Friday, August 14, 2009

District 9

In the interest of fairness, I'll just say here that I haven't seen the G.I. Joe movie or the new Transformers movie. But even in my present state of ignorance, I think I can safely say that neither of those movies can compete with District 9. The reason I say that is because District 9 has two things those movies lack: brains and heart.

Don't get me wrong, there are explosions in District 9. There's a lot of gore, so much at times that I had to close my eyes and wait for it to pass. But this was a powerful movie with a superb story smartly told.

For those unfamiliar with this movie, it's about a group of aliens that drop out of the sky over Johannesburg, South Africa. The ship is filled with aliens the humans derisively label "prawns." After several tense years, the prawns are herded into a slum called District 9 where they are forced to live in absolute squalor.

The movie picks up as MNU, the corporation that runs District 9, prepares to relocate the prawns from District 9 to their new home outside of Johannesburg. They leave this task to Wikus Van De Merwe (played by Sharlto Copley), a complete and total corporate tool. He's being filmed for a documentary about the move and, for the opening parts of the movie, we see what the documentary film crew sees. This is interspersed with "talking head" footage, where experts spin out the backstory of where the prawns came from, how they've gotten along with humans, and so on. And it's pretty clear from what they say that something bad is going to happen to Wikus.

The something bad happens as Wikus is trying to evict the residents of District 9. He winds up getting sprayed with some goo and things pretty much go downhill from there.

This was a great movie. It's smart and original (for the most part; when I first heard of District 9, I couldn't help but draw a parallel between it and Alien Nation), painting a very ugly picture of humanity in general and multinational coporations in particular. There's a dreadful sense of reality to the story, even though it's cloaked in a science fiction premise. Part of what made this movie so gripping is that I could see something like this happening because, let's be honest, humans don't exactly have a great track record of loving people different than them. That's part of the reason why the setting of Johannesburg works so well. If this story had been told in New York, we could wrap ourselves up in a cloak of denial and say, "No way." But with the constant reminder of apartheid and especially District 6.

But if I may, I'd like to diverge for a moment onto the subject of special effects.

Hoe. Lee. Cow.

Weta Works, Peter Jackson's company in New Zealand, outdid themselves with this one. Simply astounding work. I'd say Industrial Light and Magic has a major competitor now.

So definitely go and check this one out. I don't want to get my hopes up by predicting "Oscar" or anything like that. But if ever there was a science fiction opus that deserved a little gold man for Best Picture, this one does.

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