Saturday, and I went to see District 9. It was engaging, entertaining, thought provoking and hyperviolent. It was also my favorite SF film of recent times, possibly years.
Most of my observations on the movie would echo this excellent review by Howard Waldrop and Lawrence Person, so I’m just going to link through rather than largely repeating what they said.
Beyond their comments, I want to focus on a few things. First, District 9 tapped deep into my ‘suspension of disbelief’ vein. Not many movies do that to me any more. My internal editor is always on, always analyzing story, structure, technique, continuity, dialog; whether I’m reading a book, watching a movie, or, in many cases, simply experiencing real life. I suspect part of this was the pseudodocumentary format, which was incredibly well-effected, at least to my taste, and blended smoothly into the direct action scenes as the movie progressed. That alone is a huge win for me as a viewer. Obviously, this criterion is idiosyncratic, in that I can’t know whether your viewing process is analogous to mine, but basically, I’m a picky mofo, and this movie disarmed my picky.
Second, as said, it was great to see an alien invasion movie that picked up years after the fact. Everyone’s long since gotten so used to the starship overhead that it’s just landscape. (Which, on sober reflection, is a huge plot hole, but I’ll let Howard and Lawrence’s analysis address that — it worked for both us as we watched the film.) This is science fiction embedded in contemporary history, a conceit which the pseudocumentary format played directly in to. There was a level of believability to it that was far more natural than most SF films can engage.
Third, the character arcs impressed me considerably. In the early stages of the film, the human characters are presented as, if not sympathetic, at least comprehensible, while the aliens are little better than random monsters. By the end of the film, the aliens have been humanized in some very touching ways, while the humans have become monstrous, fusing the banality of evil with stereotypical corporate greed. That reversal was accomplished so smoothly that I didn’t understand it until later reflection.
Finally, I’m not sure this film could have been made outside South Africa. As others have pointed out, District 9 is very self-consciously a fable of apartheid. For me, that worked well; for some viewers, it’s intrusive to the point of complete distraction. As the case may be, the origins of this film lend an authenticity to the subject matter which I found fascinating.
Is there a lot to complain about? Sure. Could this have been a better movie? Absolutely. Was I completely taken in by the movie I saw? More than, and for that reason alone, I highly recommend it.