Monday, September 28, 2009

Exfanding Review: District 9

District 9 posterDistrict 9 is probably the closest Hollywood has ever come to depicting what would really happen if aliens were to ever come to Earth.

No huge floating discs that block out the sun and blow up all our cultural landmarks for the shock value; no lone Martian who can turn invisible and, aside from the antennae, looks like a regular human and tries to blend in with society; and no pyramid deep below the planet's surface where aliens are hunted by other aliens as a right of passage.

Nope; if there are aliens out there (if we haven't unwittingly encountered them already!), chances are good that they won't have a hidden agenda to conquer everything, and they'll show up in some part of the world that is not New York City, they'll end up staying on Earth a little longer than expected, and then humans won't know what to do with them, so they'll set the aliens up in temporary shelters that quickly degrade into a slum.

Also, the aliens will look like humanoid bugs.

District 9 alienDistrict 9 explores what the world would be like if aliens existed among humans, no different than any other ethnic group, except that they're not from this planet. There's an incredible amount of social and political commentary packed into District 9, but it's never preachy enough to take you out of the film.

In fact, District 9 is so engaging and believable (as far as sci-fi goes) that I'd almost classify it as an expierience rather than a film. District 9 starts off in the style of a documentary and then seamlessly transitions into the traditional movie format that follows around the main characters wherever they go; I was so sucked into the film that I honestly did not realize they had abandoned the documentary style until several minutes afterwards.

District 9 is more than just an exploration of what life might be like if aliens lived among us; throughout the entire documentary portion, the film slowly sheds light on the characters who are central to the struggles that are to come. District 9 goes beyond how humanity as a whole would react to the presence of aliens; the film hones in on individuals, both human and alien, whose circumstances suddenly change so that they have a little too much in common. It isn't long before they find themselves in conflict with... well, just about everybody.

When there's conflict in a movie with aliens, there's usually some cool technology and nifty action sequences, and District 9 doesn't disappoint. District 9 hardly qualifies as an action movie, however; there's character development woven into almost every death and explosion--even mindless violence has an impact on the characters, one way or another--and there's plenty of time when District 9 is more like a drama or a thriller.

District 9 human/alien displayFor my part, I thought District 9 was done extremely well: the pacing was excellent; the premise, characters, and setting all felt pretty realistic (the fact that I didn't recognize any of the actors helped a lot); and some of the action sequences made me grin and possibly chuckle or mutter, "COOL." Still, while I generally enjoyed the flick, the middle portion of the movie was much harder for me to enjoy than the beginning and end.

District 9 was difficult to watch sometimes, both because of bad things happening to people and because of some of the grossness that goes along with surgery, biological weirdness, trying to cut off somebody's arm, etc. The unpleasant stuff was concentrated in the middle of the movie, and though all the disgusting visuals and unhappy events made perfect sense in terms of the plot, that didn't make it any easier to watch.

The other qualm I had was with the film's "deus ex machina" complex; there were no fewer than four times when someone was conveniently rescued from a terrible situation that was really dragged out a little too long. Allow me to quote directly from the script here:

Bad Guy: Ha! I finally have you, and I intend to kill you swiftly!
Good Guy: Please, stop!
Bad Guy: No, I won't stop! I'm going to kill you, and you can't stop me!
Good Guy: Fine, then. Let's just get this over with, then.
Bad Guy: I will! Because at this very moment I am preparing to kill you! You'll get no mercy from me!
Good Guy: Jeez, why haven't you killed me yet?
Bad Guy: I am on the verge of killing you! Stop talking; it just makes me want to kill you more! Now, brace yourself, as I veeeerrry sloooowwwly line myself up for the kill....
Deus Ex Machina: Hang on; I'll be right there.
Bad Guy: I am about to be killing you now, right this instant! Ha ha!
Deus Ex Machina: Blam! Kaboom! Distraction! Rescue effort! I have saved the day!
Bad Guy: Nooooo! Curse your impossibly precise timing!

Four times. Alright, so I guess the sudden-but-completely-anticipated rescues took me out of the movie a little bit, but I only harp on them because they're the only real blemish on the tight storytelling of the film. Truth be told, even though I didn't like the whole thing, District 9 is one of the best movies I've seen all year. The "deus ex machina" moments didn't destroy the movie; my squeamishness didn't diminish the excellence of District 9, only my enjoyment of it.

District 9 alien shipIf you're looking for a surprisingly deep sci-fi flick that's accessible to the masses, and if you've got the stomach for a bit of gore (or if you're really good at looking away from the screen), go watch District 9. When the aliens come to visit for real, you'll know pretty much exactly how it'll all turn out.

Especially the part where they're bug-people.

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