Monday, August 24, 2009

District 9

"Get your fookin' tentacle out of my face!"

A masterpiece of modern cinema. District 9 has elements of intelligent thrillers and blockbuster action movies; and it combines them to create something very unique and special. In short, it is a welcome distraction from the traditional summer "popcorn flick." At the time of this writing the movie is sitting pretty at 89% on Rotten Tomatoes.

I was very impressed when I walked out of the 10 a.m. showing of District 9 last weekend. I had seen all the trailers, I had heard the whispers of "this generations Bladerunner," but still I wasn't sold on the movie. If anything I went in thinking that it was going to be, if not bad, pretty average. I was very wrong; and I'm not too proud to admit it. District 9 blew me away, no doubt about it. The sheer scale of what they accomplished with a meager $30 million budget was nothing short of incredible. Michael Bay could learn a few things from Neill Blomkamp.

I think perhaps part of what makes the movie such a success is that I didn't really know what I was walking into. The trailers really don't give much away. Sure some key plot points are in there, the MNU agent, the alien community that is established in South Africa and the sense that something goes very wrong. As far as specifics though, the trailers are all very vague and it seems to work very well for the actual viewing of the movie. For that reason I really don't want to post a detailed plot synopsis for this one, instead I'd rather let you experience the story for yourself.. Part of my enjoyment was drawn from the fact that I really didn't know what was going to happen next. Right up until the credits rolled the movie managed to keep me guessing, never knowing which character was going to survive to the next scene. With the exception of the somewhat slow start, mostly down the documentary style of the beginning, the pacing of the movie comprised of a nice slow build to a really exciting and fast paced conclusion.

The casting was also very good. The entire cast was comprised of relative unknowns which I felt worked very well. This didn't feel like the kind of movie that would be suited to the likes of Brad Pitt or Matt Damon. On a more economical note, unknown actors would also have helped keep the cost down to that $30 million mark. Sharlto Copley who plays one of the leads, MNU agent Wikus Van De Merwe, delivered a very strong performance. Traditionally he would probably be considered the hero of the movie, but District 9 again does something different. Like his alien counterpart, named Christopher Johnson by the human MNU agents, he is not a traditional hero character, instead he is a very flawed man who takes several actions in the movie that almost cast him as a villain in the eyes of the audience. I was impressed by the fact that the director allowed his two lead characters to be so flawed, it adds to the reality of the movie and again keeps the audience guessing about what is going to happen next. It is also worth noting that somehow the director manages to convey the humanity of the aliens as well. I found that I cared just as much about what happened to Christopher as I did about Wikus. For a purely CG construct that didn't even speak English, this is a quite an accomplishment.

Quick word about the special effects. With a budget of just $30 million total the effects were comparable to that of Terminator or Star Trek. The image of the alien mothership is often dropped into the background of scenes, to the point that you almost don't even see it. You could look at that as a bad thing, but I'd say that it's a testament to the realism of the CG; it actually blended into the backdrop. The aliens, as a central plot of the story, also looked great. Of greater note though is the alien weaponry. Typically alien blasters in movies comprise of red or green laser beams/bolts which always seem rather bland for an alien weapon. In this movie when an alien weapon fires, there is very little on screen effect to symbolize a bolt, instead the sound is what delivers the experience. The trigger pulls, we hear the sound of the blast, then the target explodes. A really simple technique, but it looks great on screen.

I strongly urge people to check out this movie while it is still in theaters. It is more than worth the price of an $8 ticket. If you can get past the documentary style of the beginning, which did throw me for a bit, you'll experience one of the best movies to grace the screen this year.

Final Verdict on District 9:


  1. What? A protagonist who isn't a shining mountain of heroic virtue?

    I hate poorly edited trailers that can't resist spilling the beans about critical plot components. If you're going to give away the plot in sound bytes, then why should I even bother seeing it?

  2. Yeah, wierd how the protagonist is almost human isn't it?

    I agree, nothing annoys me more than trailers that spoil movies.