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Serenity the second time around

Posted by Richard on October 2, 2005

I saw Serenity for the second time Friday afternoon with about a dozen people from work (great excuse to call it a week a bit early!), some of whom were Firefly fans and some of whom had never seen it. In fact, I believe there were a couple or three people who were completely unfamiliar with Whedon’s work. The verdict: unanimously positive, and strongly so.

I enjoyed the film itself even more the second time. Sure, some of the surprise was gone, but that meant I could anticipate, study, and appreciate some of the surprising moments even more. I’m thinking in particular of the film’s saddest moment (no, I won’t spoil it) — I can see why Whedon felt it necessary, and I think he handled it brilliantly. Just brilliantly.

A second — and probably a third — viewing also reveals subtle touches or clever lines that whizzed by the first time, and the great laugh lines are still just as much fun the second time around.

The only negative was the crowd — or lack thereof. We went to a 4:30 show, and it was less than half full. I don’t know if it was that absence of critical mass or insufficient hard-core fans to act as a catalyst, but there wasn’t the strong audience involvement that I experienced Tuesday night. Sure, people laughed at all most of the right places, but Tuesday’s crowd seemed more engaged and reacting as one — gasping, shifting forward in their seats, etc. And unlike Tuesday night, there was no big round of applause this time — just a few hesitant claps that died quickly.

My suggestion — go at a time likely to be well-attended. One reason for going to a theater instead of watching a DVD at home is that sharing the experience with a few hundred others can greatly enhance the experience. Assuming it’s a great experience to begin with (Serenity is) and the others share your positive reaction (they almost certainly will), the resulting mutual reinforcement of positive feelings is worth the sticky floor, overpriced drinks, and risk of a cell phone or baby disrupting the mood.

And at the end, don’t wait for others to applaud, as I confess I did. If you really like the film (you will), start the ball rolling and see if others don’t join in. I suspect that if it’s a full or nearly full house, plenty will — and sharing that will feel good, too.

UPDATE: Dummy that I am, I tuned into Ebert & Roeper too late to see their review, and it’s not up at their website yet, but I caught the verdict at the end: Two Thumbs Up. Meanwhile, over at the NYTimes, Manohla Dargis echoed my contention that Serenity "should make George Lucas feel ashamed" (emphasis added):

It probably isn’t fair to Joss Whedon’s "Serenity" to say that this unassuming science-fiction adventure is superior in almost every respect to George Lucas’s aggressively more ambitious "Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith." But who cares about fair when there is fun to be had? Scene for scene, "Serenity" is more engaging and certainly better written and acted than any of Mr. Lucas’s recent screen entertainments.

Yowza. According to, Serenity has received 7 positive, 3 mixed, and 0 negative reviews for an average critic score of 4.25/5. The average reader rating is 4.7/5, with an amazing 85% of 1289 readers giving it 5 stars. On their list of review scores for 13 new films, it ranks third (behind Capote and Duma) among critics and by far the highest among readers.

UPDATE 2: Serenity finished in second place behind Flightplan for the weekend, with just over $10 million gross. That put it well ahead of the other two films opening widely this weekend, Into the Blue and The Greatest Game Ever Played, both in total gross and in average per theater. In fact, it’s average per theater beat Flightplan, but Serenity is on far fewer screens (2188 vs. 3424). The only widely distributed film with a better average was A History of Violence (on 1340 screens, up from 14 its first week).

To me, that sounds pretty good. But Brandon Gray described it as a "tame start" and reported that:

Universal’s head of distribution, Nikki Rocco, was hopeful that positive word-of-mouth will broaden Serenity‘s audience beyond fans of Firefly, the 2002 series on which the movie is based. The picture scored an "A" grade from CinemaScore, which polls opening night moviegoers. Universal’s research suggested 88 percent of the audience rated the picture "excellent" or "very good," which is solid but not exceptional.

"We are satisfied," Rocco said. "The opening is where we thought it would be. The fan base turned out. We’re hoping more will turn out in the future. I think over $10 million is a lot of business for a niche appeal picture, and I think the ancillary [DVD, etc.] will be spectacular. … she would not speculate on whether Serenity was successful enough to merit a sequel.

So, have you seen it yet? If not, what are you waiting for? If so, when are you going back?

I want a sequel, dammit! Or a series…

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