A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that the movie based on the cult TV series Firefly includes some rambunctious action, drawn from both Western and science-fiction conventions. They fight with their fists, guns, and other implements; they also engage in chase scenes on speedy hovering vehicles. Space battles -- between space ships -- result in some raucous explosion and shoot-out scenes. Some aggressive, martial-artsy fighting. Characters drink and smoke in a bar. One couple kisses and looks to be headed to off-screen sex; one character has designed a robot to service him (the implication is that she's a sexual companion). A woman crewmember sees her husband killed, suddenly and brutally.
- Parents say
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What's the story?
500 years from now, humans are colonizing space, terraforming planets in far-flung solar systems, jumpstarting civilizations in their own image, and wreaking havoc based on assumed values and prerogatives. Two sides have formed amid the expansion, the mighty Universal Alliance and the scrappy independents. The Alliance is not only interested in colonizing worlds, but also minds and bodies. A prominent experiment along these lines is River (Summer Glau), an extra-sensitive telepath, brainwashed in Alliance classrooms as a child, then electro-refitted in an Alliance lab until her brain essentially blew out. She wears gauzy goth dresses and teeters between anxious passivity and deadly accuracy, able to climb walls, cling to ceilings, break bones when "weaponized." Her brother Simon (Sean Maher) rescues her from the lab, and they take refuge on the Serenity, a ship captained Mal (Nathan Fillion). His crew -- tough guy Jayne (Adam Baldwin), warrior Zoe (Gina Torres), her partner and ship's pilot Wash (Alan Tudyk), and mechanic Kaylee (Jewel Staite) -- worry that they are carrying these risky (paying) passengers, as the Alliance is sure to track them down.
Is it any good?
SERENITY makes the future quite like the present, and that's not a bad thing. Though occasionally clunky in structure and execution (some images reportedly culled from unused footage from Joss Whedon's TV series Firefly, from which the storyline and characters are drawn), the movie is entertaining and the dialogue often witty.
Styled like cowboys, Mal's team resists the Alliance for all the right reasons. If the brutal, brave, confused adolescent is a favorite trope for Whedon and his fans, the tormented but also irredeemably fated River is also here a sign of resistance to conventional thinking. River's telepathy -- which makes her (seem) crazy and grants her way too much information pertaining to everyone around her -- is related thematically to the film's most idealistic notion, that media exposure -- via a character with access to all angles of dissemination, Mr. Universe (David Kurmholtz) -- might save the 'verse.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the various loyalties revealed in various pairings and groups of characters: brother and sister, romantic couples, devotion to causes and communities as ideals. How does River's wrestling with her training and instinct as a "weapon" serve as counterpoint for the Operator, who sees himself as a "monster" but also believes in his mission to commit murder and mayhem, as a means to eventual peace?
- In theaters: September 30, 2005
- On DVD or streaming: December 20, 2005
- Cast: Alan Tudyk, Nathan Fillion, Summer Glau
- Director: Joss Whedon
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Run time: 119 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: sequences of intense violence and action, and some sexual references
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