Sunday, August 23, 2009

High Hopes, Dashed

**Warning: A multitude of spoilers lie ahead. Proceed with caution.**

District 9 was a movie I wanted to see and expected to like--a rare occurrence these days--because I read somewhere that its story centered on an alien/human relationship that is seems, oddly, nobody had thought of before: aliens come to Earth and become our prisoners. That sounds to me like a fascinating concept rife with opportunity for social commentary, character exploration, and killer action.

Sadly, the whole shebang falls apart almost immediately. Rather than casting the aliens as peaceful and docile, which would render them easy victims, inspire compassion, and highlight their captors' senseless cruelty, first-time writer/director Neill Blomkamp instead chose to portray the aliens as powerful, temperamental, violent creatures who possess weapons humans are neither able to use nor understand.

Adding insult to injury, Blomkamp proceeded to make at least SEVEN other unforgivable mistakes:

1. For some reason, the aliens were allowed to bring their advanced weaponry with them as they were helicoptered out from their monstrous spaceship and placed in an internment camp, including a giant killer robot that must have taken a dedicated helicopter trip. Why on Earth would the South African military allow this to happen? Armed prisoners? Assuming they had their insane reasons, why did the aliens not use these weapons to escape? Why would they rather trade them to a Nigerian thug in a wheelchair for cans of cat food when they could simply point a laser cannon at his head and demand everything for free?

2. The alien known as Christopher--the one who wears a tattered red Michael Jackson vest so that we know who he is--leaves behind the fuel tube he has been working on for 20 years when the military bangs on the door to his friend's house. He then waltzes out of there and into his own house...why didn't he just take the fuel tube with him and hide it in the spaceship under his shack that nobody will notice until it takes off? Oh yeah, I know why--otherwise the protagonist, Wikus, wouldn't have been able to get his hands on it and kick the plot into gear.

3. On that note, when the highly-unlikable, bumbling idiot that is Wikus accidentally squirts himself in the face with the fuel tube, it begins trnasforming him into an alien--starting inexplicably with his hand. First off, why would the alien fuel have transformative properties? Advanced bio-technology aside, what possible use would this have had for them? And why does Wikus' hand change first, aside from the fact that this allowed him to fire their weapons and become a potential asset to the military contractor? It makes no sense.

4. Once Wikus teams up with Christopher and decides to invade MNU headquarters, he is able to gain access to secure levels of the building with his passcode, including the secret research floor he never knew about until he was dragged in the day before as a scientific experiment. Why would his passcode not have been deactivated when he became a vengeful mutant on the lam? Why would his code have ever gained him access to a room whose mere existence was clearly above his pay grade? Why would the building not have gone into lock-down when the first floor was blown out by a laser cannon? Oh yeah--because Wikus had to get in there to get the fuel tube and so that Christopher could become sad upon seeing the mutilated corpses of his comrades. This is a military facility conducting top-secret research on fucking ALIENS and yet it is easier to break into than your average bank.

5. Despite the fact that neither party ever speaks the other's language, the aliens and humans are able to verbally communicate without a problem. That is far-fetched, for sure, but I'll suspend my disbelief here and take for granted that in 20 years of study, talented linguists have not only pieced together an alien language and taught it all their nation's soldiers, but have also managed to teach English to 1.8 million alien. This being the case, however, why is it that we know absolutely nothing about where the aliens are from or how they wound up floating above Johannesburg in a spaceship? These are peaceful aliens, worker-drones, as we learn in a throwaway line at some point, and the language barrier has been removed, so...nothing? Not one shred of information has been gathered and presented to us during the opening montage of catch-me-up information or during the ensuing two hours?

6. When the supposedly-long-sought command module for the spaceship that has been floating above their city for 20 years rises out of the ground on national television, no military or scientific personnel rush to the scene to investigate and/or secure the ship. The only reason this might make a lick of sense is that, twenty years ago, when the command module separated itself from the mothership and descended to Earth at a snail's pace, nobody in Johannesburg was interested enough to pay attention to where it landed. In light of this continued disinterest in the spaceship on the part of people in the movie, why should anybody watching the movie give two shits about it? Why not just let it return to its home planet? Oh, wait--they did. Otherwise there'd be no sequel! LOL!!!

7. The aliens are not allowed to leave their camp, yet for some reason there are signs posted explicitly stating (in English) that aliens are not allowed to use bus benches or public bathrooms. Is this not implied by their not being allowed anywhere outside their camp? I have to imagine these signs are only included as part of a flaccid attempt to relate the aliens' struggle to that of back-of-the-bus blacks in America, South Africa, and elsewhere, but the attempt is a grave failure. The situation are not the same--the aliens were not looking for acceptance. The aliens were not looking to ride on the buses and shit in the human toilets. Similarly, any attempt to compare the alien plight to that of the Jews, the slumdwellers of Brazil or India, or the plight of...anybody anywhere falls flat because no Jew or slumdog or suburbanite has the strength to tear their tormentors limb from limb in a split second or the alien laser cannon to incinerate an entire battalion of troops. Those posters made for a killer advertising campaign, though, right? Right?

As a result of its numerous, fundamental flaws, all potential real-world parallels go out the window, nothing makes any sense, and we are left with merely a hollow action movie populated by cardboard characters for whom nobody is rooting. What then, I ask, is the point of this movie?

To those of you out there who think I am being too critical, have lost my "fun gene," that I am not approaching this movie with the right attitude, I have this to say:

I know suspension of disbelief is important in an action and/or sci-fi movie. I get that. Believe it or not, I brought that to the table on this one. I suspended my disbelief and accepted that an interstellar spaceship packed with over 1 million alien life forms came to a halt over Johannesburg and instead of its occupants being killed on-sight by a terrified global military force, they were methodically airlifted to safety in a nearby internment camp over approximately 100,000 helicopter trips. From this moment on, however, the story must make sense--and it doesn't.

Unfortunately, long before we are confronted by the who-cares image of Wikus as a full-blown alien crafting flowers out of metal for his bitch of a wife, we the audience have already come to terms with the fact that District 9 is not the groundbreaking, thinking-man's action movie it should have been, on par with Terminator, Aliens, Blade Runner, Star Wars, The Matrix, or Total Recall.

How disappointing. I suppose Neill Blomkamp can chalk it up to a rookie mistake, but Peter Jackson shoulda fuckin' better known better.

What's more disappointing? Neither of them will learn their lesson, everybody involved will reap millions, and an even-worse sequel will soon be inflicted upon the real-life, human worker drones that never learn their own lesson and propagate a self-destructive movie industry based purely on profits instead of merit.



greaseball said...

Sweet. Another one I don't need to bother seeing. I'll put it on the list with this one:

Goodtime Charlie said...

I didn't want to see that either, but now I've had some friends say they liked it. I might see it; I might have to post another review.