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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

"District 9" - it's Halo lite!


So I used to work on the inside track of the movie entertainment business. So far inside the track, I was at Ground Zero of the Halo movie imploding. It was amazing that the project got as far as it did. In 2005, CAA infamously dispatched a team of Master Chiefs with script in hand and tried to start a single-day bidding war between the major studios. It didn't work. Eventually, Fox and Universal teamed up to co-finance the picture for Peter Jackson to produce and unknown director Neill Blomkamp to helm. Even though I was never able to read the script, having played all three of the Halo games, which have about as much plot coherence as a season of Twin Peaks viewed backwards, I'm sure the script was not going to be up for the Best Adapted Screenplay nod. As it often does in Hollywood, money got in the way, and Halo died a quick and painful death, like getting tagged with a plasma grenade on your junk.

ANYHOW, producer Peter Jackson said director Neill Blomkamp's debut feature was born the day that Halo died, ironic inasmuch as District 9 only cost about $30 million, and the budget for Halo could have easily topped $250, and was almost certain to be a disaster.

District 9, on the other hand, is a hit. So much of a hit, in fact, it's currently #44 in the IMDB Top 250. According to the wise masses of the internet, this film was better than Alien, M, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Chinatown, Raging Bull, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Heat, The Graduate, and Fargo.

Once again, clear proof that the masses are comprised of fucking idiots.

District 9 was a decent-enough film, some by-the-numbers action and chase sequences highlighted by Blomkamp's impressive ability to use computer graphics effectively. For anyone that has not seen them, I would recommend watching both his Halo live-action short and "Alive in Joburg", the short film that inspired District 9. Watching them, you'll get a good sense of his ability to create visceral images. At the end of both of these shorts, though, you may ask yourself what you were supposed to take from the films, and therein lies the weakness of District 9.

The first fifteen minutes or so of District 9 present a very interesting sci-fi dilemma - shipwrecked aliens in South Africa are becoming a growing nuisance. Documentary-style footage and interviews chronicle the events that led to this situation, and the parallels between the movie and Apartheid are both obvious and fascinating.

The interesting commentary stops when the conglomerate responsible for housing them in a slum in Johannesburg, Multi-National United, decides to relocate them to a settlement 25 miles outside of town. [Slate columnist Daniel Engber aptly described the name Multi-National United "lame", "obvious", and "witless"] In charge of the operation for MNU is Wikus [Engber: "an Afrikaner version of Michael Scott"] who inadvertently exposes himself to harmful alien technology, making himself quickly and bizarrely ill. Faced with the prospect of never seeing his wife again, Wikus teams up with the only alien who isn't a bloodthirsty sloth, who, for obvious reasons, is named "Chris".

Yes. The alien's name is "Chris". I'll just let that sink in for a minute. "Chris".

His name is fucking "Chris".

From here on out, the movie becomes a series of chases and battles where heads, limbs, and entire bodies comically explode like a marathon runner's blister. Wikus erratically double-crosses Chris, only to inexplicably come back in the fold and help him in the end. When all is said and done, we're not really sure what we're supposed to feel about what we've seen, and it's not a clever or purposeful ambiguity, it's the result of a movie that clearly was conceived of with a point in mind but completely fails to make it in the final product. What we're left with is a Faberge egg of a movie - ornate and expertly decorated, but ultimately hollow.

TOO MUCH: Exploding bodies, absurd plot holes, such as what the substance is and what it does to Wikus

COULD HAVE USED MORE: making a strong commentary on society, or the government, or prejudice, whichever it was that we were meant to think about

FILM SNOB NOTE: Lead actor Sharlto Copley was a producer on "Alive in Joburg"; his acting career started with a brief cameo in that short.

IHYFM RATING: TWO AND A HALFish out of FIVE MEHS.

IF YOU SAID THIS WAS YOUR FAVORITE MOVIE, I'D THINK: I want to kick you in the Wikus.

3 comments:

  1. The IMDB list - isn't that going to be affected by whatever movie happens to be out at the moment? As in, it's not an ongoing list of what the best movies in the world are, but just what people are looking up that week? And doesn't it makes sense that people would look up whatever movies are out?

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  2. Sadly for humanity, The IMDB Top 250 is an algorithm based on the votes of regular voting members, so even though it only has a fraction of the votes of, say, Godfather Part II, District 9 is firmly in there with an average user rating of almost 9 out of 10. Other recent releases in the top 250: Inglourious Basterds at #35, Gran Torino at #82, The Prestige at #83, Star Trek (2009) at #105, and, my personal favorite, (500) Days of Summer at #113.

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  3. The first thing I think of when you say the alien's name is "Chris" is that we are in a dark bastardization of American Dad.

    God help us all.

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