March 5, 2010

Rabid Rewind: District 9

Title: District 9
Directed by: Neill Blomkamp
Produced by: Peter Jackson
Released: 2009
Genre: Science-Fiction

I haven't seen all of the movies I'd like to from the plethora of '09 releases, but I think District 9 is going to end up as my favorite. It's certainly my favorite among the '09 films I've watched so far. And is wholly deserving of its Oscar nomination.

I don't normally go for the documentary style of storytelling, as Cloverfield and Quarantine were both big disappointments for me, but Neill Blomkamp managed to find a great balance of documentary style with conventional style camera work to create one helluva captivating movie.

The setup goes like this: Aliens come to Earth (Johannesburg, South Africa) and wind up as a refugee race for years as they can't get home. They end up in a shantytown until the day comes they're to be evicted to what amounts to a concentration camp away from the city. Multinational United, a military industrial complex, oversees the evictions and hopes to finally exploit the alien weaponry. Through happenstance, the boss's son-in-law heads the eviction detail and winds up in the center of a huge controversy, as MNU's true intentions and practices come to bear, and the aliens ("Prawns" to humans) become less a pariah than a possible salvation.

While the movie doesn't beat you over the head with the symbolism of xenophobia and allusions to Apartheid, the undertones are definitely there, and everyone and every race is shown through many lenses. I think that's one of the reasons I enjoyed the movie so much, because they walked that line and didn't stray into that maudlin mentality, nor did it become a run of the mill man-versus-alien action flick.

The main character is likable and loathsome, depending upon the situation he's in, and isn't presented as some archetype hero. He's flawed in more ways than one and it's his gradual evolution through the course of the story that he turns into a little bit of a hero, though that's not quite how he ends up.

The aliens were fantastic. They are presented in such a fashion that they can inspire pity and disgust, sometimes at the same time. They're not super-intelligent, or super in any way for that matter. They're just as flawed and vulnerable as humans, able to be exploited as easily as they might exploit the humans. And the alien child that becomes a supporting character in the movie inexplicably steals the show in many of the scenes it appears in--cheers to whoever was doing the motion capture for that one.

I think the only thing about the movie I didn't like is a moment in the movie when the main character turns from weasel to wolverine. I don't want to spoil anything, but I imagine you'll know what I'm talking about if you've seen the movie. The action scenes that followed his sudden turn away from cowardice seemed to be tacked on simply to see some amazing special effects. But I gotta say, those action scenes that take place were so fun to watch, I just forgave the film in an instant and stayed along for the ride.

If you're not one to watch sci-fi films or action films, you'd be doing yourself a favor to put away your aversions for one night, so you could sit back and see what amounts to some damn fine storytelling.

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