Joss Whedon's Serenity is one of the most fascinating science fiction films of recent imagination, even if it didn't manage to capture audience interest the way The Matrix did. Lacking the cultural synergy of something like Star Wars, in which fans trotted to their local multiplexes largely for a sense of closure, or the fan base of something like the Star Trek films, Serenity is nonetheless a cohesive, well-developed speculative fiction with a solid philosophical base.
As many fans of the film know, creator Joss Whedon (also responsible for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel) originally envisioned the story playing out over a television series called Firefly. Unfortunately, the show was poorly presented by Fox, and failed to garner much of an audience; it was quickly cancelled.
The show's devoted cadre of fans, however, pushed loudly and vocally for the show's return. The impressive sales of the DVD for the show's aborted first (and only) season led not to its television return but instead the funding of a big budget theatrical film. In a remarkable ironic twist, Whedon - who saw his vision for Buffy destroyed by a lame movie and managed to convince television executives to give him a chance to redevelop the idea in a new forum - was given the opportunity to take his failed television show and turn it into a movie.
While Star Trek may have once been pitched to TV execs in the 1960s as "Wagon Train in Space," Serenity is far more overtly a Western in space. Whedon took many of the conventions of the Western, combined them with a countercultural anti-governmental spin, added layers of existential thought and some Asian accents, and fused them all together into what is in fact a remarkably entertaining package.
The story revolves around Captain Malcom Reynolds and the crew of his ship, Serenity. Reynolds was a member of a failed revolution, and now operates on the fringes of "the Alliance" of planets, smuggling goods and walking the fine line between nuisance and criminal. He and his crew find that they are harboring something - or, more particularly, someone - that the Alliance is desperate to recover. River Tam, the young sister of doctor Simon Tam, is more than just a mentally unstable young woman. She's also telepathic and the victim of some nasty governmental experiments, which Simon managed to rescue her from. And the Alliance wants her back.
Simon and River plan to leave the ship after a robbery gone wrong, only to have a subtle mental suggestion trigger a violent reaction in River during an encounter in a bar. On the run, their options limited, and with the stakes growing ever more perilous, Mal and his crew decide to find out what the Alliance is hiding. No matter what it takes.