Wednesday, December 30, 2009

District 9 review

District 9 came out on DVD last week. We watched it this week. I hadn't seen any previews and heard little about it, so I had no preconcieved notions.

I found the movie unique, engrossing and thought provoking. It's shot with a combination of cinematic and documentary style scenes and even some security camera footage. It was a daring balancing act, but it worked. The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield were different, too, with their seemingly continuous filming from a handheld camera. But I had no desire to watch the former and couldn't get through the latter.

Insect-like, intelligent creatures arrive in a disabled spaceship without a leader. They are like worker bees without a queen, lacking a sense of purpose or initiative. The ship is parked over Johannesburg, South Africa. A multi-national corporation, under the guise of humanitarian aid, takes charge and builds the malnourished refugees a camp beneath the ship called District 9.

The alien creatures were very convincing. The back story could have been more reinforced. It was all in the first 15 minutes of the film and only from one news commentator, whom I probably wasn't giving my full attention to since he was voicing only speculations. I expected the facts to be forthcoming later. Especially since the aliens and the humans seemed to understand each other after a fashion.

The main character, a Multi-National United agent named Wikus Van De Merwe, tasked with serving eviction notices to the entire alien camp, is an average guy, full of conflict, doubt and a strong sense of duty and righteousness. It wasn't until the next day after seeing the film that I came upon an explanation for his seemingly extreme contrary nature. I thought perhaps the writers couldn't make up there mind how they wanted him to come across.

My guess is that Wikus is playing for the camera. His participation in the eviction process is being recorded on video and he has a particular image he wants to portray for the documentation of the event. The most obvious example is when he smiles into the camera and talks about the popping sounds that the eggs make when they're incinerated. He compares it to popcorn. Yet he seems to make an attempt to treat the creatures humanely and wishes them no harm.

Another dicotomy was the tongue-in-cheek humor during the first half hour that drops off afterward. Rather like they decided to take a more serious approach, but didn't go back and delete the obvious laugh out loud jokes from the beginning. I'm all for comic relief, but it should be consistent, shouldn't it? I think a little sarcasm from the alien or Wikus during the latter half would not have been amiss.

When you make a joke about them liking cat food and then show a homeless alien pushing a shopping cart... you see what I mean. Two more funny references and then it goes all serious the rest of the movie.

Why do the aliens call their fuel "the fluid"? No English translation for what it is or does? And what do they call themselves? We still don't know.

There's certainly room for a sequel, and I'd be happy to go to see if they can keep the momentum and answer a few more questions earlier on.

The DVD extras are worth watching because this is such a unique approach. My hats off to writer/director Neill Blomkamp, co-writer Terri Tatchell and producer Peter Jackson for coming up with something truly different and entertaining.

vote it up!


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Really enjoyed seeing this one in the theater. Intelligent sci-fi is few and far between. Definitely room for a sequel - if Christopher returns, that is.

Eric James said...

It reminded me of Enemy Mine for some reason...

Maurice Mitchell said...

A very thoughtful review. I've never seen it, but you were able to give a take I hadn't heard before. I'm amazed you were able to avoid the previews since they were everywhere. Good job.
Enemy Mine is a very underrated film. Sure, the last half-hour fell apart, but overall it was a fun ride.