District 9, 2009
Dir: Neill Blomkamp
September 15, 2009
I finally saw District 9 tonight, and my feelings are mixed. I thought it was going to be a better movie than it actually was; the hype machine has been squawking about this for months. The CGI was decent, for what it was worth, and the aliens really did look real and life-like. But overall, it really was just a summer blockbuster. I guess there's nothing wrong with that, and had I known what I was going in for, I'm pretty sure I would have liked it a lot more.
I guess I just thought it was going to be less “generic.” I thought it was going to be more than just a typical summer action movie. In a way, I guess it tried to be. The movies jumps all over the place in the narritive styles it uses to keep your attention, not unlike jump cuts, but probably not that clever or intentional either. If anything, it can be called a truly modern movie; a "Youtube" feature, kind of like Cloverfield (2008) (another severely hyped movie), but fortunately not that bad. I'm guessing the all-over-the-place structure worked a lot better for his short, "Alive in Jo'burg," that was the basis for this. It should have followed through on the mockumentary/documentary aspect (an interesting choice of cinema vérité interviews and "news team footage"); delving into the mystery as to why the aliens are here, who they are and a broader understanding of what the public thinks, instead of just using it as an arc to start the film. Then the second half settled into standard screenplay structure; plug in solution to a problem: Quest to find "fluid:" Spaceship can leave, etc. Nothing special. If this is "great" and "offbeat" modern storytelling, I'm not sure if I'm going to be able to keep pace.
Oh, yeah. Have I mentioned that I hate shaky-cam? Good Lord.
The sociopolitical commentary wasn’t really interrogated too deeply, yet at times felt a little heavy-handed: a study in how oppression and desperation can turn a civilized race into criminals and undesirables (hello Apartheid), and what it must be like for the tables to be turned on you. I guess that the characters were, in fact, fairly likable, but most are just carbon copies, and they don't even play out the way there supposed to (the inevitable showdown between Van De Merwe and the roid-rage military guy gets thrown under the bus). I was, however, actually pretty interested in how Van De Merwe could switch between sympathetic underdog and callous racist, but by the end, you can tell Sharlto Copley isn't that great an actor and pulled it off only occasionally. The South African English/Afrikaans accent is wonky, as well, but I guess that's beside the point. The devolution of the movie into an action flick seemed sloppy while I was watching it, and after a while I just wished it would make up it's mind. By the time Van De Merwe climbed into his mech, I was ready to see some ass-kicking. After that, it was a lot of fun.
Any complaints about plot-holes are pretty valid. Christopher was altogether pretty unrealistic; a deus ex machina enlightened intellectual in a community obviously ruined by squalor. I’m not entirely sure why he was so clandestine about his efforts to collect “fluid,” and why the rest of the Prawn community wasn’t right there with him, looking for subversive methods of escaping to the mothership. He seemed to be the only one with any real urgency (except for maybe his friend who gets killed and his little son). At one point, something about drone workers is mentioned for why all the aliens act like savage animals, but it is never explained, and it certainly doesn't explain Christopher.
I just don't like movies that pretend to be something they're not. This is just a Hollywood blockbuster that was not made with H-wood money with some "offbeat" narrative techniques. I mean, this was originally supposed to be the "Halo" movie, people. I guess I just don't understand the hooplah; like this is some revelatory film. I think this is a just case where the critical acclaim that was heaped on it came about due to it being moderately smart…for a summer film. The critics and marketing teams that filled seats deserve the real acclaim. I think they did a better job than the filmmakers.