All of my friends know that I’m a dedicated fan and proselytizer of the Firefly television series produced by Joss Whedon in 2002 and canned summarily by Fox Television before it was given a chance to gain an audience. True to the spirit and very premise of the show, after cancellation it emerged through word of mouth and a widespread underground movement to become one of the most popular dvd collections ever. Universal Studios then acquired the rights to produce the movie Serenity in 2005, concluding the arc of the story and initiating Mr. Whedon to big screen directing. Nowadays the one season series runs almost continually in syndication on cable.
This story is reminiscent of the first Star Trek series, which was also cancelled (if somewhat less rudely) by clueless executives in the sixties, going on to become one of the most successful movie franchises ever. Ironically, Firefly offers sort of an anti-Star Trek narrative, where the corporate establishment that the Federation glorifies has now become bad guys and the heroes are essentially anarchists and criminals. Likely this is symptomatic of a collective loss of faith in the promise of unending technological progress and the corporate American Dream. Personally I hope that it indicates a resistance to the virtual assimilation and homogenization of the social commons by the Borglike marketing spheres of vast networked entities like Facebookistan and Twitter.
The quote, “I aim to misbehave”, is one of the key lines spoken by pirate captain Malcolm Reynolds before he leads the forces of the the Alliance into a deadly trap to expose the secret that allows them to maintain absolute control. It expresses the spirit of contrariness and rebellion better than almost any phrase I can recall spoken in the movies. I’ve decided therefore to establish a personal commemorative to honor any movie or television show that embodies the subversive spirit so well portrayed in Firefly.
To this end, the first award goes to The Hunger Games, a film by director Gary Ross (Pleasantvulle, Seabiscuit). In a recent interview on Elvis Mitchell’s show, The Treatment, Mr. Ross speaks about his interest in exploring societies where a select few exercise disproportionate power without consensus (the 99 and the 1 percent) and how single acts of morality can cause the tenuous fibers of that culture to unravel.
I saw the movie the other day, not without some apprehension. Judging by the number of cover stories on the magazine racks of my local grocery store, it was the most hyped movie since Avatar, and it appeared to be geared toward a younger audience that flocks to movies like Harry Potter and the Twilight series of vampire melodramas. Not only was I more than pleased with the movie itself, I was gratified that such intelligent storytelling is going over big with an up and coming generation.
The Hunger Games worked for me on many levels. The story is a finally crafted arc where a young and very believable heroine named Katniss Everdeen (embodied with strength and intelligence by Jennifer Lawrence) grows beyond her narrow focus on survival to discover the boundaries of her own ethics and morality. She lifts it proudly in the face of a brutal spectacle in which she risks everything. Supporting the lead performance by a fine group of young actors are veterans like Stanley Tucci, Woody Harrelson (particularly good as a game survivor and mentor) and Donald Sutherland.
Although the movie is set in a high tech future the special effects are largely understated and never come to dominate the performances. Most of the narrative takes place in the woods of an Appalachian wilderness (it was filmed in and around Ashville, North Carolina) reminiscent of the Michael Mann film of The Last of the Mohicans. Unlike many sci-fi epics, The Hunger Games keeps its focus tightly with the point of view of particular characters. Through mostly close-in footage we witness the world narrowly through the eyes of Katniss and thus are taken along on her very personal journey. Outside and against the point of view of Katniss’ we see the spectacle from the standpoint of those who work the machinery. In a single notable exception that breaks us out of this closed circle we get a short glimpse of people rising up in response to an act of courage and honor to express rage and quickly repressed rebellion. The scene is effective and memorable as it exposes the thinly fraying threads of brutal control that an act of individual courage can potentially unravel.
The spectacle itself is portrayed as a cross between a television show like Survivor and a modern broadcast version of the gladiatorial arena. By juxtaposing the brutality spawned by the Roman Empire with the presentation techniques of contemporary television (only the costumes and hairdos would seem out of place) we see the dark side of how modern media becomes the primary vehicle for social control. This is the reality of network television.
At the end of the movie we are left with an acute awareness that beneath a very thin veneer of temporary media satiation large forces have been triggered by an act of moral courage. The story is only beginning. Although I’ve never read the books, I can’t wait for the sequel.