Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Jason watches DISTRICT 9

And yeah, it's pretty freakin' awesome.

So producer Peter Jackson and director Neill Blomkamp were on board to make the movie version of "Halo". When that fell through, they made DISTRICT 9 for a paltry $30 million instead. The success of this movie likely means HALO will get made. It also means that I won't look forward to it as much as I'll look forward to DISTRICT 10. Yeah, I already want a sequel, and it's more than set up for one.

In the best traditions of sci-fi, it uses the characteristic elements--the future, aliens, spaceships, advanced weaponry--to tell a story that's an obvious allegory for contemporary issues--apartheid, the treatment of foreigners, immigrants, refugees, etc. The aliens (called "prawns" for their exoskeleton anatomy) came to earth as refugees 20 years ago, and settled near Johannesburg, South Africa (making the Apartheid connection pretty obvious). Out of fear, humans have kept them segregated in a filthy slum (the movie was shot in a real slum. I wonder if after SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE there's a new and disturbing film trend). Wilkus Van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley) is a mid-level bureaucrat for the corporation in charge of relocating all the Prawns to a new, bigger district (District 10). Wilkus is essentially a good guy. He's got a job to do, is totally opposed to military force to accomplish it, but definitely sides with the humans over the Prawns. Without giving anything away, things go wrong, his life changes, and he ends up on the side of the Prawns. In particular, one Prawn named Christopher Johnson (I assume not his birth name).

The story unfolds in a semi-documentary fashion, with a mix of faux-documentary/news footage and traditional narrative. This gives it an immediacy, a realism, a brisk pace, and allows for quite a few teasers (interviews early on with Wilkus' family talk about how "this sort of thing only happens to other people"). It also helps them to make the film on the relatively-cheap. I kinda wish the whole thing was faux-documentary, as I found myself wondering during the traditionally shot scenes 'Who exactly is supposed to be recording this?' But that's a minor quibble (and little more than a personal hang up) in an otherwise excellent film.

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