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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

District Nein!

Hype. It's a what emcees do to create a buzz. It's also what film executives do to try and sell movies. Most of the time it works, too, it just doesn't always mean that the movie will live up to what you've heard. District 9, unfortunately, is one of those movies.

Like most, I was eager to see District 9. I love sci-fi movies and apocalyptic thrillers in any form I can get them: Stargate, The Fifth Element, Aliens, Independence Day, and on and on and on. The point is, I take them seriously, but I enjoy them for their camp value as well. That's what made this movie so intriguing to me. Not only was it a subject matter I loved, but Peter Jackson was involved! I was a huge fan of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, so when I heard he had attached his name to D9 (and that is literally all he did, folks), I assumed it would be something worthwhile. Turns out, you can't always judge a book by it's cover. Which I think is a saying. Or wait, maybe it's the early bird gathers no moss. You know what I mean.

Don't get me wrong though, this is a decent movie, it just lacks focus at times, and seems to leave several questions unanswered beyond "will they make a sequel?" SPOILER ALERT: They will. We all know they will. The movie did well at the box office, and has several elements that audiences love: aliens, metamorphosis, flying things, and big guns. Add a few tits (ooh, Total Recall, another movie I love!), and you've got a successful franchise in no time.

The problem with this movie however, lies in the fact that it's almost 4 types of movies in one, none of which are complete in their vision. The first two are purely stylistic observations. The movie, in parts, is shot like an episode of The Office. We meet our lead, we see his day to day, and we witness it as if we were there ourselves, documentary style. The camera moves, they mix media formats to remind us we're seeing it in "reality," and it starts to feel almost organic and natural. That is, until they start jumping from documentary style film into narrative storytelling. Had they just stuck with one or the other, I would have enjoyed it a lot more.

The other two films exist in story and context. On the one hand, we have a strange post-modern story of human interest: aliens came to earth, and need help getting out of their man-made ghettos and back home to their planet so that their species may live on. But then, out of nowhere, it's an action movie! Huge gun fights and action driven sequences dominate the last 45 minutes of the movie, making me wonder if maybe they just ran out of drama and had to add some padding. The fighting is loosely relevant to the story, but gets lost in the heightened CGI we weren't competing with earlier. It has a Transformers feel to it, a fact that many viewers (myself included) may not like. Luckily, Megan Fox has nothing to do with this one (nor will she be in the 3rd installment of Transformers, after what she said about Michael Bay. Hiyo!)

All in all though, it is a film worth seeing (if nothing else, before the sequel comes out). The first act is as strong as any film I have seen in the past few years, and the turn at the end of the act will leave you reeling. The lead, played by Sharlto Copley, is fantastic, and shows rare vulnerable moments you don't normally get to see in an action/sci-fi movie. There's a really good chance this film's sequel could come back as all blood and guts with little substance. I can only hope, with the next one however, that they keep the human--err alien interest story alive. At least then it will still be something worth talking about.

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