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District 9 (2009)
I had been a fan of Neil Blomkamp from his original short films "Live In Joburg" and "Tetra Val". When I saw that he was making an entire movie based on LIJ, in association with Peter Jackson, I thought it was a going to be a fantastic "hard" Sci-Fi classic along the lines of Blade Runner or Enemy Mine. Maybe I set the bar too high for myself going in, but what I ended up getting was more of a body-horror movie the first half, and a shoot-em-up the last.
It felt that much of the time the film should have spent developing Wikus's character was spent lingering on every gory, disgusting, detail of his transformation into an alien. This would have been fine had I been watching a horror film along the lines of The Fly(1986) or Videodrome, but I thought this was going to be a sci-fi film. These scenes only served to gross me out and felt like little more than filler.
The last half of the film switches gears and much of the time they should have spent developing the alien character was spent on an advertisement for the inevitable FPS game which will tie into this film. Lots of explosions, cool alien weapons, and people vaporizing into hamburger. I found the violence way to fetishized in this segment. Lingering on severed limbs, gaping wounds, heads exploding. I'm not against violence in movies, but I signed up for a Sci-Fi film exploring an interesting concept, not a gory torture-porn/war-epic.
There was a lot the movie did right. I love the opening, leading us into the story through CCTV, news broadcasts, and documentary narration. I found this very gripping and effective.
The aliens where very well done, portrayed as entirely non-human cockroaches. With very little relatable about them as far as human-emotion or ethics. Why should they act/think like us? This was the most provocative aspect of the movie, the aliens were very non-human, even unlikable. So it begs the question, should we segregate them? Does the virtue of their life and sentience alone afford them the same respect and treatment of the native humans? Unfortunately these questions and the other ramifications of the movies scenario are grossly underdeveloped. Quite frankly Blomkamps original short film had more depth when it came to examining the social ramifications of the alien presence. In District 9, the actual hard questions and science fiction is left to fade into the background in order to tackle the easier subjects of people losing teeth and stuff blowing up.
There are much better Sci-Fi movies out there which have taken the various elements which make up District 9 and done a better job with them.
Enemy Mine did a much better job examining the relationship between species as well as the greater question of what enemy and friend means in the context of a war. Curiously it also features an alien and his child, but Enemy Mine is a much more thoughtful film District 9.
The Fly, while not really Sci Fi, did a much more effective job at making us feel sympathetic for the main character will making us want to hurl our cookies watching him suffer through a hideous transformation.
And Children of Men for it's gory fighting and action scenes while effectively examining the social ramifications of the films scenario. You can still be gory and full of action while remaining thoughtful about your subject matter.
District 9 is an OK movie. It is not great, and the short film which spawned it is much better in my opinion.