31 August 2009

My (unbiased, I promise) verdict on District 9

I was well aware of the hype and buzz surrounding District 9 going in, and what that usually does is fill me with dread. Because more often than not, the movie does not live up to the hype and typically leaves me going, “uh... huh…?” when the credits roll. The Dark Knight was a case in point last year, possibly for me the most overrated movie of all time.

And I was expecting that with District 9. That’s until, of course, I found myself at the end of movie wondering why I wasn’t having that feeling, after which I then escaped out of the cinema’s emergency exit for the purposes of research on my current project. (But that’s a story for another day) It wasn’t as if I was sitting there happy about the film or anything, I just didn’t feel disappointed like I usually do after I’ve watched films that are hyped this much. I thought, could this be a repeat of what happened recently when another much-hyped movie, Slumdog Millionaire, surprised me by being as good as what people said it was?

Then again, I just came from watching GI Joe with exactly that same neutral feeling, but before it ended I had already decided that GI Joe couldn’t really have been better (it could have been worse) than it was because for those kind of big, franchise, tentpole, US summer-type movies, nothing really original can come from it because those movies are made by committee and focus groups and 100 screenwriters so the best you can do is just make the most visually kick-ass movie you can that doesn’t annoy you with too many glaring inconsistencies or pseudo-smart convoluted plotting, all of which GI Joe manages to pull off. For all its visual creativity, however, I didn’t much care for GI Joe.

But then I kinda let District 9 play back in my mind a few times just to make sure if it was all hype or if it was actually good, and when I didn’t find very many reasons for what was wrong with it, I came to the conclusion that this must have been a darn good movie.

Not that I was biased about District 9 either. To be honest, I actually cringed the first few minutes listening to the South African accents because I was so used to expecting such hyped-up movies to come with American accents. To me it initially felt strange and awkward, but as the movie went on I started getting used to it. What helped with that was the many funny moments in the film which softened me up a bit. Also, concerning bias, even though I watched a movie like Jerusalema twice, I really wanted to like it, but found it really didn’t do much for me. I felt an all too familiar feeling that the whole rags to riches gangster film has been done before, and that movie didn’t bring anything new besides the stealing-of-buildings part, which was a gimmick that just came and went.

District 9 on the other hand was quite unique. You can argue that the concept of aliens interacting with normal human society was borrowed from the movie (and tv series) Alien Nation. But whereas Alien Nation’s angle was post-Apartheid integration, District 9’s angle is Apartheid separation. But the way it breaks new ground I think is what happens to the main character Wikus. If you see it as an Apartheid allegory, then what happens to Wikus is something that could never have happened during Apartheid, which is an angle that no other similarly-themed movie that I can think of has taken before and which makes that last shot of the movie all the more moving.

But the other unique aspect of the movie is the sharp contrast of the high-tech visuals within the harsh slum conditions, which no other sci-fi movie has done and which no other Hollywood movie would ever even have considered because in America and Europe there just aren’t any slums as bad as we have, and what reason would there be to set a high-tech sci-fi movie in a slum? That idea alone is worth making the movie.

If there was one tiny flaw in the movie (**SPOILER ALERT**) then it was the thin slice of cheddar stuck between Wikus and Christopher’s (the main alien) relationship when they parted ways.

But that’s just nit-picking. District 9 is a phenomenal achievement and deserves all the praise it’s getting. I look forward to seeing it showered with accolades when awards season rolls around early next year.