District 9

I’ve been a bit too busy to write much that’s fun, but here’s a movie review I whipped up for this silly company newsletter thing at work. There are no spoilers, in case you’re worried.

After a really lame July, there’s actually been a number of good movies this past month. When I get chance I may post more about some of them.

District 9

Bug Hunts

I’ve been trying to remember some of the great space alien movies, and it’s tough coming up with one that was made in the last decade or so. Galaxy Quest squeezes in there. The latest Star Trek offers only a handful of alien species. Technically, the Star Wars prequels and the Transformers and Aliens versus Predator franchises feature aliens, but fall to the wayside after I apply such rigorous standards as “Would I ever subject myself to watching this a second time (or even first)?”

Fortunately, District 9 has come along to rescue us from the extraterrestrial blues.

An alien spacecraft has arrived to hover above Johannesburg, South Africa. The insect-like alien species found aboard seems largely helpless, as though abandoned there.  South African bureaucrat Wikus Van De Merwe is tasked to lead efforts to resettle the aliens in a camp well away from the human population. Of course, things go horribly wrong.

The movie is a thinly-veiled metaphor for apartheid, of course, and is a unique view of an alien species integrating with humanity (the closest might be Alien Nation, but that was a very different take on the issue). District 9 is filmed partially as a documentary-type film, with interviews offering various perspectives on the events, and the style effectively sucks the viewer into the setting and provides all the background information.

It’s a well made movie, with fantastic special effects – at no point do I look at the aliens and particularly notice that they are computer generated. The cast is unknown, and the performances solid.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the movie is that the aliens are actually alien – they don’t just look strange, but behave in ways incomprehensible to humans. It’s fascinating to watch them interact with the homo sapiens in their midst.

Wikus chats with one of the occupants of District 9

District 9 does have flaws. Only parts of the film are shot as a documentary, with “live” action filling in the gaps, which was a bit of a cheat – either a film is a documentary or it isn’t. I understand why they did it, a necessity to tell the story they chose to tell, but it breaks the point of view that the film initially presents.

The much larger problem with the movie, though, is the entire third act. At that point District 9 devolves from a thoughtful, interesting, and unique science fiction film to a stand-issue action fest, with all the conventions and cliché thereof. Lots of scenery explodes, people die, sacrifices are made, etc. The movie redeems itself a little in the last few moments, but there’s little that we haven’t seen in a thousand Hollywood action flicks.

Still, District 9 is a good ride. It’s an interesting story, with great atmosphere, and the action is fun even when it feels out of place. Well worth checking out, and I think director Neill Blomkamp is one to keep an eye out for in the future.