Thursday, August 20, 2009

District 9

District 9 will doubtlessly be one of the big movies of the summer. The movie tries to shoot for the stars, to create an effects heavy sci-fi classic with something important to say. And it comes pretty close. Unfortunately this incredibly promising movie does disappoint a little, and doesn't quite live up to its potential.

In case you haven't been inundated with the trailers for District 9, the basic premise is that a giant alien craft had come to rest of Johannesburg 20 years ago. The aliens inside were brought down to Earth, and after attempts to integrate, were sealed off in a slum. There are essentially two different movies here. The first is a wonderful documentary style history of the topic, and an incredibly tense visit into the slum. The cameras follow Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley), as he serves eviction notices to the alien residents, starting a relocation effort. Director Neill Blomkamp helms this portion of the movie perfectly. The rest of District 9, however, is nothing more than a fugitive movie, which devolves even further in the third act to an ultra violent shootout.

There's no shortage of political commentary here. Science Fiction lends itself so well in this area. It lets the creators postulate on "what if" scenarios, and more often than not- go the dark route. District 9 is no exception. There is the obvious apartheid symbolism (Blomkamp grew up in South Africa). But even further than that, it focuses on refugee treatment, and even touches on the military industrial complex. The movie goes places I wouldn't have thought to, but after seeing it, I can only think "of course." I imagine District 9 hit the reactions the government would have to these aliens right on the head.

Perhaps even more fundamental than the political commentary is the commentary on human (and I guess non-human) nature. Without getting into the specifics because I don't want to reveal much of the movie- themes of trust and self-preservation are at the forefront of District 9.

The movie looks great. With a budget of $30 million it looks better than movies with a budget $130 million. Each alien is unique, with its individual visual personality. And the images of this giant ship hovering over the slums of Johannesburg are haunting. The ending act, however, takes things a little too far. I felt parts were graphic, just for the sake of being graphic. How many times can blood splatter on the camera?

Despite the movie weakening towards the end, District 9 is still an overall strong movie. It's thrilling, actually has a message, and really will keep you on the edge of your seat.


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