Sunday, August 16, 2009

Movie Notes: District 9 (2009)

Admittedly, I wasn't fully in my right mind when we saw District 9 last night. Also, we were sitting entirely too close to the screen because the theater was packed when we got there, making it hard to actually see what was going on in some scenes. So, caveat lector.

The film was fairly good and better than the usual summer blockbuster fare. It details what happens when a large craft full of insectoid aliens arrives in Johannesburg, South Africa, with no clear-cut plan for leaving again: before long, a Soweto-style slum is erected and social tensions between humans and aliens reach a fevered pitch.

Into this bad situation steps Multi-National United, a shady paramilitary security corporation working to relocate the aliens, while confiscating their advanced alien weaponry. During the course of relocations, a mid level schmuck at MNU gets sprayed with an alien fluid that inexplicably starts him mutating into an alien. The evil corporation then turns against him because only alien fingers can fire these weapons. Why they didn't just force an alien to use the weapons in the first place is never explained. Also, why do the aliens have these kick ass weapons that they never used when they needed to defend themselves? And why in the world does fuel for their ship turn humans into aliens in the first place?

Actually, there are a lot of plot holes in there, which one sort of expects from sci fi, but really only lazy sci fi. And there's the weird thing of the social commentary. The first twenty minutes or so sets up the film as a social parable about immigration and racial strife, and many critics have praised the fact that there is social commentary there, but that it's not "too preachy". In fact, it basically avoids getting too preachy by lazily abandoning the social commentary after the opening reel and turning to a somewhat stock CGI shoot-em-up. There is still the evil corporation, but how lazy do you have to be as a scriptwriter at this point to make your protagonist an evil corporation? Or to call them "Multi-National United"?

The director has said that he worried too much satire would hurt the film, "at a popcorn level". And it definitely works at a popcorn level. It's a highly entertaining film with good special effects and over-the-top gore that the audience seemed to enjoy. The initial conceit is interesting- I also liked that the hero was a pencil-pushing putz. But it's sort of like two different movies really, and the first one was a lot smarter than the second one.


Brian Dunbar said...

Have not seen this yet - but plan to.

There is still the evil corporation, but how lazy do you have to be as a scriptwriter at this point to make your protagonist an evil corporation?

Corporations as evil have a long history in the movies: earliest I can recall is Rollerball from the early 70s, but I'm sure there are others.

Or to call them "Multi-National United"?

Halliburton was taken.

Holly said...

I'm sure it seemed cheeky and fun at the time... "let's make the protagonist evil, and the antagonists can be very passive, and then we'll just have everyone punching things until it explodes!"