Well, Browncoats, time to admit it: we’ve lost another battle.
Despite a huge grassroots marketing campaign, in which I and every other rabid fan donned our browncoats and begged, borrowed and cajoled all our friends into the theaters to see Serenity, Joss Whedon’s attempt to resurrect his failed TV series Firefly, it nonetheless got off to a dismal start, earning just over ten million dollars in its first weekend of release. Universal Studios, to their credit, claims not to be disappointed: “The fan base turned out … over $10 million is a lot of business for a niche appeal picture, and I think the ancilliary will be spectacular.” But honest fans know better: Serenity failed to change the course of last week’s critically panned Flightplan as it led box-office receipts back to the slump after September’s hopeful rise.
Now, I don’t know the future; it’s certainly possible that Serenity could become a sleeper hit, make back its money, and convince Universal Studios to give it its fan-desired and possibly-deserved sequel. But I have to face the facts: Serenity didn’t break a record. It didn’t break number one. In fact, it didn’t even really help the box office, which went into a slump. And all I keep hearing ringing in my ears is something I never heard spoken aloud: a snark from a reviewer of Serenity, mystified by the reception the fans gave the movie:
Suffering through, I mean watching SERENITY is like starting at the 84th episode of a convoluted and silly sci-fi soap opera. Sure, fans of Joss Whedon’s cancelled TV show “Firefly,” upon which this movie is based, are certain to love it. Our packed audience of rabid fans burst into thunderous applause when the words “Feature Presentation” came on the screen. Various characters from the series got similar but smaller accolades. As a non-fan, it made me appreciate the wisdom of TV executives who aborted the show.
So, time to hang up the Browncoat, review the losses of the war, and rethink things. Clearly, science fiction and fantasy can survive on screen. Star Trek, Doctor Who and the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy were all resurrected. Despite everything working against it, Babylon 5 survived, spawned a sequel, and several TV movies. Even children’s books like Harry Potter made it to the screen, in increasingly successful segments. How, how do they do it? I don’t pretend to know. All I do know is that it’s possible for an indie filmmaker to graduate from ultra-low-budget fare like Evil Dead and Bad Taste to films like the record-setting Spiderman (Sam Raimi) and the Oscar-winning Lord of the Rings trilogy (Peter Jackson).
And that it’s possible for indie filmmaker George Lucas to go on from American Graffiti and THX-1138 to create the beloved classic Star Wars, a saga that will be told and retold a long, long time from now in galaxies far, far away.
Who’s your master now, Joss?
P.S. Remember, while you’re falling into that airshaft, that loss of a hand is only temporary: all you need to do is invest in a new sharp black wardrobe and rebuild your lightsaber and you can not only get back in the game, but ultimately win (though your chances of redeeming Lucas are dubious). In the meantime, your friends will be waiting for you on the sanctuary moon, standing in line for your next picture with a Browncoat on over our Wookie suits.