Thursday, February 25, 2010

District 9 an Exceptional Science Fiction Film

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 8 (of 2010) by Leroy Douresseaux

District 9 (2009)
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: USA/New Zealand; Languages: English, Nyanja, Afrikaans
Running time: 112 minutes
MPAA – R for bloody violence and pervasive language
DIRECTOR: Neill Blomkamp
WRITERS: Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell
PRODUCERS: Peter Jackson and Carolynne Cunningham
EDITOR: Julian Clarke
Academy Award nominee


Starring: Sharlto Copley, Louis Minnaar, Vanessa Haywood, David James, Kenneth Nkosi, Nathalie Boltt, and Elizabeth Mkandawie, and Jason Cope

Last summer, the science fiction movie, District 9, took moviegoers by surprise. The movie first gained attention because it had been shepherded into existence by Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings). Eventually, director Neill Blomkamp’s socio-political parable stood on its own as an exceptional film.

District 9’s story began 20 years ago when an alien ship arrived on earth, coming to a dead stop over Johannesburg, South Africa. Humanity waited for the aliens’ hostile attack, which never came. Even the hope that the visitors would bring giant advances in technology proved to be an empty one. Instead, these aliens, whom humans derisively refer to as the “prawns” were refugees. After two decades, nearly a million prawns live in a makeshift Johannesburg encampment called District 9, as the world’s nations argue over what to do with them.

Now, control over the prawns belongs to Multi-National United (MNU), a private company contracted to relocate the aliens, by force if necessary, to a new settlement, District 10. MNU does not care about the aliens’ welfare, but the company’s weapons division is interested in finding a way to make the prawns’ awesome weaponry work, which no one on earth has thus far managed to do. Hapless MNU field operative, Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley), recently assigned to head the relocation task force, is about to unlock the secrets of the alien technology, a feat that will change his life and the fate of the aliens.

It is a wonder that a science fiction film with story elements that mirror so much of our world’s troubles can be such thrilling popcorn entertainment and social commentary. The social status of the prawns, their plight and predicament, and the way humans act towards them have a number of real world parallels: South Africa’s own system of apartheid; slavery, Jim Crow and segregation in the American South; Gaza; the expulsion of American Indians from their lands, the displacement of Iraqis due to the American invasion of Iraq, etc.

Yet District 9 is amazingly entertaining, probably because the deeper and more pointed meanings and messages are dressed in sci-fi and war simulation violence and action movie tropes. Co-writer and director Neill Blomkamp and co-writer Terri Tatchell have done something that is rare – create a science fiction film that speaks directly to the modern condition with relevance and meaning. Instead of wowing audiences with gaudy gadgets and impossible (and impractically designed) machines, vehicles, and space ships, Blomkamp and Tatchell wow us their execution of substantive science fiction that seems real.

At the heart of the film is the performance of Sharlto Copley as everyman, Wikus van der Merwe. Wikus is filled with ignorance, dim-witted preconceptions, and the urge to treat the aliens like children who have to have common sense beaten into them – the way White southerners used think of African-Americans (and some still do). Copley presents Wikus’ rise, fall, and rise again as a journey of both self-discovery and revelation. Wikus is a road map to our better selves, in regards to the way we treat others. That we can have a fun time with such a thoughtful film is due in large part to Copley’s underrated performance. District 9 is a winner.

8 of 10

2010 Academy Awards: 4 nominations: “Best Achievement in Editing” (Julian Clarke), “Best Achievement in Visual Effects” (Dan Kaufman, Peter Muyzers, Robert Habros, and Matt Aitken), “Best Motion Picture of the Year” (Peter Jackson, Carolynne Cunningham), and “Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published” (Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell)

2010 BAFTA Awards: 7 nominations: Best Cinematography, Best Director, Best Editing, Best Production Design, Best Screenplay – Adapted, Best Sound, and Best Special Visual Effects

2010 Golden Globe Awards: 1 nomination for best screenplay-motion picture

Thursday, February 25, 2010

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