Wednesday, September 02, 2009
Movie review: District 9
Having heard nothing but positive remarks about South African director Neill Blomkamp's new sci-fi/action flick, District 9, I ventured to have a peek on Wednesday night. This despite my skepticism about the film's executive producer, the murderer of JRR Tolkien's genius, Peter Jackson.
District 9 relates the story, set in the not-too-distant future, of a race of extra-terrestrials that is marooned on Earth (in South Africa, specifically). As the million or so aliens (dubbed "prawns" because of their vaguely decapod appearance) settle in to their new existence, social frictions arise with the surrounding human population.
The story opens some 20 years after the prawns first appeared, hovering above Johannesburg in their mammoth, debilitated spaceship. Government worker Wikus Van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley) is the more-or-less decent civilian authority charged with effecting a relocation of the troublesome prawns from their slum outside Jo'berg to another camp further from human populations. Complications arise when Van de Merwe comes in to contact with an unknown fluid that causes him to undergo a terrible metamorphosis. Various competing interests, including a gang of Nigerian thugs, a fanatical South African military, and amoral government and corporate entities each strive to take advantage of the situation.
Obviously, the story is allegory, which I imagine will resound most particularly in South Africa, given her recent history.
Blomkamp employs a filming technique that reminds me of that used in the much-hyped 1999 flick Blair Witch Project during much of the film. That is, the camera jostles and moves with the action, giving the viewer the sense that he is part of the scene. At several points in the film, however, he forgoes this technique to take a more omniscient (and conventional) perspective, particularly for character development.
The film moves quickly. Lots of action. Lots of gory violence.
The acting was adequate, but not excellent. The plot was entertaining, if not particularly deep. There are some aspects that don't hold up well under scrutiny (for example, prawn-human communication). But Blomkamp is a decent story-teller, and is not cursed with the grandiosity or self-indulgence of his producer. With District 9, he comes across as humble, sincere, and determined. Whenever new talent comes on the scene, especially talent uncorrupted by crass and facile Hollywood, I find myself really hoping that they succeed.
And I'd call this film a success. Definitely worth a look. Let's see what Blomkamp comes up with next.