14 September 2009

District 9

URBAN: District 9 is one of those films that comes along once and a while that has no star power, no stunning effects, but still manages to catch the imagination of viewers.

Directed by Neil Blomkamp and famously, produced by Peter Jackson, this film may be advertised as a contemporary sci-fi discussion of race politics in South Africa, but becomes much more in the time allotted.

URBAN: This film was very much unlike what I was expecting. Shot almost entirely in documentary format, it manages to entertain, disgust, and enlighten at once. It does so by focusing its story, bit-by-bit, until the discomforting end is tightly in focus.

The story begins with the given, an alien race has made contact above the city of Johannesburg in South Africa. The aliens must be cut out of their spaceship, and are given a home in a type of slum within the city. The race that remains is clearly not the leadership of the species. They lack direction, and quickly become a pax upon the city, and the focus of angry villagers who reject their crime and lifestyle. The aliens are officially managed by a large development corporation, but in reality, are run by a human gang-lord who meets out discipline and food with the same iron grip. His true aim, is to control the weaponry that the aliens have brought with them, which can only be fired by alien DNA.

The story is turned upside down, when the aliens are evicted from their home and given another slum, further from the city (to appease the citizens). It is during this sequence that two key events happen. First, one of the multinational corporation workers is infected by alien technology. As a result of this the viewers become aware that large multinational-corporations are not unlike ruthless gang-lords in their quest to control the alien weaponry.

These events continue to build, as Blomkamp does his best attempt at combining Kafka's Metamorphosis and the meta-arch from the X-files.

There were only two issues that I had with this film. The first was that the aliens were virtually indistinguishable. This wasn't so much of an issue once the film had found its focus, but it was impossible to realize that the characters from the junkyard scene were the same ones that were to become important later by sight alone. It seemed like another documentary style focus on a particular.

The second issue was that the battle scene that lasted for the last 20 minutes was a little too over the top for me. The fight scenes take advantage of the character disputes that are built upon at the beginning of the film, but they last too long and focus too much on the characters that the viewer can't necessarily relate to. These scenes are ultimately only redeemed by faux-news footage of the battles that contextualizes the violence in a modern and relevant setting for the audience.

It's a shame that the battle becomes the center-piece though. The compelling story here is that through all of this the viewer is made to feel empathy towards aliens that do not speak English and are often quite disgusting. The tale also incorporates many interesting and moving social motives that are integrated well by playing up the advertising and public service element that documentary and faux-news coverage often entail. By matching this form to the content Neil Blomkamp delivers a winner, and one of the most unlooked-for money-makers of the summer.

URBAN: Recommended

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