District 9

>> Saturday, February 13, 2010

When I popped in the dvd, I made the mistake of choosing the alien graphic over the human. I initially figured it wouldn't matter. It was just an either or option to get to the main dvd menu. Wrong. Because if you watch the movie after selecting the "alien" option, the alien subtitles don't appear during the movie. I realized this about half an hour into it, but by then I was just watching it with full subtitles. In a way, it made it easier to watch because every now and then an Afrikaans word would pop up in the subtitles. That way, I knew it was not an English word, so it wasn't like I misheard something.

Am I allowed to say that Wikus (Sharlto Copley) is an extremely unlikeable character? At the beginning, he's such an ass. He's a total dork too. I had no idea that the main character was going to be someone so non-heroic. Most big-budget movies would have someone who would always make the "right" choices so that the audience would always admire them. I listened to the dvd commentary by Neil Blomkamp. He stated that Wikus is a passive xenophobe. True. He's a bureaucrat who gets chosen for a top-line mission and then has his life thrown out of whack.

I really like how they did the aliens in the movie. They're extremely ugly, yet you can still see all sorts of emotions through their eyes. I felt so sorry for the main alien, "Chris Johnson," as he got kicked around by the MNU mercenaries. I even found the alien kid to be cute. (A cute insect!)

As Blomkamp stated on the commentary, this is a mix of the mundane and the fantastic. Sci-fi thrown into a South African metaphor and satire with some high-tech action. There's the xenophobic culture plus modern mercenaries and a cut-throat corporation. I initially assumed that the xenophobia was a metaphor for the apartheid era. Blomkamp stated that it, the xenophobic metaphor, was actually about Zimbabwean refugees who lived in slums near Johannesburg. That was had prompted/inspired his short film, Alive in Joburg, back in 2005, which formed the basis of District 9.

The corporation and mercenary subtext is an element that I don't think has been explored enough in current cinema. Blomkamp stated that modern mercenaries originated in South Africa. The South African apartheid regime had so many special forces groups operating within the military that when the new government disbanded them, many chose to become guns for hire. Thus, the current age of mercenaries began about 20 years ago and has now spread to the U.S. and other places infecting Iraq and Afghanistan with these problems. Guns for hire who aren't necessarily bound by law when they do their jobs unlike regular military.

As a sci-fi film, I find it far more interesting than Avatar. I didn't like Wikus for a lot of the movie, but he's a character who is in the process of losing his life, which includes a loving wife. A far cry from Avatar's Jake Sully who has nothing to lose in the film but everything to gain from becoming Na'vi. It's so easy for the audience to want him to become Na'vi that at the end you have to wonder why everyone else doesn't want to do it. Not for Wikus. He looses status, his wife, his friends and respect by unwillingly transforming into an alien. He ultimately redeems himself by helping the alien and his son escape.

Major props to Sharlto Copley for creating one of the most interesting characters I've seen in a long time. He deserves a lot of credit as an actor since he improvised much of Wikus's dialog. I know there are several critics who felt he deserved an Oscar nomination. I totally agree, but I'm not sure who out of that field I would kick out. Freeman? I suppose that's my first thought; although, I haven't seen Invictus yet. On the other hand, I'm also of the opinion that an Oscar nomination at this point in his acting career would just be overwhelming. The guy just finished filming the second movie of his career, The A-Team. I'm sure he just enjoys dealing with Hollywood in the least amount necessary. To get an Oscar nomination this early would just put an expectation on his shoulders and a temporary fame spotlight that he might not enjoy.

Totally deserving of its four Oscar noms. Shame it'll probably get shut out of everything in the end. I much prefer its subtle visual effects over Avatar's look-at-me-look-at-me show.

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