The surprise of the summer.
Besides seeing some movie posters and the standard trailer, I had heard next to nothing about this film. All I knew going in was that it had aliens and a budget of $30 million.
Was it a political thriller? An action flick? A romance? I had no clue, and that was part of the fun of this film, I didn't know what direction it was going to take. So if you want a similar experience, stop reading this article now and ask a friend whose seen it what they think. Although I'll try my best not to give anything away, details must be brought up so you know what you're getting into.
From here on, there are (very minor) spoilers.
The trailer of District 9
makes it seem like we'll get a Cloverfield
perceptive as we follow a documentary crew through some alien slums. This isn't the case, while the first 15 minutes of the film are done in a documentary fashion to get the backstory out of the way and introduce many of our main characters, the film then switches to a traditional style. The documentary style is returned to occasionally, but cinematically, this is a less experimental movie than the previews suggest.
The shaky camera shots appear frequently throughout the film, so if you get motion sick, be warned. While it's nowhere near as bad as JJ Abrams' style, it's still used often. The good news is that this camera vision makes the computer graphics really noticeable. If you look at traditional science fiction films, if a computer generated character is in it, the camera is stable, making the creature easier to render. If the camera is wobbly, the rendering comes off as much more impressive. (Even if the shots are stable when an alien is onscreen, the camera will wobble before and after, giving the illusion that the shots are wobbling when a creature is onscreen.)
Unfortunately, from a visual standpoint, the aliens are somewhat disappointing, and even look fake. Their movements and actions are amazing though, and I even found myself worried about what would happen to them. It's just that their texture is too colourful and the lighting doesn't reflect off them well. This makes the aliens seem less authentic than we should expect from a big summer film. Also, if you replace their 'clicks' with 'woops', and change their skin colour red, they'd be Dr. Zoidberg's people, and this whole film just becomes a prequel to Futurama
. (So hide your anchovies.)
Thankfully, what the aliens lack in graphics (and arguably design,) they more than make up for in originality. These aren't aliens that have come to destroy the Earth, or become our friends, they are a group of a lower caste drones that are left hanging over South Africa for reasons that might be explained in the sequel. They are workers and scavengers, they have superior weapons and technology, but no leader to tell them when to use these things; they have no one to tell them to stand up for themselves. This creates an original situation in a movie.
The movie is an alternative history, where the aliens come over South Africa in 1982, and in 2002, people all get sick of these inhuman things and decide to relocate them to a concentration camp. This sets up a big theme in the film that people will either be turned off by, or find a welcome change; the humans aren't the good guys. If you're the sort of person who needs to root for someone, root for the extraterrestrials.
Ya, humans are all bastards. It's nearly impossible to relate to any of them, and once you start to like one of them, they'll pull a dick move. A few well intentioned individuals appear for a very short amount of screen time, but most of the time, we're stuck with selfish bureaucrats, weapons manufacturers, bloodthirsty soldiers, and Nigerians.
does not paint a welcome picture of Nigerians, the only ones in the film are feeding the aliens addiction to cat food, (really, that happens,) smuggling weapons out of the country, and eating people to get their strength. If there is a Nigerian anti-defamation league out there, they might want to take note of this movie. (Or at least get one of their Princes to stop sending me spam and work undoing this film's portrayal of them.)
The movie puts aside a lot of concepts and problems that the aliens initial appearance would cause, (like forcing questions about religion, life, human dominance, etc.) because it's either saving those for the sequel, or it doesn't care and just wants to get to the film's main story. I'm cool with the way they handled this, but I know some people who would see it as a missed opportunity.
is also filled up with good actors, none of them are A-list celebrities, so it ads to the illusion of realism that the film is going for. In fact, I believe that the main actor, Sharlto Copley, hasn't appeared onscreen before. None of the performances stand out as something you'll remember five years from now, but they are all believable and help to ground the far off concepts of the movie.
Most alien contact stories have some sort of moral, and this one is no exception. But instead of saving the moral's reveal (or it's effects) until the end of the movie, the movie gets it out of the way in the first act, and then gets right to the action.
And there is a lot of action in this film, along with gore. Thankfully, the gore is such that if you've played a first person shooter, you'll be fine with that appears here. The film doesn't dwell to much on the effects of it. Though there are a few shots where the splatter is so thick that the camera lens gets covered in blood. There's also a lot of swearing in this film, so if that's something that you don't like in films, avoid this.
As the film goes on, it becomes clear that this is a sci-fi action film, (though, at times it's a chase film too.) As District 9
plays out, it fails to be a thinking man's movie, but becomes a gore filled film that asks you to think. To be fair, the person I saw this with couldn't stop talking about his thoughts on it, so the movie seems to have succeeded in that part.
I don't want to mention too much about the ending, but it won't be to everyone's taste. I guessed the film's conclusion before the initial documentary part was over, since it gives the audience a lot of hints if you look out for them. I did think that it ended in a good spot, since it left room for a sequel, but didn't leave me feeling that one was needed for this story to have proper closure. I'd be interested in seeing additional stories about this world, but also fear that we might get "District 17" about ten years from now.
The movie isn't perfect, it brings up more questions than answers, it leaves things unresolved, there are a few plot holes it hopes you'll miss, and as mentioned before, the aliens look kind of disappointing.
All that is forgiven though, once you realize that this was made for $30 million. It looks like it could have been a $100 million flick from a few years ago. The director and crew worked really hard to tell the story they wanted, and pulled it off. There are a few really courageous moves in the writing department, making this film stand out as more than the typical summer blockbuster. Usually, movies that come at the end of summer are nowhere near as great as this one.
is easily one of the summer's best movies, and is rivalling UP
as the best movie I've seen so far this year. Some people are even talking about this being one of the all time greatest sci-fi films, but I think that kind of talk over-hypes it a bit, since (I think) it's too early to be making that claim. We may not be comparing this movie to The Thing
, The Terminator
, a decade from now, but chances are we'll be talking about this one for some time to come.
One final thing is that this film takes on that video game feel which more action movies have adopted lately. It focuses on one person for 90% of the film, gives them an impossible situation to solve, and supplies them with plenty of weapons, ammo and enemies to make the journey fun.* Rumour has it that Peter Jackson backed this film so that, if successful, he could get it's director, Neill Blomkamp, to make a Halo
movie. Thankfully, after seeing what he did here, I don't think we need a Halo
movie, we can just send some marines to the alien's planet in this universe and get a similar film.
Overall, I'd have to say that this movie is not for everyone, but given the budget and restraints they had, their results would warrant a 10 out of 10
. If you don't care about that and just want to watch a good story, you'd have a hard time giving this less than 8 out of 10
. (Although, you could easily give it a 7 if you didn't like focus on the main character's 'change' of heart.) If you want to root for humanity and see a movie that shows them at their best, you should probably ignore this film.
was something that I had no plans to see, but am glad that I did. Despite it being such a bleak creation, it's one that I look forward to revisiting in the near future. Human's may be bastards, but we can at least make some good movies every now and then.
*And if all the deeper elements fail to impress you, then this film is at least very entertaining to watch.