Tuesday, September 1, 2009

District 9

"District 9," a late-summer Sci-fi thriller produced by Peter Jackson and directed by South African first-timer Neill Blomkamp, is surprisingly good. It may well be the best Blockbuster movie of this summer.

Set in Johannesburg South Africa and shot/edited psuedo-documentary style (with lots of news clips and video interviews), the Apartheid undertones are immediately recognizable. The title itself is a play on District 6, a mixed-race area in Cape Town where black residents were forcibly evacuated when it was declared "a White-only" neighborhood. Refugees forced to live in a squalid slum segregated from the rest of the population, these Aliens commonly refer to as "Prawns," draws from Blomkamp's own childhood memories of racial segregation and descrimination in South Africa.

Although the theme is politically charged, the movie successfully entertains by delivering an action-packed human drama that is both engaging and some-what intelligent. The plot is simple and straight forward: Aliens land on earth - Aliens ran out of fuel, and is trapped on Earth - Aliens finally escape. But by concentrating the story mainly on one human character, Wikus Van De Merwe and on the agony and the desperation he experiences as he slowly becomes an Alien himself, the film cleverly forces the audience to witness his tragedy -- and in effect, orchestrating an unconscious shift in the audience's sympathy, from loathing the insect like creatures (at the beginning of the film), to mild-empathy for the Aliens' plight and support for their eventual escape (by the end of the movie).

I would definitely recommend this movie to anyone looking for a good sci-fi thriller. The action sequences are well-choreographed and the story delivers both drama and suspense. Unlike recent sci-fi thrillers that are mostly comic-book adaptations, "District 9" categorically belongs to the older grittier sci-fi genre that includes 2001, Alien, Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind and Blade Runner. A definite must see!

The only detail that bothers me a little is the Aliens themselves. I became very critical of "Alien Design" since encountering M. Night Shyamalan's ridiculously hilarious "Wetsuit" garbed amphibious (Creature from the Black Lagoon lookalike) Alien in "Signs." Those stupid Aliens (that disintegrates upon contact with H2O) , who came to Earth (a water-based planet, duh) from a far distant star, yet could not pick a lock.

According to one article, as many as 300 Alien designs were considered. The final look was inspired by an image of a hive of insects that had lost their queen. So the background story is loosely about a spaceship full of Aliens that have lost their leaders/Elite through some sort of virus and the vast majority of the survivors are directionless drones.

It is a beautiful metaphor, one that actually works with the premise of the story. But how can these naked, insect-like creatures, who are capable of navigating across galaxies, and building amazing technological hardware we can only dream about, not be able to argue for better housing and living conditions or have no semblance of culture or refinement (both bodily and psychologically) indicative of their supposed superior intelligence? Admitted that most of them are Drones, they could at least demonstrate an IQ equal to a 10year-old's as well as act and look the part.

--Clip taken from YouTube, pictures taken from the District 9 website.

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