By Any Other Name

I went to see Serenity this weekend. And I liked it, it was a fun movie with some interesting plot twists and turns and some really good special effects. The whole thing was very intelligent and well thought-out.

Except for the title.

Honestly, when the word “Serenity” appeared on the marquee of the local theatre, my first thought (and I can’t be alone in this) was, Oh, hey, it’s one of those sensitive films about young girls coming of age. I mean, that even sounds like a TV show title, where young women experience laughter, heartbreak, love and friendship all separated by carefully timed commercial breaks. Nothing wrong with that, I hasten to add. Heck, I like a good cry…far more often than I should be admitting in public. But that isn’t here or there. So the fact that it’s a science fiction western may come as a shock to those of you who didn’t dig too deeply. And that’s my main point.

The film is a spin-off of sorts from a failed television series, “Firefly.” Something I never watched, but fans have a passion that will not be dimmed. At the IMDB show times screen, it was quite instructive to see that other films in the theatre I go had a few hundred votes…some had four thousand or so…but only Serenity had over seventeen thousand.

That’s quite a fan base. And that’s quite a fan base for a film that is, let’s face it, preaching to the converted. Who is going to dig deep enough to see what this film is about, and then go to see it? Other than me, I mean. People showing up for a sensitive chick flick are (I hope) going to be warned away from a pretty violent and sometimes gruesome science fiction shoot out. People who are going to look for a science fiction shoot-out are, I guess, watching something else on DVD since they may not be aware of this film. But the “Firefly” fan-base, they’re going to be out en mass.

Which turns out to be not much of a mass. Wouldn’t it have been better to call the film something a bit more a propo? Like, urm, Killer Cannibals from Space? Granted that would have tied into the schlock movie crowd (like me) and wouldn’t have alerted the fans of quality idea films that here was something they might like…but then, the title “Serenity” didn’t do that either. (Spoiler alert: It’s the name of the spaceship.) For despite the fact that I went to see it, it dropped off the charts this weekend. Who’s to blame? Well, it’s hard to say. The whole set up is so insular that one imagines the fans of “Firefly,” and writer-director Joss Whedon are equally to blame. He made a film for them, and they went to see it. No one else was invited. Oh sure, you might say. All someone had to do was peruse a few message boards or read the synopsis or what-have-you, and you’d know what to expect and be there with bells on.

But that requires WORK. As noted, you’ve got to go to the trouble to dig up info on the entertainment in question. Why put people to work like that? Why not make it easy for them? Why not try to tell people what you’ve got on offer?

It might be argued that an arty title is the priviledge of the artist and his right to be true to his vision. And I won’t argue the point. But films aren’t just art. They’re commerce. Someone gave Mr. Whedon almost 40 million dollars to make a movie. Wouldn’t it have made sense to have as many folks as possible see the result? So that if it was a huge success, he might make another one?

The second argument is that such actions might delute the cult. It won’t be cool and hip, man, if everyone goes to see it. No, no, it is only for the select few. The enlightened ones…and I’m going to stop there before I get too scowly. I don’t have much patience with fans who desire that an artist, in whatever field, remain their exclusive property, and if that artist becomes a success he has, therefore, sold out.

The surprising thing was, I was able to pick up on the story and characters with minimum confusion. I may not have had the rich experience a “Firefly” fan might have had, but clearly Mr. Whedon was persuaded that potential newbies had to be brought up to speed. (The exposition was quite cleverly handled.)

So, it may be too late if you missed it and that sounds like something you’d like. If you’re a “Firefly” fan, you’ve probably already seen it. And if you’re a “Firefly” fan, perhaps you can answer a question for me. The Reavers in the film are a group of completely psychotic space cannibals. In the film, they appear totally out of control and completely in thrall to their passions, howling and rawring all the while. They seem to be 28 Days Later’s “Rage” victims…of the future.

How in the heck are they able to avoid killing each other, let alone organize? How the heck can they fly spaceships?