Friday, August 14, 2009


Friday Movie Review--District Nine

Saw District Nine, the South African science fiction flick, last night at midnight on the big screen of the Continental with son and youngest daughter (and their friends, usw). It was packed with 20 somethings and a scattering of old sci fi fans like me. First impression was that at the end of the movie, I really wanted to take a metaphysical shower. To call this movie gritty is to consign all the gritty movies of the past to the Disney school of family films, or, more, directly to the so-clean-you-can-eat-off-the-floor of the Jeffries tube on the Next Generation. As I thought about it more, I realized it was quite a good film, the best in years in the genre.

So what's the word? Johannesburg! The movie starts and ends as a pseudo-documentary about the Prawns (exo-skelatoned bipedal aliens with insectoid mouths and antennae) who arrived in a huge ships over the most famous city in South Africa that is not one of the three capitals, and hung there exactly the opposite way a brick does. 20 plus years after the arrival, the two million prawns are in a sprawling ugly ghetto near Joburg (I know, I know--not at all subtle), right under the inert ship, where they crave cat food, can't get along with humans, and trade away their weapons, which no human can fire anyway. As it happens, as cameras begin to follow the 'hero' of the film, the bad guy NGO, of which he is the fall guy leader, is just beginning to move the 8 foot aliens to a much worse ghetto far, far away. About 50 minutes into it, the documentary is over and it's live action, and a lot of it until near the end when it's back in the documentary. The first part goes on so long that it seemed to lag, but the middle section zipped by in very satisfactory fashion. Quite satisfactory, indeed.

Part of the credit for the fun of most of the movie goes to Peter Jackson, the Kiwi director of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, who is the producer here. The director is South African Niel Blomkamp, whose primary previous work is a smattering of special effects and a 6 minute short, Alive in Joberg, which inhabits the same alternative universe as this movie.

Apparently the whole budget for this was about $30 Million. Wow. They sure get a lot of bang for the buck. All the aliens are CGI, but the interaction seemed seamless to me. The action here seemed infinitely superior to the big picture stuff we've seen, or in my case, not seen, this summer (Transformers, et al.) because it had the grit the Jeffries tube school of action entirely lacks, despite the cost and expertise.

The actors were entirely unknown to me. Actors are sheep. Moving on.

I would argue that there are no holes in the plot, just unknown things, like real life; and after the documentary narration/interview stuff stops, we learn what's happening as the actors discover it. I'm always a sucker for movies that show me the plot rather than tell me about it. Why the ship is motionless is not a plot flaw--you can figure it out. You can figure it all out. That has its own twist of satisfaction as well.

Although short of an important movie, the kind that changes movies in general and becomes an important icon of our shared culture, such as it is, this is a very good movie I heartily recommend. It has just enough intellectual heft to get you satisfied to the end, as hopeful an end as was possible under the circumstances.


Yea! I promised Katie that I would never drag her to another sci-fi/comic movie while we were here (she didn't like Watchmen, we both hated Wolverine and she laughed in my face when I proposed Star Trek.) But I love the review, and I am excited to see it, now I just have to convince Katie...
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