Hey ya'll. Wyatt MacReady, again. Movie critic and cigar afficiando. Last Friday, I took a half day at work to go see District 9 on its opening day in the afternoon without all the fuss of dealing with the crowds and lines and people standing right next to you when you're at the urinal after the movie.
I had been anticipating this movie for weeks. And the problem with that is that you see the trailer way before it's actually released. You see Peter Jackson's name stamped everywhere. You even see the posters at bus stops telling you that it's only for human use like you've actually been in the movie this whole time! Your mind naturally imagines all the coolness that will be stuffed into the movie. But when you actually see it, it never actually lives up to your expectations. Kind of like Tara Reid naked.
This has happened to me too many times before. The first Hellboy comes to mind as an example. So, I tried my best to not think about what the movie was going to be like. I tempered my expectations so that I wouldn't be inevitably dissappointed by the lack of whatever was happening in my imagination.
Ultimately, when I saw the movie, I wasn't disappointed. It was just about as good as I had expected, but it still left me wanting. Maybe it was the unanswered questions, or the lack of a detailed epilogue, but I felt, as a sci fi fan, that more needed to be explained for me to really think about this movie on a different level.
As it is, there is great action combined with some pretty badass special effects. I never once felt like I was watching lame CGI action like a new Star Wars movie or something. Maybe CGI is finally getting to that point where you can really feel the texture like with stop motion animation. Or maybe the alien characters were just so well-developed that you can't write them off as fake. Or maybe the guy next to me had bad eczema and was sitting too close.
Also, the main character, Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley, look out for this guy in the future. Young Daniel Day-Lewis, he is.) walks the fine line between parody and reality to create a hilarious character. He reminds me of a Chris Lilley character from Summer Heights High or even Murray from Flight of the Conchords. We all know this kind of character as bumbling tool for comedy, but there is a deeper level on which he operates and the movie isn't afraid to make you empathize with him.
He has a love of the law and protocol. He doesn't care about the economic circumstances that the aliens (known as prawns) have to endure. His only concern is for his wife and his job. He doesn't hate the prawns, though, like some other characters. Quite the opposite. He prefers diplomacy over violence and even refuses under torture to use an alien weapon against one of the prawns. To him, prawns are just another group of refugees that require the application of the law.
But throughout the film, he is forced to sleep in the same bed as one of the prawn refugees that he evicted and wait in line to buy overpriced hunks of meat (or cat food as prawns prefer). He comes to recognize the difficulty of being a refugee alien in an environment as poor as the makeshift shanty town in D-9. And through an accidental exposure to an alien device, he is even physically transforming into a prawn (are all prawns just transformed humans I wonder?).
He must seek the aid of an alien he calls Christopher. The deal is, if Wikus can get Christopher a canister of alien fuel for their mothership, then Christopher will change him back to human. The relationship between Christopher and Wikus reminds me a little of The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (Not sci-fi but see it anyway).
Anyway, the relationship between the two characters is powerful and makes for some heartbreaking scenes later on. What impressed me most was the level of depth in developing not just Wikus's character but also Christopher's. Neither one is perfect and they both have their own goals which sometimes conflict.
But I have my issues with this movie because I think it could have been more. It functions pefectly well as a social satire for illegal immigration and refugee status, but when you're dealing with aliens there's literraly a whole world that you can build concerning that.
1. They never say why the aliens were stranded above Earth and why Johanessburg. You'd think Wikus, during the whole time he's with Christopher, would just ask, "Hey, sup with your city choice. Why'd you pick one of the most economically down-trodden cities to hover your ship over? And also, why are you out here in the first place?"
2. The aliens obviously have superior firepower that only they can use. Why wouldn't they defend themselves more aggressively against their physically weaker human captors. They can build the robot from Robocop 2 out of trash but they can't organize an escape plan from D-9?
3. The run up to this movie makes it seem like aliens are living with us in our day-to-day lives. Not the case. They are all confined to one area of Johanesburg. Only poor people, gangs and immigration officers have any contact with the aliens. It would be a way more interesting movie if they were working in offices and construction sites where they have to deal with regular humans. Sort of like Alien Nation, but none of the aliens are hot.
I would definitely recommend seeing this movie, but if you're anything like me, you will have to temper your expectations to truly enjoy the more dramatic aspect of the movie, because it does not quite fall into that special category of great sci-fi.
Whoah (Creativity): 3
Huh (Ponderability): 2.5
Sweet (I can't believe that happened): 4.5 (They literally shoot a spike attached to wires into a guys head and make it explode for absolutely no reason.)
Grand Total: 10/15