Monday, August 17, 2009

MOVIES- District 9 Review

ALIVE IN JOBURG- Neill Blomkamp’s original short film

Bookending the Summer Sci-Fi Sweepstakes, DISTRICT 9 presents a counterpoint to STAR TREK’s optimism and shiny, polished Starfleet Academy 90210 story with a gritty, documentary style action film. Also, ironically, DISTRICT 9 tries to give lip service to the kind of allegorical SF that the Star Trek television show was famous for but the movie didn’t bother with. Unfortunately the lip service is brief. Contrary to a lot of the early buzz, the movie isn’t really about apartheid, first contact with aliens, soulless corporate avarice, the similarities between black market commerce and the legal kind, or any of the other issues touched on. Because the only thing the movie does is touch them while it’s on it’s way to a conventional man-on-the-run-from-the-law plotline. The first twenty minutes are excellent, evoking the feeling of a sympathy for the prejudice against the aliens while still making them seem unreasonably downtrodden. But as soon as the plot gets rolling the mood is buried under a hail of shell casings. It’s not an uncommon flaw in low budget SF. Children of Men also established an interesting SF premise only to abandon it for the sake of making a chase movie. So I guess I can’t gripe too much about it. You have to take a movie on its own terms.

And as an action film DISTRICT 9 is pretty damn good. Neill Blomkamp does a fine job in his feature film directorial debut. The movie is exciting and you don’t really know what to expect next. Yeah, there are a number of silly plot holes (when you are framing an employee, making him the most wanted man in the city, remember to revoke his access to your top-secret lab) and some tired SF cliches (the magic of CGI still hasn’t liberated imaginations from humanoid aliens and if I see one more giant robot in a movie this summer I’m going to scream), but it also has some nice touches (I especially liked the blurb about one interviewee awaiting trial for revealing his company’s illegal experiments) and the pace never slows down. The token attempts to give the movie a little heart to go with all the carnage come off more as jokes than pathos, but Sharlto Copley does an excellent job of transitioning his character from an inept bureaucrat to a desperate man on the run who is literally losing everything, even his humanity. And what the hell, you really came to see people explode like water balloons dropped from the Trump Tower when hit by a lightning bolt from an alien weapon anyway, didn’t you?

So if you’re looking for serious SF that makes thoughtful statements about apartheid with aliens in the role of the oppressed minority, you’re going to be disappointed. But if you want a popcorn movie that has some great special effects and cool Ratchet and Clank weapons then line up and buy a ticket.

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