Sunday, July 13, 2008

What I've Seen (Short Subjects): Amelie and Firefly

Actually, I'd already seen Amelie a few years ago, after it came out on video. I remember enjoying it quite a bit. Then again, my taste for those sorts of whimsical romances has waned somewhat in recent years, so when I revisited it this week at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute, I wasn't expecting to be as delighted as I was the first time.

Well, it would appear that my sense of romantic whimsy is still there, since I spent practically the whole movie staring at the screen with a big, dumb grin on my face. If you ever get a chance to see Amelie on a big screen, I recommend it; Audrey Tautou's eyes are even more charming when they're the size of cantaloupes.


I was vaguely aware of Joss Whedon's sci-fi show Firefly when it premiered in the fall of 2002. I soon started seeing geeks, nerds, and television critics everywhere penning borderline-evangelical paeans to the show's greatness. I responded to these recommendations the way that I always do: I dismissed the show as "not my thing," and assumed it was being grossly overpraised (See also: my initial reactions to Futurama and Veronica Mars).

Anyway, I recently got around to watching the first episode of Firefly, and I have to say that those vocal geeks may have been onto something. I'd heard the show described as a western set in outer space, but I didn't realize just how true that was. The characters talk like they're on a PG-rated episode of Deadwood, the music is heavy on acoustic guitars and fiddles, and the pilot episode ends with horses, cowboy hats, and an old-fashioned shootout. It's a strange concept, to be sure, but one that manages to hold together fairly well.

The pilot does occasionally suffer from the burden of exposition, but considering the amount of backstory that needs to be filled in on a typical sci-fi show, it's hardly a major problem. In fact, I was impressed by the things that were deliberately left unexplained, like the way characters occasionally break into (unsubtitled) Chinese. I was equally impressed by the production values, which are quite impressive for a TV series. (One of the things I like about contemporary science fiction shows is how CGI lets the special effects department make it look like there's an actual camera filming the various spaceships, with lots of pans, zooms, and objects going in and out of focus; compare this with the repetitive, mostly static shots from the various incarnations of Star Trek.)

Oh, and even for a show that aired on Fox, there's a surprisingly large amount of suggested nudity. Anything to get an audience, huh guys?

If I had tuned in for this episode back during the series' original run, I probably would have decided to come back the next week and keep watching. Of course, since the rocket surgeons at the network didn't bother to air the pilot episode until three months into the show's run, that hypothetical would not have come to pass anyway. As it is, I get the satisfaction of watching a show that promises to be highly entertaining without being that guy who spent the last three years telling you how great it was and the terrible injustice of its cancellation.

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