I guess the only way to start is to say that I'm a huge Joss Whedon fan. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (and, to a lesser extent, it's spinoff Angel) is not just my favorite TV show, but possibly my Favorite Narrative Thing. As for Firefly, the TV show, I've seen about 2/3 of the series, and I like it. I don't love it like I love Buffy and Angel, but that's mostly because I don't love westerns (or even space operas) like I love horror, kung fu, mythological fantasy, high school comedies/soap operas, or film noir. But I do love Whedon's sense of characters, his love of strong women, his too-snappy dialogue, his constant deflation of genre conventions, and the geeky way he mashes genres together, and there's plenty of all that stuff in both Firefly and Serenity.
Serenity didn't play at The Vista, our usual favorite theater, and it seemed inappropriate to just go to some shit theater in Glendale, so we went to an early (11:30 am) show at The Arclight. This was our first time at the Arclight, and I could get used to it. Nice, big, comfy chairs, assigned seats (which I'm not really sure how I feel about), clean, attentive, just a damn nice place to see a movie (although I think I still prefer the more lived-in Vista).
So, Serenity. It's good. But you know, I can't help but wish it were a TV show still. I assume this story is what would have been the remainder of the first season of Firefly, and would have been told over the course of 4-6 hours (depending on how much time they devoted to this storyline--and maybe this was going to be played out even longer). It works as a movie, but it would have worked much better as a series. But of course, what are ya gonna do? Compared to the X-Files movie...well, there's no comparison. Granted, that was a different situation, since that was not a cancelled show, but even given that difference, I feel like Serenity justifies it's presence on the big screen much more than Mulder and Scully did.
There's also the question of how well did it work for people who know the series vs. people who have never seen it. Surely the deaths couldn't have had much impact. I'm not even sure I cared much about Book's death (treated as a plot device, from a character that was barely in the movie. I mean, I cared, but not much.), although my heart broke over Wash. If I had never seen the show, would I have cared?
I think it's interesting to think about Serenity's relation to Star Wars. I'm talking about the original films, of course. You can see how those films planted seeds in different filmmakers' minds, and how they've sprouted up over the past decade, and what aspects they took from them indicate who they are as filmmakers. Like, take the bad example of Emmerich's Independence Day. Emmerich obviously was taken by the spectacle of Star Wars, and that's who he is. The Wachowskis loved the mythology. Whedon, of course, is all about the characters. And, like most of us, the character he zoomed in on was Han Solo. Putting aside the "space cowboy" thing (which we all know is not really that original--Star Wars and Star Trek both had plenty of Western elements), the concept of Firefly is basically "the adventures of Han Solo before the beginning of Star Wars"--which is also the concept of Cowboy Bebop, come to think of it. But of course, Mal is the funny version of Han, and the women around him end up being more interesting than Princess Leiah.
And I think they are interesting. There's a tendency to criticize Whedon because he keeps coming back to that chicks-who-kick-ass concept, but that's a goddamn broad concept. River kicks ass in this movie, but she's clearly not a clone of Buffy, or Faith, or what Whedon has hinted he will be doing with Wonder Woman. They are all unique characters. For that matter, Willow, Fred and Kaylee, much more recognizably a character type, are each unique charcters.
It's actually Zoe whom I think is the ultimate Whedon warrior woman character. Strong, capable, happily married to a sensitive, goofy guy (who, again, is not quite a clone of Xander), a Tura Satana fan's domestic fantasy. The pairing exemplifies the way he plays with gender types. And goddamn, Gina Torres is amazing. I can't think of any actress that projects that kind of power. So of course, Joss brings the pain, which would have been a pretty great moment in an ongoing series, but seemed...not meaningless, but a lot less meaningful in a two-hour movie, even for someone who had time to get attached to them.
So it's looking like a slim possibility that Joss gets two more Firefly movies at this point, especially if it Star Treks in the second week. The alternative of getting the show back on the air on SciFi looks less attractive now that he's used up his big arc and killed off two major characters. Maybe he gets to do two straight-to-DVD sequels, if his pride lets him. But certainly this movie does not make Joss into a player. That's OK, I never expected it to. Hopefully he can accomplish enough with Wonder Woman to start getting somewhere. What this did do was show, inarguably, that Joss can direct action. There are some really good set pieces here, and the chase scene near the beginning with the Reivers' ship was as good as any comparable scene in any recent movie I can think of. Which bodes well for getting his scripts made.
In the end, the lesson is: movies suck. TV even moreso. A band puts out a record that doesn't sell, or a writer writes a book that doesn't sell, so what? They can get another one out, one way or the other, and fans can find them, one way or the other. But if a property bombs in the movies, which are so expensive to make and distribute, you're fucked. And TV? Geez, it's almost random what gets cancelled and what doesn't. So I continue to put most of my chips in music, where a band like Shockabilly can put out six albums (and could have gone more, I'm sure) despite being failures on a scale that would have called The Butthole Surfers financial successes. Before "Pepper."