Serenity
Directed by Joss Whedon
2005, 119 min., PG-13

Science fiction, when it’s done right, is a terrific vehicle for developing ideas that apply to the real world. “Serenity” is done very well. The ideas it develops are good news for all of us — and terrible news for George W. Bush and all of them.

The future universe depicted in the film, as in the wonderful television program “Firefly” before it, has fallen into the clutches of a bitterly regimented, controlling, unseen ruling clique: “The Alliance.” They have destroyed all organized resistance in a recent civil war.

One veteran of the losing side, the hardened and seemingly cynical Captain Malcolm Reynolds, tries to make a living with an ancient Firefly-class space freighter (the back end of it lights up!) misnamed “Serenity” and a disorganized crew of maverick space jockeys. They can’t afford to be picky about legality, so they take on whatever paying jobs they can find, including a little robbery from time to time. Reynolds makes it clear that he is not trying to fight The Alliance, but just trying to get by within the world they control.

The Alliance, on the other hand, is much less tolerant of Serenity’s crew. Their secret vulnerability, the reason that they so fear Reynolds and his rejects, is never completely clear. For purposes of this episode, The Alliance is out to recover the results of one of its uglier mind-control experiments, a woman named River who is hidden aboard Serenity.

The film doesn’t portray the nearly perfect future universe of the “Star Trek” series. It doesn’t show great masses in interplanetary war as in “Star Wars.” What makes “Serenity” wonderful sci-fi is the revelation of a small group of very human people who have not surrendered to regimentation and oppression, and never will.

Admirers of the television series and director Joss Whedon’s better-known “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” are going to love “Serenity.” Everybody who is willing to put up a fight against terrific odds is probably going to like it too.

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