The Sunday before last (part two of our sci-fi Sunday – part one is here), Glade and I drove down to San Antonio and watched District 9 with my parents. It was really intense and riveting, although maybe unnecessarily gory. I’m going to discuss the plot, so if you haven’t seen it yet, you may want to pass on this post. I tried to avoid any foreknowledge of the plot of the movie going in, which definitely enhanced the experience for me. Ok, you’ve been warned, here goes:
I’m sure that many of you are already familiar with the premise, which is in the six-minute short Alive in Joburg also directed by Neill Blomkamp:
Unfortunately, this short showcases the main problem that I have with the movie: District 9 is a Halo movie set in Slumdog Millionaire. When Millionaire was up for many Academy Awards this past February, it was accused of fetishizing poverty, but District 9 takes it a step further – the physical setting of the slum called District 9 was a slum that was being evacuated while the movie was being filmed, according to this interview with director Neill Blomkamp on io9, which makes the movie mirror reality a little too closely for me to be entirely comfortable with it. Similarly, all of the quotes in the short from non-actor South Africans come from asking them about immigrants to Johannesburg from other parts of Africa, according to that same io9 interview.
As far as the Halo connection goes, all of those action sequences in the short look like Halo cut scenes to me. And then we get to District 9, and all of the action sequences (not to mention the weapons and the mech) look like they were lifted straight from the Halo movie that Peter Jackson and Blomkamp were gonna make until it got canned, and they decided to go with District 9! I enjoy good action sequences, but these had too much in common with first-person shooters and they made the movie seem unbalanced to me. I was hoping for more sci fi ideas and less guns.
It may seem that I disliked the movie, but I enjoyed it. It just didn’t live up to the hype for me, especially when it came out a few months after Moon, an intelligent, minimal sci-fi movie following the footsteps of 2001 and Tarkovsky’s Solaris. All that being said, there was one thing in the movie that really, really worked for me, and that was Wikus’ slow, horrific, and grotesque transformation in a prawn. No matter how unrealistic it may be scientifically (unless, of course, DNA has been seeded thruout the cosmos by benevolent urpeople), it really worked for me emotionally, and it’s the fulcrum around which all of the action and character development of the movie takes place. I’ve always been fascinated by the role that limnal beings play in narrative and myth, so it was excited to see a major movie take that up as its central theme. I also appreciated how important the Nigerian gangster’s belief in sympathetic magic (which can manifest as “If I eat you, I’ll gain your power”) was in the movie. So, despite District 9‘s shortcomings, I think it was one of the better sci-fi movies that I’ve seen, and I’ll see the sequel, District 10, if they make it.