Sunday, September 13, 2009

District 9

District 9
Directed by: Neill Blomkamp
Starring: Sharlto Copley (Wikus Van De Merwe); Jason Cope (Grey Bradnam - UKNR Chief Correspondent)
I know, I know, Roger Ebert will call me a fanboy. But, I can't stop gushing about District 9. It was owesome, on the big screen, where it should be seen, not on a tiny laptop.
Which I did; I saw the film on my tiny laptop. It was a pirated theatre print, grainy at best, with mufflled sound and Russian subtitles, that means you won't know what the aliens are saying, unless you can read Russian, that is. And, I did not like what I could see.
So, I went to the theatre on the first day the film opened, and boy, was I in for a treat?
What is the sign of a good movie? There are many so to speak, but a good film must first and foremost engage you from start to finish. This is one criteria where the film succeeds. There is not a single moment when your attention wavers from the screen. I agree, the action scenes towards the end are a tad too long, but if you have endured Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, you would not blame these guys.
Aliens in Hollywood is not a new thing. This year itself, we have had at least two more instances of aliens meeting humans: Transformers and Knowing. Yet, what debutant director Neil Blomkamp does is tell us a story which is fresh and unique in many ways.
First, and most importantly, the aliens here did not descend upon Chicago or Manhattan, or anywhere else in North America, as it happens in every Hollywood blockbuster involving science fiction (if not US, its London. The scope of geography does not go beyond that.) Here is a film that is set in South Africa, Johannesburg, to be precise. The time is now, not the future where anything can happen, and the aliens are not a novelty. They are here among us for 20 years.
This brings us to the second important point. In most alien saga, the genesis of action is meeting the unknown for the space, starting with Alien to all those AVP films. The monster, the creature, the alien, whatever you may call it, is an outsider, and we must face it, even though we know hardly anything about it. Therefore, we must have a hero, Ellen Ripley and her various clones, who will, after a series of state-of-the-art action sequences, save the day. This is the basic of all science fiction action fantasy involving aliens.
But here, we are in District 9, where the aliens, derogatorily call prawns, because of their looks, are among us. We know them and we despise them. We don't want them among us, because the Planet Earth is only for the humans (If this reminds you of Hilter, and also the apartheid in South Africa, it's well and good. This may be a sub-text worth looking into the film, but our enjoyment and appreciation of District 9 does not neccesarily depend on it.). At best, we try to exploit the prawns, to catch hold of their weapons and their 'powers.'
Here, the aliens are real, as real as they can be. There are too many of them, and they are dispecable. They are ugly (look like lobsters, hence the moniker prawns. We do not know what they call themselves. We do not know from where they had come. This is interesting. Unlike other alien stories, here, we seem to have taken these creatures for granted. We don't really care about them. We want them out, or at best use them. If it reads like the subjugated histories of the exploited races the world over, read it at your own risk.). They are not made of steel, or better still, they don’t metamorphoses into famme fatales.
Now, the hero to save the day. In district 9, he is at best a fumbling bureaucrat. He may be well-intentioned and affable, but he cannot by any means save the day. It becomes all the more complecated when he was forced to cross over to the other side, to become an alien.
And to see all these told in a ‘cinema verite’ style, beginning like a documentary and actually beginning in the end, though we don’t learn about it till the very end, District 9 makes for a unique movie-going experience, a rare phenomenon in today’s time when every movie looks like the other, overdoing stuff at their own expense.
District 9 can actually teach a thing or two to today’s Hollywood blockbusters, Transformers and its ilk, how to keep things under control. Here all the aliens are CGI, their guns are mindblowing, yet Blomkamp does not go overboard with his utilisation of the special effects. It’s never flashy. There are times when you don’t even realise all these are special effect, it’s that real.
And for this, along with Blomkamp, we must mention Sharlto Copley, who gives us the performance of a lifetime. Looking at this guy you cannot imagine that this is his first starring role. It's absolutely fascinating how he transforms from an affable bureaucrat to a fighter, struggling to survive at any cost, especially in the middle of the film when he is on the run, slowly turning into an alien. Watch his transformation, and you will know how difficult it must have been to play that role (The scene where he buys a can of cat food and while eating it, finds his teeth coming out...).
This post is going out of hand... I’m on a hyper mode.
The story of the film is here.
IMDB entry is here.
District 9, the official site.
Roger Ebert’s journal entry is here.

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