Sunday, August 23, 2009

District 9

With an A+ ad campaign rocketing the film into the sci-fi nerd canon, it's tempting to dump on District 9 a lot more than I normally would a modestly budgeted foreign directorial debut with no stars and great special effects. Then again, much of what's wrong with the film can be chalked up to its makers' awareness of the American marketplace. Based on Alive In Joburg, a short mock-documentary about aliens arriving in '80s South Africa, where they're forced to live with the black population, District 9 keeps the location and time while removing all references to the nation's racist policies. There isn't even an aside suggesting the aliens helped make the transition from apartheid easier - after all, how many in the theater would even know what apartheid is?

The rushed sum-up of the first 20 years of alien interaction offers plenty of other "refrigerator moments" (Hitchcock's term for specious details you don't realize until think about the movie at home). How can aliens and humans understand each other while never ever speaking the same language? How could humans know so little about the creatures' goals, history, etc after so long a time? Are we really to believe the population of 1,000,000+ aliens are a bunch of clueless, scavenging bottom-feeders except for a solitary scientist with a cute kid and a spaceship in his basement? And if you spray an alien with gasoline, do they start turning human?

Had the movie maintained its faux-documentary origins, many of the issues could be written off as the ignorance of the documentarians (how would they know how just how few of the aliens were behind an uprising?). But the film gradually abandons the POV shots and security cameras, shifting into standard action movie omniscience. It's possible they could have worked tender family moments, tearful phone calls and a Defiant Ones climax successfully into a faux-doc, but why risk the device distancing audiences by asking them to think and accept ambiguity? Better to use the talking heads and "found footage" as 21st century pepper for a rewrite of Alien Nation.


Lorin said...

Nailed it. It's disheartening when what seems like an intelligent film is really just a vehicle for exploding bodies.

eRthIan said...

I disagree. These issues aren't exactly wrong, but they dont discredit the film. It COULD go either way. Such as, perhaps they learned each-others language, but are physically unable to reproduce it. What if there really are a million plus Prawn, but there large population really is full of Neanderthal types. Also, who's to say that the scientist that is followed is the only one? Its just that he is the significant one because of his role. Also, we don't know what is known about their history. Many humans may actually know about it. Just because these things aren't explored doesn't mean they couldn't have been.