Movie Review: District 9

District 9, courtesy

I’m not going to beat around the bush with this: Go. See. District. 9.

Starring Shartlo Copley, Jason Cope, Nathalie Boltt, Vanessa Haywood, David James, Mandla Gaduka and Hlengiwe Madlala. Directed by Neill Blomkamp, produced by Peter Jackson.

Stuff I Didn’t Like

  • Mostly these take the form of my unanswered questions, for instance: If the alien mothership finds itself without power when it grinds to a halt above Johannesburg, why doesn’t it simply crash into the city? What’s keeping it up there for twenty years?
  • Given that these are alien beings that live on a distant planet, and they have both a completely different evolutionary path and a totally unfamiliar aesthetic sense from human beings, how do they find human prostitutes attractive enough to pay for sex?
  • How did the aliens learn human languages so quickly, and how did we come to understand theirs?

Stuff I Liked

  • The documentary style used to shoot this film is spot-on. It gives a realistic weight to the events and gives a sense of immersion that doesn’t make the alien weapons seem all that outlandish – just devastating and awesome.
  • MovieBob put it very well: “Better aliens than Star Trek, better gunfights than GI Joe, better giant robots than Transformers and better special effects than Terminator.” And all on a shoestring $30 million budget.
  • The trailers and viral sites don’t give away much of the movie’s plot, which is a good thing.

Stuff I Loved:

  • This is excellent, superlative storytelling. From start to finish, the writing and characterization is compelling and realistic. The third act of the film gets heavy on the action but by that point we are so invested in these characters and this situation that we’re biting our nails not because of the gunfire and explosions but because we’re eager to see the outcome of the events unfolding before us. We care about these people, at least the main protagonists.
  • On the subject of protagonists, the human one is a more compelling hero than a lot of the swaggering macho self-congratulatory icons you’ll see in movies. He’s the kind of insufferable mid-level bureaucrat you and I have encountered in just about any office, and when things start to happen, you easily get into his headspace and he goes from sniveling to sympathetic in the blink of an eye. It can be very difficult for a filmmaker or any storyteller to do this, but Neill Blomkamp does so and makes it look easy.
  • He also presents an alien race that is completely unfamiliar to us, and yet does so in a way that almost immediately has us seeing eye to eye with them. The social commentary in the film isn’t terribly subtle, but it happens at the same time as riveting storytelling and blazing action, and it’s still relevant and powerful without being overly preachy or overshadowed by alien rayguns and battle mechs.
  • Speaking of which, while the physics of where exactly the alien weapons get the power to do what they do is a matter for debate, the end result is stunning and presented with surprising realism. It might take more for our clumsy human technology to generate the necessary energy to produce the kind of effects that come from these things, but if they can indeed project a massive wave of extreme heat or a bolt of lightning, you’ll see what it does to biological material on it’s business end. It’s not for the squeamish, but it happens so fast the reaction is more of a “Wait, what just happened?” than an “Eewww.”
  • The battle suit is awesome. ‘Nuff said.
  • I’ve said before that some movies have you turning off your brain or bidding it farewell before the third act of the film begins. Not District 9. It, like us, has a brain in its head, and it’s on display from start to finish. It’s got a heart, as well, and it has something deep to say about us as a species and individuals. It’s not all pretty and it’s not all easy to accept, but there’s a truth to the story being told here. I’m not going to say anything else, because if I do I might completely spoil the plot, and I don’t want to do that. I want you to go see this movie.
  • We got District 9 because the Halo movie fell through. Thank God. Neill and Peter were able to bring us an original, brilliant and utterly fantastic film instead of another derivative video game franchise. I can’t put into words how happy this makes me.

1 Comment

  1. I have to add one dislike, and this is purely a movie aesthetic: Someone apparently decided halfway through the movie that this was not a documentary. Maybe that decision should have been made at the beginning?

    The documentary feel was cool, but if they were going to abandon that when it wasn’t going to be able to tell the story, they should have established at the very beginning that the documentary parts were for effect, not the entire vehicle of the movie.

    But other than that, I





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