Tuesday, October 04, 2005



Joss Wheedon, 2005
Screened October 2, Meridian 16

Score: 6

Good, solid space opera. I liked the show more than Rob did, so 7 could be translated as a mild disapointment, which would be correct. I think Wheedon's strengths are best explored in the series format; one of the things that makes his work so interesting is his simultaneous submission to and subversion of genre conventions. Here, we see more of the former and less of the latter. In fact, some elements of character construction from the show are sacrificed at the alter of action movie convention. Shepard Book's relationship to the crew is completely altered, there's no way the Captain Reynolds of Firefly would say to Book, "You know I've always turned to you for council" or whatever, but Book's relationship with Reynolds and the crew is too unorthodox and weird for an action movie, so he's turned into Obi-wan. Not surprising, but annoying. The nature of the sexual tension between Reynolds and Annara is also altered to require less explanation and backstory. (The Simon-Kaylee interactions I thought were better).

The most dissapointing feature is that Wheedon's narrative and structure is completely conventional. It's done well, which counts for a lot, but it became so clear for so long before it actually happened that (here comes the serious spoiler) River would save them all by killing lots of bad people with her fancy bad-ass skillz, that it was actually rather tiresome to watch. The killing off of Wash also seemed unnecessary and conventional for someone who has gotten such great dramatic milage out of killing off characters (especially Ms. Calandar and Doyle) in the past.

I'm ambivelent about the Alliance moving from ambiguous kinda-bad-but-we-don't-know-the-whole-story in the show to cartoonish supervilliany, although the new explanation for reavers is more satisfying than the silly new-agey line we were given in the show.

The genre subversion here is relegated to the sphere of dialogue, the quirks and general tenor of which I really like, and form the core of my recommendation. I'm also still interested enough in the universe to want to know what happens to these people, but I'd probably tilt toward a weak recommendation even if I wasn't, but Wheedon's vast talents are displayed only sparingly here.

(Spoilers, spoilers and more spoilers)
I'd rate it higher than you, but I pretty much agree with the review. I think we disagree on the value of a good, solid space opera.

I've seen this 'the alliance is now cartoonishly evil' idea from Yglesias, too. (It's the political blogger's disease!) I don't really see it. We always knew that parts of the Alliance bureaucracy were willing to do unsavory things, mostly in the service of keeping things under wraps. Dobson is different from his big brother in the movie only in degree and effectiveness. We learn in the movie that the Alliance is actually governed by a parliament, which suggests democracy. Nor do we learn that the entire parliament voted for Mirandizing (tee hee) the population, it was few key members that got the operative involved. While Yglesias, or one of his commenters, pointed to the Operative's statement at the end that the government was weakened, but didn't fall, I took that to be a shorthand for sort of buck passing and subject changing that would be going on among the Alliance bureaucracy and parliament. ('Why do you hate the Alliance, Representative Futureliberal? What's with the giving aid and comfort to our enemies? So, you're objectively pro-Reavers, now?')

I think my basic point is that the U.S. government certainly has poisoned, experimented on and generally fucked over a pretty decent number of people, all while being a basically legitimate and non-cartoonishly evil government. Is what we see in the movie with Miranda that different from the Tuskegee experiments or the nuclear tests.

On other points, I sorta agree about Book, but he was always the character I cared least about and for. (Although, good for a hair related joke) So I didn't object too much and decided to believe that their relationship had changed over the time that passed between "Objects in Space" and the movie.

Wash's death really surprised me, because I guess I felt safe after Book died. He won't kill anyone else, then after Wash died, Whedon spooked me. As my friend put it, you thought he was going to kill everyone off just to spite Fox or something.

One question I wondered about. Did they tie Book's dead body to the ship? Bit of a nasty irony with "Bushwhacked."

I see your point. I hardly want to be in the position of defending the US regime from ever behaving cartoonishly evil supervillians, as that would be a fools errand. Still, I liked the hint of ambiguity I had about the alliance; messing with the brains of River and others like her is pretty bad, but it's contained to a few people, etc, etc. Using a little force to bring rebellious people in outlying territories under the control of the state is something we generally approve of. Gassing a planet for the purposes of mind control is closer to 1984 territory; but you're right, we only have a small part of the full picture here.

I did have a good time, my comments focused on the negatives because my standards for Wheedon are very high. I could've given it a 7.
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