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Serenity—Commentary January 4, 2006

Posted by sensawunda in Sensawunda 101.
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I’ve been working on a review of the movie Serenity, but this is not it. No, what I want to talk about is the commentary track on the DVD. There are NO SPOILERS in this post, ’cause I hate spoilers!!!

Joss Whedon delivered the commentary alone. He discussed the art of making this movie, and by extension, the art of filmmaking. Why he made certain dramatic decisions… OR how some brilliant bit was suggested by the actor, or how the lighting director or the camera operator did something even better than what he originally had in mind… OR how a fellow screenwriter said “You really need to clarify this” so he wrote a short scene or a bit of dialogue that could be cut in…. Much of the art of this movie was meticulously planned. But much also came by serendipity.

He talked about times when some scene started out way longer because “I like to hear myself write” but it had to be trimmed down so as to get to the point and keep the plot moving and not have a six-hour movie. As a writer, it’s nice to hear that even a stone genius needs editing… and that the final product can be all the better for it. In some cases you can see what got cut in the Deleted Scenes, and it makes it all the clearer that the movie is tighter and stronger for the cuts.

In some ways the commentary is about how wonderful it is when the collaborative nature of filmmaking really works. But what was of more interest to me as a fiction writer was Whedon’s explanations of what he was doing thematically, or with a characterization. Times when he said “this bit was just a gift”… and times when he said “This image was in my head from the beginning,” and then “I wrote the WHOLE MOVIE just to get to this shot.”

For me, this commentary constitutes an object lesson in how to achieve sensawunda, and I’ll be reviewing it from time to time.

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