Monday, November 14, 2011

District 9 (2009)

District 9 is surreal. It's unlike any other movie I've ever seen. And it's one of the most original and intelligent sci-fi movies ever filmed. Right from the outset, a barrage of news clips constructs - rather plausibly, via a pseudo-documentary style - a world much like our own, but for one significant difference: extraterrestrial life has made contact with Earth. But one of District 9's greatest strengths is that that contact doesn't play out in any sort of way we've seen before. The aliens are neither aggressive nor diplomatic; they are instead mostly helpless, and it seems that they've come to Earth not with a plan so much as by accident. And while communication between the species is eventually possible, they seem to have no leader and little organization, and not much more clue how to operate their advanced technology than the humans do. So they are brought from their spaceship hovering over Johannesburg, South Africa (as opposed to a more diplomatically sensible location, such as Washington, D.C., or any of the world's other prominent capitals), to live as refugees among the city. But their customs and natural instincts prove rather destructive to the humans living in the city, so the aliens are confined to a slum designated District 9.

(Warning: General plot spoilers to follow.)

Twenty years later, human toleration of the aliens' presence is wearing exceedingly thin, even as a small pocket of humanitarians protest for the aliens' rights. District 9 has become little more than a hive of criminal activity, and an elaborate scheme is concocted to displace the aliens to an internment camp farther from the city. There is undoubtedly a racial subtext to this film, and it's pretty clear the way the aliens are treated by the humans is mostly abhorrent, even accounting for the inevitable difficulties inherent in the culture clash. The company leading the research into the aliens' technology - that, frustratingly, is designed to be inoperable by humans (or anyone not possessing the aliens' genetic identification) - is also charged with serving the aliens' their eviction notices before their displacement. However, this is mostly a public relations scheme (and to satisfy minimum legal requirements), seeing as the aliens are, on the one hand, unlikely to comply, but on the other, just as unlikely to understand what the humans are on about.

Naturally, as you might predict, this diplomatic raid turns into a debacle as pockets of violence erupt, as much due to confusion and the humans' deplorable treatment of the aliens than to any organized resistance. But just as we are ready to conclude that the entire refuged population of aliens consists of simplistic individuals with mostly animalian instincts, we discover that one particularly intelligent alien has been salvaging fuel from scrapped alien technology over the last twenty years, in a hopeful attempt to reactivate the mothership. But the crucial implement in his plan is confiscated even as it infects the man in charge of the raids, merging his DNA with the aliens' and initiating a gradual transformation not unlike the one Seth Brundle has to endure in The Fly. Of course, once the research division finds out, they want to sacrifice him for science, and his search for a cure leads him to reluctantly assist (as the audience ramps up their support for) the aliens.

From there, the movie shifts into action mode, but it's exciting action, with some very cool alien weapons. The whole movie runs at a brisk pace, and before you know it, it's over. The door is wide open for a sequel, and this is one of those cases where I have conflicting feelings - I would really enjoy seeing a sequel that continues the story, but lightning rarely strikes twice, and the chances are slim that another title could be as good or as effective as this one was. Nevertheless, what we have here is a very impressive sci-fi film that is hardly rivaled, let alone equaled, by anything dealing with this theme in the last decade, if not longer. I get the sense that it's the kind of film Independence Day wants to be when it grows up and matures a little.


  1. I love how you put it with that last line, about Independence Day. Completely agree! I was very deeply impresesd with this film.

    As far as a sequel goes, I want to see the alien come back and decimate the human race. But I think, like the idea of continuing Paranormal Activity from after Katie nabs Hunter, it's an exciting idea but one that would be nearly impossible to satisfactorily pull off in movie form, at least connected to the previous film(s).

    Instead I've heard they might do a prequel, about how the aliens originally came to Earth. That could be cool.

  2. I dunno, we already know pretty much what happens, don't we? I'd be disappointed to see a sequel and have it NOT be about the alien coming back for revenge. But that doesn't mean it couldn't be any good. I guess a great sequel isn't really necessary anyway, as even though it's open-ended, this is a very good story on its own.

  3. I think it COULD be great but it would be exceedingly difficult to pull-off, like walking on egg shells. I mean if the aliens are coming back for revenge, invariably you have to side with the human race at some point... can you imagine a major studio putting out a movie about aliens kicking the crap out of the human race and then that's the end? Ahahaha, that'd be great.

    CJ the alien has proven himself to be an exceptionally compassionate individual, with how he treated the completely self-serving and deceptive human protagonist. So he's going to come back and.... what? Kill people? If he tries to liberate his kind will the human race resist, and if they don't do we even have a movie? I'm just not sure how they can pull it off, but I would be VERY interested in seeing it if they try.

    Definitely a good story on its own. I agree with you ten-hundred percent there.

  4. You're right, a movie where the aliens annihilate humanity would be ridiculous. You've just convinced me that's precisely the way they could make the movie work on a level anywhere near approximating the success of the first!