I remember getting uber excited with the first trailer of District 9 a few months ago. It was evidently one of the most captivating trailers of the year. The Documentary (or rather the ‘mokumentary’) approach to science fiction seemed awfully impressive and had a promise of some great inventiveness to it. Seemed like a path breaking approach of movie making at that point and I had been living in great anticipation ever since.
Now weeks after its international release and weeks after listening to all those insanely positive reviews all around, when I finally got a chance to watch the movie, never for once did I expect to get disappointed. My bad, really!
District 9 opens with the ‘mokumentary’ styled narration that convincingly introduces us to the weird scenario where extra terrestrials have become refugees on earth and humans are struggling with mysterious interests to keep them back here. Most of the related bits and parts are explained with such clarity and essence that you are readily drawn in to the conflict presented by the cinema. The mock documentary approach prepares us to the upcoming drama and lays a perfect platform before the filmmaker to tell the story with all the freedom that he needs. The first act of the movie was generally very well executed and for me it was the best part too.
The first 20-30 minutes of the movie gives you such high impressions about itself and almost makes you believe that you’re watching a science fiction of very high standards, like maybe one of those old classics. And then, the lead character Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley) comes to the centre of the drama, and soon there is a depressing shift in the tone of the film. The mockumentary style makes way for a live action mode and the story takes the course of the clichéd one man-against the entire world drama. Together with this sprouts a number of silly loop holes. A lot of why’s and how’s are left unanswered for no better purposes whatsoever. The aliens in district 9 are represented like disorganized bunch of animals in a zoo. It’s a bit hard to digest, you know, with a breed of aliens who were good enough to make there way through the space and fly over earth! Then again, never do they make any effective use of their advanced weaponry, which could only be operated by one among them, not even to protect themselves. In the separate district for aliens, we also have Nigerian hoodlums headed by a red eyed ‘Don’, who exploits the aliens in their own ways. They make illegal distribution of cat food and cow meat in exchange of alien weapons and money. And then there is an intelligent alien father and his boy in the group, who forms a friendship with the hero along the way. Both the alien family and the hero have their own interrelated problems, to solve which both of them have to help each other out. What follows is some high voltage Michael Bay styled CGI action drama. Brainy science fiction? Wrong guess! See, at the core it all turns out to be very silly! The part in the beginning where they say that ‘there are a lot of secrets in District 9’ turns out to be a plain lie! The effect of a peculiar style and the serious tone has helped the movie in large ways. It’s both surprising and depressing at the same time to see how a promising theme could be turned into just another summer blockbuster flick. I strongly believe that this movie had the potential to reach into such great heights of entertainment. But it doesn’t, it chooses to be just another action flick. Fine.
Now as ‘just another’ action flick, it’s not so bad. The action is pretty neat. The alien weapons are mostly cool. And did I say about the spaceship? Oh the spaceship must be second best part of the movie 🙂 Fell in love with it right after the trailer. The Johannesburg setting is also a welcome change as opposed to the generally American back dropped alien stories. Like I have already said the overall tone, even though a bit pretentious, probably helped the movie to gain a distinct appeal before the masses. The movie also subtly tries to touch on the aspects of racial discriminations happened/happening in South Africa and other African countries. The Nigerian Hoodlums makes sense that way. But it still was all a little farfetched for me. The cinematography was generally very good and it synchronized perfectly with the documentary-live action tone shifts of the film. CGI was top notch of course. And the blending of the documentary style with mainstream methods was a good ‘idea’ too. Better movies should come to explore this technique. Now, when the movie couldn’t successfully deliver some pure sci-fi fun like it should have been in the first place, nothing else really matters. I was grossly disappointed in that regard. District 9 ends with a clear notion to a sequel and seriously I ‘am not too excited about that Idea. I suppose one cannot judge Neill Blomkamp with this one movie, but yeah the man has got some good miles to travel. The movie, however is doing good business all around the world and the critic guys are all happy! So yeah, whatever!