Sunday, July 18, 2010

District 9

District 9 (2009)

Directed by Neill Blomkamp

Cast includes
Sharlto Copley as Wikus van der Merwe
lots of cgi aliens

I just watched this movie earlier today on DVD. When it first came out last year, I really wanted to see it, thought it sounded very unusual. But I think that this was definitely a case for me where ignorance might have been bliss, as I've read so many commentaries and blog posts, especially questioning whether the racial allegory was really as redeeming as it might seem on the surface, that it ruined the cool, new factor of it all. Then again, I also made the mistake of watching it with my folks and my step-dad was kinda a spoil-sport. Boo. Just Mom is a much better movie companion.

Alright, so for those of you who don't know about the movie, here's the plot. An alien ship comes to Earth in 2001 and hovers over Johannesburg, South Africa. After three months of nothing happening, the government busts into the ship, finds severely malnourished aliens, who they shepard into a holding area, which quickly becomes fenced in, militarized, and then slums called District 9. For years, there is a sort of stasis, with the aliens living in their district, scrounging for trash and cat food, but never really doing anything to leave. While most of the humans consider the aliens the lowest of the low, no one in the government or the company in charge of relating to the aliens (which is primarily a weapons manufacturer who want to take advantage of alien technology) seems to know how to get them to go back home. Hell, no one seems to even be trying to learn the alien language, though the aliens seem to understand ours. Things come to a head when it is decided that the aliens must be moved out of their current slums into a specially built refugee camp hundreds of miles outside of the city. While serving the evictions, a dweeby bureaucrat becomes "infected" and starts to turn into an alien. He teams up with an alien trying to put a ship back together to go home to solve both their problems.

I think that, in the beginning, what made this movie different was that it falls into the category of oppressed alien movies, which is a smaller category than the scary aliens who come to Earth to take over and kill or enslave humans category of science fiction movies. Now, originally, I was going to add the word "sympathetic" to "oppressed aliens," but I think this is another place where the movie tries to do something it thinks is great, but it misses the mark for some people. The movie presents the aliens as more of a worker bee class, who resort to base instincts when they don't have a command presence, so they steal (not that they have an opportunity for legitimate work), fight, and scavenge. This behavior makes it difficult for many to root for these aliens to live in free society. This is often used as the excuse to segregate and hold back those of other classes and races, "Look what they do in their own neighborhoods? Look at how many of them are criminals?" without taking into consideration the lack of legitimate opportunites. Especially coming from and setting the film in South Africa, I'm sure that the writers and director were acutely aware of this. But sadly, the film never really changes that view of the aliens. The alien who helps Wikus, named by the government Christopher Johnson, only works to be the exception that proves the rule, the smart black or poor man who makes good and gets out. In the end, the aliens are still just rabid, destructive animals that must be herded together, far away from humanity. (And, yes, there is a name that the humans call the aliens, one that the movie even calls a derogatory term, though all the characters use that term thereafter. As I see that word, in the coontext of the movie, as the same as other words used to refer to other minority groups, I will not use it to refer to them any more than I would use the n-word.)

I think the bigger theme, one all too common in scifi movies these days, is how much bullshit everyone will accept from the government, large corporations, and the mainstream press, so that it is easier for them to go on with their everyday life. But that's not really anything new.

Oh, but I did really like the aliens. The farther we get away from humoid aliens in movies, the happier I am. I recently read an article that said scientists have found higher levels of methane loss than there should be on Mars and one of their hypostesis is that there may be methane based lifeforms on the planet. (FYI: Lifeforms on our planet are carbon based.) Reading that made me wonder how methane based lifeforms might look different from us and what other elements could be the basis for lifeforms. Hmmmmm.......

So I'm not sure whether or not I recommend it. If you've read this, you can decide for yourself. Just don't blame me either way.

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