from some sort of Alliance medical testing facility where she had been the victim of experimental brain surgery.  No one knows exactly what the Alliance had been trying to do to River, but she seems to have lost her sanity.  It also quickly becomes clear that she has special abilities, in martial arts and possibly mind-reading.  As Alliance officials try to hunt Simon and River down, Mal has to decide whether protecting the fugitives puts the rest of his crew at risk.  Complicating Mal’s loyalties, it seems that River subconsciously remembers a secret that could bring the downfall of the hated Alliance. The only catch is that in order to uncover the secret, the crew will have to face the bloodthirsty Reavers.

Although intended for both devoted “Firefly” fans and newcomers, Serenity is likely to fall flat if you haven’t seen the series first. Important plot details are conveyed, but the relationships in the film are less meaningful without knowledge of the depth and nuance of the character development in the series. That said, I highly recommend both the series and this film.  “Firefly”/Serenity is character-driven sci-fi at its best, building on conventions of the genre but with new twists (a series set in outer space, but with no aliens, the feel of a Western, and an emphasis on social and political conflict in addition to traditional gun fights and spaceship chases).  The characters are realistic and complicated, the scripts filled with a blend of hilarious comedy, romance, action, and heartache.  Joss Whedon is well-loved for a reason, and “Firefly”/Serenity is his masterpiece.

But watch “Firefly” first . . .

INCEPTION (2010)

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Director: Christopher Nolan
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 148 min

This film is based on the premise that technology exists which allows people to infiltrate and manipulate the dreams of other people.  As the story opens, Cobb, an expert in dream technology is on the run from the law, forced to hide abroad and work for corporations illegally.  After a failed operation, Cobb is approached by the head of a major corporation for a job.  If he is able to penetrate the dreams of a young business man and plant an idea that will cause the man to break up his company, then Cobb’s employer will see to it that all charges are cleared from his name and he can return home to his children.  Cobb takes the job, but in order to succeed, he must escape the ghosts of his mysterious past who seem to sabotage him every time he enters the dream world.

The film takes advantage of the similarity between dreams and the medium of film–the quick cuts from one scene to another without having to know exactly how the characters got there, the seemingly impossible or improbable events that we take for granted, etc.  Just as the characters sometimes have trouble sorting out what is dream and what is reality, so does the audience.  This is not a movie to watch when you are tired or unprepared to pay close attention.  But if you like a solid science fiction concept and like trying to figure out what is going on in a mysterious plot, this is a great film.