Thursday, August 13, 2009

Movie Review: District 9

I couldn't wait another minute to put this one up. I came home and just started writing. I could have gone on for hours. I barely touched on all of the things that were so, so right about this one. See it, then tell you friends to see it. This is why I love movies.

Worlds Apartheid
District 9 is an awesome action-packed alien allegory
Ryan Syrek

The worst thing about having seen writer/director Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 is that you can never watch it for the first time again. Like a fever dream you struggle to recall, the images and events will prey on your mind for hours as you continue to intuit new meanings from them, but retelling them to others only sullies the experience. This far-out fable, full of equal parts metaphor and mayhem, is as close as mainstream movies can come to both having and eating cake, combining sophisticated storytelling and slam-bang shock and awe. After years of puberty, sci-fi just grew up.

The film’s location alone (Johannesburg, South Africa) evokes a tragic power dichotomy. In this metaphorical mash-up, the powerless are “the prawns,” shrimp-like extraterrestrials with a penchant for cat food and a click-based language not unlike native African tribesman. Blomkamp co-opts a documentary style to lay out the basics: 28 years ago the aliens arrived in a huge ship that now remains stationary over the city, they were transported into a settlement camp that rapidly became a slum and were either prevented from leaving or were unable to do so. Nearly three decades later, the locals have had it with District 9’s inhabitants, and the Haliburton-meets-Blackwater company Multi-National United is hired to forcibly relocate them elsewhere.

Victims of Nigerian underworld kingpins who vulture-peck the needy beasts, the prawns are also perpetrators of violence and mayhem, which explains why even sad-sack loser Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley) has no problem looking down on them. Feeble and fumbling, Wikus is put in charge of the eviction thanks to nepotism and the need for a fall guy. Then something happens, something that changes the course and tone of the events that follow. The less that is known the better, as action is interwoven seamlessly with a plot that never relents, refusing to talk down to its viewers just because it happens to use a heavy amount of special effects. The resolution should be taught to those unsure how to both challenge and satisfy the expectations of their audiences.

Copley, who had never before acted professionally, delivers a performance that may damn well be the year’s best thus far, morphing dramatically from spineless whelp to impassioned intervener. Mega-stars are frequently called upon to emotionally engage pixel-based partners, but Copley makes previous efforts look goofy in comparison. Blomkamp, who drew on his background as a special effects artist, employed CGI of such a high degree that his reported budget of $30 million seems impossible.

District 9 will be read by many as an obvious apartheid allegory, applauded for its action and faulted for its foray into occasional grime and gore. What it will not be called, what cannot be said, is that it bears any resemblance to anything that came before it. It is a true, blissful original. At the risk of hyperbole and overstatement, given the innovation and spirit of District 9, the pop-candy confectionery delight that was Star Trek, the quiet lunacy of Duncan Jones’s Moon and the potential of James Cameron’s Avatar, 2009 may be reflected upon as a year that redefined the genre of science fiction.

Grade – A+

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

"What it will not be called, what cannot be said, is that it bears any resemblance to anything that came before it."

I could not agree more, and I'd like to point out a quote from the strictly negative OWH review:

“District 9” borrows heavily from other sci-fi films such as “Aliens,” “Transformers,” “Close Encounters” and “E.T.”


August 14, 2009  
Blogger Ryan said...

Oooh, hulk smash. Is this review online? I can't find it. I'm ready to take on that comment. Let's do this thing.

August 14, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps the best part is the last sentence where he says the film doesn't stack up to "Lord of the Rings". Yeah. That's what they were going for.

I have no problem with someone not sharing my opinion of a movie, but this guy's reasons for dismissing it are completely absurd.

August 14, 2009  

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