Tuesday, August 18, 2009

the sleeping alone review of films: district 9

summary: don't bother.

This afternoon, just before showtime for the alien-adventure flick District 9, I learned from my friend Emily that the United States engaged in a decades-long bombing campaign of Laos as part of the so-called "Secret War" in Indochina (which also included bombing campaigns in Vietnam and Cambodia). Apparently, Laos is the most heavily-bombed nation per capita in the world.

District 9 is not about bombs, but it is about how we react to people whose way of life we don't understand. In this case, the people are actually aliens, and we react to them the way we always have: by dumping them in tent cities and shooting them in the head.

Aside from a few unique features--a floating mothership hovering above not Manhattan, not Washington, D.C., but Johannesberg, South Africa; a physically vulnerable alien populace; and a weak, simpering hero--there's nothing new or particularly interesting to see here. Well, there is one thing: a heinously cursory take on the nature of human compassion. "Go home!" the humans shout at the alien refugees; and the contractors hired to keep the aliens in line punch with the butts of their guns; and the aliens scrounge through trash heaps, dress themselves up in tattered human clothes, and demonstrate familial bonds by hugging their children close. It's enough to make you shout at the screen: Okay, already. We get it.

The filmmakers appear conflicted: They wanted to make a touching movie about refugees, empathy, and humanity; but they also wanted a blockbuster with neat special effects and impressive, extraterrestrial explosions. Maybe someone thought it would be a brilliant idea to combine a touching story of refugee camp residents with the excitement of an alien invasion. It turns out that whoever came up with that brilliant idea was wrong.

District 9 is rated R. It contains serious gore of the sort that lands on and sticks to the camera lens, an extended gross-out metamorphosis scene, and a plot so lame it's obscene.


Anonymous said...

"...and a plot so lame it's obscene."
......Lame? LAME? Did you even see the movie? If so, you must have slipped into Harry Potter. D9 was perhaps the most creative and visually stunning film that Ive seen since star wars IV. It had a story so original and fruitful, it was bound full of twists and turns, keeping viewers on the edge of their seats. It was a fresh breath of air from a new director who has never made a feature film. It was original and creative, thats what matters.

Jenna McWilliams said...

I admit that I'm in a distinct minority in my take on District 9. It gathered up a fairly phenomenal 89% over at rottentomatoes, and lots of people, many of whom I respect deeply, have raved about all of the points you identify above.

Normally that would be enough to make me change my mind. Not this time, though. This time I'm standing firm. For a first film, it was impressive; and for a scifi blockbuster it was fairly thoughtful. But in my view, what matters is: Did it add something new to our cultural conversation? I may never see aliens the same way again, but District 9, for all its bluster, failed to shift or build on my take on the cultural issues it purports to tackle. That makes it a failure, no matter how impressive the special effects or surprises.

Anonymous said...

But films arent made to add to out cultural conversation, theyre meant to be a source of entertainment. Im a filmmaker, and we make films because filmmaking is another creative endeavor. We do it because we LOVE to tell a good story and make a fun, enjoyable movie. We do this because we love to (except michael bay). Maybe its a failure to you, but to 89% of the people out there, its a victory. Youre, right, no matter the visual fx or twists, that wont make it a good movie. But it had a depth that films like transformers 2 didnt. It had a message that we all can relate to. So far, every complaint ive heard about this movie is obviously un-thought out. But is this film about cultural conversation? No, no it is not. To love a movie, we have to accept it for what it is. We have to accept it OURSELVES, not because of what impact it will have or what others say. Look at the movie and ask yourself, Do i like this movie? Did i Enjoy it? Was it entertaining, creative, funny?
Then, and only then, have you found your answer.

Jenna McWilliams said...

Yes! yes! I agree! But...the main reason I didn't like or enjoy District 9 is that it really did want to add to a cultural conversatino--else there wouldn't have been the bigotry / refugee / eviction subtext. I agree that this movie had more depth than Transformers 2 did, but I think my toilet bowl has more depth than Transformers 2 did. That doesn't make my toilet bowl a good movie.

Anonymous said...

Your toilet bowl would make a great movie.


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