Monday, October 12, 2009

Movie: District 9 (2009)

Science fiction has always been a problem child, both in movies and books. The special effects always seem to take the upper hand in science fiction movies as an irresistable force that in the end deprives the vitality of the story, much like candy in real life. Science fiction books are systematically ignored by critics who still carry an image in their mind of the pulp space opera of the 30s. But science fiction can be good (in books more often than in cinema) and on these occasions it can function as a mirror in which our image and our values of the world get transformed in the stirring threads of the possible future.

District 9 is such a film. Its power comes from the original ideas it presents and the gritty, down-to-earth (inside joke), realism of the way it is executed. So here we have a UFO that got stranded not above New York but above Johannesburg, South Africa. The humans break into the UFO and find lots of malnourished prawn-like aliens. This all happened 20 years ago. The aliens were unable to adapt to a human city and people just want to see them leave. They are living in a slum (district 9) at the edge of the city. The star of the movie is Wikus van de Merwe, who is in charge of relocating the aliens, but he finds out there are lots of secrets kept in District 9.

The movie starts out as a documentary. We see people commenting on the events that we are about to see unfolding. It slowly gathers momentum and in the final half an hour District 9 transforms itself into an exciting action movie in which special effects are used sparingly but very effectively. The special effects are generally used in a masterful way. The aliens are very realistic (think Gollum-like realism) and the UFO hangs ominously as a sword of Damocles above the scenes. It is the big unknown.

District 9 is a masterclass in storytelling and I can see this develop as a franchise and a future classic.

IMDB: District 9

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