Friday, August 14, 2009

Some Thoughts On 'District 9'

I had the opportunity to see District 9 this morning; I wasn't expecting much apart from your typical sci-fi/action/suspense fare and was pleasantly surprised to find that the movie is far more than things blowing up. There's plenty of that, to be sure, but the CG effects and explosions are just a vehicle for what is fundamentally a thougtful exploration of the challenges that accompany mass immigration.

The premise, briefly, is that about 20 years ago a spaceship arrived in Johannesburg carrying a million-plus aliens. That's not a terribly original concept at its core; when I first saw the trailer with a big ship hovering over a major city I thought that someone was remaking Alien Nation. There's never any mention of why the ship is there which, while it's a substantial ommission, doesn't really damage the plot, which centers around the efforts to relocate the aliens from District 9 to an area some distance away because the slum that District 9 had become is causing problems and raising the ire of the surrounding human populace. What follows is a farce/tragedy about petty bureaucracy, megalomaniacal, multi-national corporations, the power structure, and the problems that arise when vastly different cultures have to rub along in close proximity. I won't go into the details other than to say that the movie captures the tone of contemporary discussion well. At one point someone says something to the effect that they're trying to acommodate the aliens, but they're not even human; that line in particular was spot on. It's the sort of point bandied about right now when people talk about accommodating large immigrant populations: "We want to help, but they're not even ___"... fill in the blank as you see fit.

So yeah, awesome movie. But they've totally messed up the marketing; the associated commercials/trailers totally fail to capture any of the social commentary. There are a lot of people who would probably really enjoy it who are never going to see it because it looks like just another alien flick. There's also one glaring plot hole: the aliens have all these awesome weapons that only they can use. The premise of the movie is that District 9 has become an unstable, dangerous, crime-infested slum, but for all the inter-species violence which is depicted none of it involves these alien super-weapons until the very end. That doesn't quite make sense.


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