I just got back from the theatre, and as the title suggests, I saw District 9, the new sci-fi flick from Peter Jackson and Neil Blomkhamp.
If you don't know what this movie is about, here's an outline of the plot:
30 years ago, an alien ship appeared over Johannesburg, South Africa. The aliens did not go on the attack, nor did they extend their hands/claws in friendship. In fact, they were refugees, fleeing their homeworld for reasons unknown. The South African government placed the aliens in a temporary refugee camp called District 9, but the sheer numbers of them (1.8 million, to be exact), coupled with the inability to harness thier amazing technology, caused the government to lose patience with the aliens (derrisively called "Prawns" by the humans) and turn over responsibility for them to a giant corperation known as Multi-National United, or MNU.
I'm a huge sci-fi fan, so I was excited to see this on general principles, and the reversal on the aliens VS. humans story was icing on the cake. However, I was worried that the aliens would be portrayed as completely innocent and persecuted, while the humans would be painted as evil and cruel.
Fortunately, this was not the case. Although the aliens are the "good guys", and I use that term VERY loosely, neither species is portrayed as either irredeemable or angelic.
What I especially loved was how it toyed with a very old concept: that of "the monster".
The aliens themselves are hideous, insectoid abonminations that look like they crawled out of Hell. Thier huge claws, hanging tendrils, unintelligible clicking language, and quick, anamalistic movments disavow them of any significant human qualities, and thier mryiad illegal activites and hostile attitude towards humans make them hard to root for, even though they are they victims of oppression.
The humans who police District 9 aren't any better, and may be even worse. They constantly call the aliens "Prawns", after a bottom-feeding parasite, ignore the plight of the aliens, and some seem to enjoy inflicting punisment on them, even when that punishment is of the completely innocent (more on that later).
But what most twisted the aforementioned idea was the (literal) transformation of the protaganist, Wikus van der Wewe. In the movie's opening minutes, Wikus demonstrates his contempt for the aliens, constantly using the slur Prawns, easily losing his temper, and frequently lacing his speech toward the aliens with profanity and sarcasm. In fact, when Wikus finds an illegal incubator housing unhatched eggs i.e., unborn alien babies, he calmly detatches the feeding tubes and orders the place torched. As the building burns, the eggs burst with a cacauphony of pops, which Wikus similingly comments "sounds just like popcorn".
Later, however, Wikus is exposed to a virus that slowly changes his generics to that of the aliens.
And there is where the concept of "the monster", which has seemingly been hotwired into our brains since the start of civilization, is completely turned on its head. Wikus' actions are deplorable, and some do warrent the title of "monster". And yet, the only way he achieves redemption is by helping the very creatures he has helped persecute, whose mere appearance can be called monsterous, this brought on by his slow transformation into one of them.
In other words, Wikus' attempts to right the actions that made him a monster are a result of his slow transformation into what he always percieved as a monster.
As nice as it is for movies to have subtle philosophy, that's no good if the movie isn't entertaining to watch, and District 9 definitely fits that description. Though there aren't any real fight scenes until somewhat late in the movie, but the trek through the titular camp has a good number of suspenseful moments, and does ans excellent job of introducing the principle characters.
The titular camp is perhaps the most visually-striking thing in the movie. It is filthy, crowded, and reeking of desparations, ths effect made all the stronger by the contrast between the camp and the bustling, lively streets of Johanessburg.
The action scenes, though they occur late in the movie are worth the wait. They are visceral and exciting without being overblown.
Now for some warnings:
There are a great number of distubing scenes in the movie, such as the aforementioned burning of the incubator, and a terrifying scene in which a Wikus is tortured with electricity to make him test alien weaponry.
This movie is rated 'R' for a reason. Limbs are ripped from bodies, characters explode in a red mist when hit by alien weaponry, and profanity is abundant. This movie is NOT for the faint of heart.
*Phew!* That was a long post. What did you guys think of District 9?