Friday, August 14, 2009

Movie Review: District 9

Over the past few weeks, so much buzz has been building about District 9 that it was becoming difficult to keep expectations in check. Not only is it an action flick, the endless stream of punctuation challenged tweets declaimed, but it’s also a treatise on apartheid! It’s going to address major issues of social concern and maybe even present answers! It’s going to give you a hummer, but don’t worry because it also cures gonorrhea and, oh yeah, pigs are going to fly.

Well, I’ve seen District 9 and now I can assure that at least one of those things is true (hint: it’s not the hummer). I don’t want to spoil it too much, but if you’ve ever wondered just what kind of weapon a pig traveling at escape velocity would make, then you can wonder no more, because it’s a effing awesome weapon indeed.

To be fair, though, maybe we should back up a bit. In case you’ve been living under a rock (which in this case means “anywhere not at Comic-Con”, District 9 is the newest Peter Jackson joint (though it’s actually directed by relative newcomer Neill Blomkamp) and it’s a doozy. Based on a short film by Blomkamp, the story takes place in an alternate future where aliens landed in South Africa in 1983 and were herded into ghettoes loosely controlled by the military.

So, you can see the obvious apartheid parallels, at least, those of you old enough to remember apartheid can see them. But don’t worry, kids, because luckily for everyone the film doesn’t spend much time preaching. It would, you know, except it’s too busy blowing your little mind all over the theater with a twisty and gritty action story that fuses elements of Kafka’s Metamorphosis with bits of Enemy Mine and Blair Witch Project.

If that sounds like a strange brew, keep in mind that the special effects wizards at WETA (no pun intended, of course, so hold your Gandalf jokes) are on hand to ground everything nicely. Most of the effects, in fact, are of the subtle variety; since most of the footage is shot as though it’s from handheld or surveillance cameras, they don’t have to make things slick. Instead, they just give minor tweaks here and there and the ubiquitous shot of the alien mothership floating in the background instantly adds all the sci-fi you’ll need.

And if you’re one of those old-schoolers who groks rishathra, you’re even in luck there, to an extent, which I would call an added bonus if it didn’t royally skeeve me out.

Overall, then, District 9 succeeds in large part because it didn’t have a huge budget or huge expectations; it came by its buzz the old fashioned way, though word of mouth generated because people saw something unexpected and unexpectedly good. Part horror movie, part action move, part science fiction and, yes, even part treatise on apartheid, if District 9 isn’t the best blockbuster of the year it’s only because it’s not nearly flabby, bloated and boring enough by today’s summer standards to claim the title of blockbuster at all. It’s just a fast, hot flick made by people who love movies and want to entertain.

And if that sounds too good to be true, well, remember: this is when pigs fly. Just duck if you see one coming.

My Grades: Straight A’s across the board; along with UP, one of the two best movies I’ve seen so far this year.

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Trying to see it this weekend! Awesome!