District 9 came out to the theaters shortly after I lost my job, so I decided that I would treat myself and see it in the theater. This turned out to be a good move because it was a really good movie visually and something would have been lost seeing it at home on TV or even in the low-rent theater where I see most of my theaters.

The movie was entertaining throughout, which I guess is mostly what you’re looking for. It was also well-paced. That’s about all I can really say about it. Beyond that, it was pretty disappointing. Not because the movie wasn’t good, but rather because it wasn’t the movie that I wanted to see. I can’t put the blame entirely on myself for this, because it either made the claim (or had the claim made on its behalf) that it was the kind of movie that I wanted to see: something thought-provoking, allegorical, and even insightful.

Instead, it was mostly just a movie about a guy being hunted by an evil, multi-national corporation. It was sort of like how I felt after watching X-Men. A movie that was supposed to transcend the superhero genre turned out instead to be a movie about a deathray (of sorts) emanating from the Statue of Liberty. The joke Wolverine made about wearing a yellow costume rang hollow because, given the plot of the movie, he might as well have been wearing a yellow costume. Or at least a costume of some sort that draws it in tighter with the comic book. The problem is that X-Men couldn’t decide which sort of movie it wanted to be, tried to be both, and had me coming out feeling disappointed.

Likewise for District 9. The aliens as apartheid South Africans was a fascinating concept, but it was almost entirely relegated to the backdrop. The movie did not tell us anything interesting about the Apartheid. The villains were so dastardly that we really could not see ourselves in them, which is one of the things you want to do if you’re wanting us to question our allegiance to social justice and liberty and all that. For instance, it doesn’t really challenge our government’s previous support of the white South African leadership because, for all their faults, weren’t doing what the MNU folks were doing. There was only one side to this story and when it’s absolutely clear that one side is good and one side is evil, you do get the audience to side with the good guys, but not in any way that’s applicable to the world around them.

I spent a portion of the movie figuring out what I might have done differently. Making the villains a little less villainous would have been a start. I might have gone a step further and said that they should have made it morally murky. Instead of trying to take the prawns’ technology for eeeevil weapons, I would have made it about a form of alternative energy. So on one hand you have people that are trying to save the world by creating a form of energy that will save the environment… but they’re having to do unconscionable things to get there. That would have been a far more interesting movie, in my book.

But it would have made it a far less compelling action movie. Being hunted by evil corporations, on the other hand, makes for a nice, simplistic action movie. And a good portion of the audience likes to know right off the bat who to root for or against.

After I watched GI Joe, before I watched D9, there were a couple of people were talking about the movie as being fascinating and thought-provoking. Maybe if I’d never heard that conversation, I would have liked the movie a lot more than I did. Or at least if I hadn’t heard the buzz surrounding it. Not unlike my view of X-Men being somewhat dinged by my roommate’s constant talk about how it was going to be a different sort of superhero movie. The thing is, though, were it not for the potential of it being more than an action movie, I never would have seen it to begin with.

Category: Theater

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5 Responses to District Nein

  1. web says:

    The problem with District 9 was, it got the “moral points” out of the way early so they could do the action-movie thing. Population of “second-class citizens” stuffed into camps? Check. Abusive mafia/gang types “running the show” behind the backs of the token overseers? Check.

    The “we need a way to use their weapons” thing was interesting briefly, though it got kind of odd.

    There were several points that really, really just kind of broke down for me on it as well. The spacecraft pulls up overhead of South Africa, stops, the landing craft falls, and the rest of the aliens are just sitting on board? Doing nothing? Yet they are animated and alive on Earth, and there even are those among them smart enough to fix the ship and get it moving again?

    Some of it – a lot of it actually – just doesn’t seem to add up.

  2. DaveinHackensack says:

    I thought it was great, and I think you are missing some of the subtleties. Yes, it’s true that the MNU types were portrayed as cartoonishly evil (though it’s worth remembering that MNU was acting as a contractor for the UN, so that’s not exactly the same as the typical evil corporation cliche). But the aliens — with the exception of “Christopher Johnson” and his son — weren’t portrayed sympathetically either. They were, for the most part (with the exception of perhaps a handful of brilliant engineers, only one of whom we are introduced to), violent, impulsive, stupid, vulgar, and shiftless.

    As awful as their confinement in District 9 was, the film raises a question of what the alternatives were. Humans didn’t have the technological means to send the aliens home, and integrating them into human society would seem to have been problematic if not impossible.

  3. trumwill says:

    As Web points out, though, it dispensed with all of that early in the movie. It set up a lot of questions, but it didn’t actually ask any of them.

  4. DaveinHackensack says:

    Web didn’t mention the salient points about the aliens, so it’s not entirely clear to me that he was referring to the same things. I shouldn’t have used the word “subtleties” above: the movie pretty much hits you over the head with its negative portrayal of the aliens (save C.J. and his son).

    As for “not asking” the questions: I assume it didn’t ask them more explicitly because the filmmaker wanted to avoid overtly contentious or spiteful social commentary.

  5. trumwill says:

    I understand why the moviemakers did what it did, but I think that the movie suffered because of it.

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