Sunday, August 16, 2009
E.T. go home!
District 9 is an ambitious film, and writer/director Neill Blomkamp manages to cram a lot of current events into the narrative. The result is a bit like Children of Men meets Black Hawk Down via the short alien spaceship sequence in Monty Python's Life of Brian.*
What first drew me to District 9 was Peter Jackson's name. I've been a fan since his early gross-out pictures. The second thing was A.O. Scott's somewhat enthusiastic review in the Times. The third was when Michael Sragow panned it in the Sun--that's often evidence that a film is good.
While I enjoyed the manic energy and peculiar flavor of District 9, I think Sragow (and Roger Ebert, as well), make valid arguments contra the film's novelty. No matter how creatively carried out, the various objects of Blomkamp's satire: apartheid, capitalism, evil weapons manufacturers, privatized militarized police forces, torture, man's inhumanity to man (and to E.T.s) have been done to death in SciFi. But I enjoyed it nonetheless, from its quirky mockumentary beginnings to its (original) Day the Earth Stood Still moralizing. I think Ebert is a bit unfair to the story in his review--the fact that we don't know a lot about the aliens and why they are trapped on Earth is part of the point. Those questions shouldn't have any relevance on how the aliens are treated; but as we know from real life, the Other is always regarded with suspicion, feared, and loathed, and the Xenophic hope amongst the general population that they just "go away" is all too familiar in American politics, whether or not we're currently rounding up people and putting them in camps.
So I'll recommend it, with caveats, but those caveats are related to conventions of the sci-fi genre, which has certain earmarks, much as horror films do. Like them or no, one learns to accept them as genre characteristics. Suspend belief for a while, and think about the 'prawns' in Distric 9 as representing large portions of the human population on Earth.
*Have I ever told you how much I hate this critical device? The listing of other films a film resembles, pays hommage to, or derives from is simply a lazy way to avoid making original points while still sounding like you know what you're talking about.