Continuing our conversation regarding unintentional comedy (fuck artistic intentionality!), it’s high-time to finally explain the definition of a delightmare, through The Delightmare of 2019: motherfucking Serenity.
You see, I’m a surveyor of every level of trash cinema.
First, we have our standard-issue so-bad-they’re good flicks, a dime a dozen.
Then there’s the rarer breed of true delightmares. They’re not diamonds in the rough, but diamonds of the rough, if diamonds = aspirations, and rough = their execution. These delightfully-nightmarish cinematic experiences are catnip for us horrificinemaphiles who derive immense pleasure at the art’s expense.
The key stuff that these dreams/nightmares are made of: they conjure the inestimable, alchemic (movie) magic of otherworldly creators reaching for the stars, only to crash back down to Earth in a blaze of glorious shit. And reliving the same nightmare over and over doesn’t cut it, a case of diminishing returns. Rather, this hallowed terrain must perpetually and progressively re-confound — and not repeat — to re-astound.
Cut to: Serenity, a movie so out of this world that it’s outside our solar system of sanity, an instant all-timer of a January dump. It’s a brain-boggling, mind-melting, incomprehensible and comprehensive miss that makes you question the very foundations of filmmaking itself. And yet, this baffled and baffling, befuddled and befuddling spectacle induces a sick fascination in trying to bridge the untraversable chasm between what the assembled top-tier talent were going for from what we got.
It’s a contemporary tropical Hitchcockian neo noir Moby Dick Truman Show Adaptation Ready Player One.
And that’s just the first half!, BEFORE the plot jumps all the sharks.
Were those run-on comps hard to follow without grammatical demarcations between the words? Welcome to the formless jumble composed of intriguing parts that is Serenity, in need of a master tactician to sufficiently coalesce the disparity. Steven Knight may be many things — an accomplished screenwriter, for one — but a master director he ain’t (his script for Allied dabbled in a similar throwback aesthetic, which Robert Zemeckis was able to bring to life with the requisite stylistic finesse). The artificiality of this tonal hodgepodge — and the story’s helter-skelter reality — can be justified on thematic grounds, but that doesn’t mean it comes even close to remotely working as a whole.
You’ve gotta respect such audacity, even if it’s completely ludicrous.
Even more ludicrous: the cast of actors Knight convinced to lend their considerable skills to such inanity: Matthew McConaughey! Diane Lane! Anne Hathaway! Djimon Hounsou! Jason Clarke! Jeremy Strong! Everyone, on both sides of the camera, dial it up to 11, only to break the dial entirely.
But artists who swing for the fences — which is where they should be encouraged to aim! — will inevitably, even historically whiff a few at-bats, and we should feel lucky to be present to witness it.
As they say, there’s a fine line between the ingenious and the insane, and it takes a special brew of moxie to cavort along it, even if Humpty Dumpty falls on his ass in the end.