11 October 2005

serenity and the big city

Sam and I just got back from a lovely visit of our friends Steve and Kim and their son Teo in Edinburgh. Hence the delay in posting and the gap in our bloggedness.

We of course, along with walking many if not all of the streets of the city (this according to my feet/legs/hips, by the way) also saw Serenity again at the big-city movie theatre in town. very fun, and the second viewing revealed a few more elements of the film that were interesting, predominantly the directing. the near "one-er" from the title through the next, oh, 5 minutes, in which we are introduced to everyone and the ship in one long, uncut shot (except for a bit of fudging as they go from upstairs to downstairs), was amazing. the way Joss framed individuals from steep angles above and below was quite effective, I thought, to heighten the mood/make you feel trapped/whatever he was going for at that time.

I'd like to comment on a few things noted elsewhere. Yes, the uber-state theme is seen in other SciFi contexts, from Star Wars to Star Trek (on next generation it seems that the heroes are in fact part of said uberstate as well), and all of the distopic scifi contexts you can name. Unlike many of those, and Star Wars in particular, the driving thrust of this film is not the overthrow of the Alliance, (that battle is lost prior to the film's timeline) but the negotiation of the Alliance—a much more Foucaultian understanding of power and the state, in which Mal's crew is able to retain freedom, liberty, whatever "value" you'd like to call it by following the path of the Western: being outlaws when the law is, well, not so hot. or not so hot for you and yours. And, like the Klingons (my heroes and a blog for another time) the crew has a code, not ultra codified, but one that Joss articulates in brief, clear moments, whether the early encounter between Zoe (fab fab fab. we love her) and Mal over the man he sentenced to death in an earlier scene, or the protestations of Jayne regarding his ostensible distance from the approach of the Reevers to killing people.

We talked after the film about how Joss was trying to do so many things: the genre of the western, with its cameradierie, outlaw culture, and internal code; the humor sometimes found in those westerns, but often not, set up not with one-liners or slapstick but by characters colliding and situations allowing it to come forth; the message about governmental fiddling with societies and the problematic outcomes of most if not all of these fiddlings over history; the action-movie requirements of the studio that led him to spend a bit too much time on fights and action and not quite enough on character development/relationships.

All this to say that my earlier assessment still stands: Joss is a serial type guy, and this film is awesome. But it's not Firefly. What to do?

it looks like it did alright in the US on the first two weekends, so let's hope for one of two outcomes: either Universal grants Joss the 3-pic deal to continue its fabulousness, or perhaps (and one can only hope) Joss decides that a return to the serial format is where it's at, HBO gives him unlimited funding, and we all live happily ever after.


Transient Gadfly said...

i was also thinking how very foucaultian Serenity was (when we saw it the weekend it opened here, as directed). i thought i might someday show the layout/architecture of firefly to students to demonstrate the complete non-panopticon-ness of it and the power dynamic that results vs. the always always not only hugeness but also roundness of whatever uber-state's ship.

but my gripe is this: i love this idea, this very timely lesson about how to respond when the law is bad and against your code. and the horror-perpetuated-by-the-uber-state (which i will not go into here per greg's model re: spoilers) was indeed suprising and horrific and good narrative. but as a plot device, i just don't think it works anymore. the idea is that this secret is so terrible -- and what the state has done so evil -- that the powers-that-be feel it necessariy to spend millions of dollars and hunt millions of miles of space and kill untold numbers of people to keep it a secret because if the community at large found out, well there would be a revolution or the leaders would be strung up or there would be some other kind of hell to pay. they used to do this on the west wing all the time too (and it is pretty much the premise of the xfiles) -- if people found out that the president lied, that his top aid was drunk, that his top aid's top aid made a deal with this other guy and messed with this other thing, that they all had aliens in their basement...well then all would be lost. but actually, i look around these days and see a much greater horror -- the people know and they don't care. seems like joss came up with the most terrible revelation he could think of, and it doesn't seem that different to me than 'well it turns out that when i said we had WMDs, it was just a lie so i could bomb the crap out of the country of my choice because it seemed like a good political and financial decision for me.' and that (and similar) revelations aren't met with revolution or political repercussions or even comprehension or acknowledgement. it seems like the buffy model -- everyone sees, no one admits it or does anything about it -- is both more horrifying and more realistic (and this is a show about vampires).


Rebecca said...

yes, interesting. I think you're right on. and the conclusion to the film suggests this as well: the revelation was painful but not ultimately damning to the Alliance itself.

The difference with buffy is of course that the vampire threat is a threat from outside, from elsewhere, more or less, despite the integration of it into our fabric. She and her scoobies protect us from both the demons and the knowledge of the demons (or our own desire not to see does the latter much more effectively as you say). the demons come from underneath/the hellmouth/the center of the earth/China? (is there an orientalist commentary going on here?) and so they are, while not evil, othered.

In Angel, the threat seems much more akin to your vision of a scarier premise/threat than the serenity one: an institution run by lawyers that is normal and has its own logic, such that Angel and the gang must fight what is seen as a legitimate force (on some levels) in the form of a massive law office and its tentacles elsewhere in the business community of LA and the world.

I suppose what's interesting there is that people don't see/don't know in both Buffy and Angel, and as a result we can't really blame them--they are innocents.

Whereas, with the US public, in some ways they don't see/don't know, because they aren't watching the news outlets you and I are watching, and so their spin is very different from ours. So the innocence thing isn't a viable defense. But interestingly, this media "weak link" is precisely what Joss is trying to get at in Serenity, right? perhaps (and I'll agree) he didn't get there, but what ends up becoming a hope for the future is the blogger/hacker figure of Mr. Universe who is truly plugged into the media feeds and can both watch and control what gets distributed.

Which gets back to your point about buffy: we still filter it. we still see what we want to see: strong president of few words OR idiot who can't string a sentence together. natural disaster sent by god to punish New Orleans OR massive infrastructural breakdown that hurt only those too poor to do anything about it. world community that doesn't value freedom and democracy ("freedom haters") OR US as rogue state defying all but a handful of other nations. gas leak causing temporary memory lapse and disorientation OR massive egg-laying demon forcing us to breed her offspring in the basement of the high school.

choose your filter.