Wednesday, December 30, 2009

District 9: Grade B

District 9 (2009)

Sharlto Copley; Co-writer and director Neill Blomkamp. (English and Alien; subtitled).

An enormous space ship hovers motionlessly over modern Johannesburg. A million weak and sickly aliens emerge. We never do learn what was wrong with them or why they came. They are (as is usual with aliens) extremely humanoid, with upright, bipedal locomotion, frontal eyes, opposable “thumbs” and in general, looking like a very humanoid morphology. The main thing that makes them alien-looking is an insect-like scaley skin (which they really don’t need since they obviously have endoskeletons), and an insect-like face with creepy-looking tentacles that don’t do anything, and some gratuitous antennae.

The aliens are quarantined to an area called District 9, which over the years becomes a sprawling slum just like Soweto under the apartheid regime. Aliens are held in contempt by mainstream society (black and white). There are alien riots and confrontations with the police, all reported in a pseudo-documentary style by scientists and news coverage. The apartheid analogy is played for over an hour so that even the most dim-witted viewers cannot miss it. Neverthless, there is no point; no new insight or twist. Apartheid happened, we knew that. Okay, blacks seemed like space aliens to the white culture maybe, got that. But what is the point of on and on and on with the allegory? After the initial novelty of the setup, boredom quickly sets in.

About half way through, the lead white detective is contaminated with some secret alien fluid (which is also space ship fuel, it turns out), and he begins to change into an alien himself, growing an alien claw-like hand. The special effects are pretty good there. He is on the run then from the police. The head alien-chemist promises to stop and reverse his conversion in exchange for the secret fluid. But the police intervene and there is a gun battle, and a melodramatic ending involving what seems to be the only juvenile alien in the population.

So the story is just barely interesting. Acting is negligible. Directing is good. Special effects are uneven. The aliens are more silly than creative or scary, but their language is interesting. High concept is the main attraction, supported by some though-provoking details. Sci-fi films as a genre are inferior in quality to most, for unknown reasons (with notable exceptions, such as Kubrick’s), so an “above average” rating for this one should be taken relative to the genre. It gets points for thoughtfulness and competent execution.

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