Monday, March 06, 2006

Lessons on story from Serenity

I've finally seen Serenity and I really enjoyed it. It's a good story, with engaging characters in a fully-realized universe. It's not perfect -- it feels a bit more like a two-hour TV episode than a Movie. But it's a lot better than most TV episodes, so maybe I'm just being picky.

But I couldn't help but compare it with Star Wars Episode III, which I saw a while back. (I saw neither in the theater, so the viewing experience was similar.)

I think Serenity is a superior movie. But why? It was made for a fraction of the cost of Star Wars, there are no big stars -- but none of those things guarantee a good movie (Heaven's Gate, Ishtar, anyone?).

For me, it boils dow to the underlying foundation of the two movies. For Star Wars, the people seem to be there to move the plot along; in Serenity, the plot moves the people along. The result is a story that resonates at the heart level. Sure, it's exciting and the special effects are impressive -- but those things don't get in the way of the story.

I'm becoming a Joss Whedon fan -- after all, the guy's ability to tell a story got me hooked on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and I don't even like vampire stories. Serenity really puts his story-telling skills on display. Even though I didn't watch Firefly much when it was on TV, I had no trouble becoming absorbed in the world of the story and got a handle on the characters quickly. I loved the opening sequences, the sharp and witty dialogue, the seamless effects, the grittiness of the world. It's all good. And I was reminded a bit of an earlier movie-going experience, when I was sucked into a galaxy long ago and far away.

Almost 30 years ago, I sat in a movie theater, transfixed by the adventures of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo and the droids. But the most recent episodes of the series have become more sterile, even as the digital wizardry became more dazzling. Friday night I sat on my couch with my sons, laughing and cheering and holding my breath as the crew of the Serenity crashed on planets, got in bar fights and dodged reavers. And when it was over, I wanted more. I would love to be able to tell a story so well that when my readers finished one, they'd want more.

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