District 9 – A mineshaft review

Okay okay.. so I took a break from the mineshaft for about 8 posts. I was falling behind on my backlog of posts and I got lazy… I do apologize, but now I’m back on track! So, my return to the mineshaft will be met with a District 9 review!

Warning : This review contains spoilers worse than the portrayal of Nigerians in this movie.

Now, District 9 is a solid movie. Due to so many summer movies completely sucking, it may still be one of the top summer movies of the year. I found it quite an entertaining “ride”, as critics say. I wasn’t really going to go after it until I saw that public opinion on this movie is COMPLETELY out of control and I feel like it’s my duty to pop up and point a thing or two out.

Good things?

The Special Effects are excellent… and I rarely say that. I’m more inclined to appreciate the special effects in something like Terminator 2 or Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but the CG effects in this movie are pretty excellent. When you consider that this movie has a small fraction of the budget of most effect heavy movies, it gets even more impressive.

The guy who plays Wickus does a great job. In fact, Wickus is a pretty good character all around. He’s a bit of an ass… and a bit stupid at times, but he’s somehow sympathetic. He’s one of the more interesting action stars in recent memory.

The bad? Oh here we go…

The documentary style filming at the beginning of the film is really interesting, which is probably why it was awkwardly dropped after 15 minutes. I thought this part of the film was really cool and did a great job of “world building” and making the concept behind the film seem really convincing. It also did a great job of building tension when some of the interviews imply things that are about to unfold. Then all of a sudden in the middle of the documentary style filming, we are shown shots from other angles that obviously couldn’t be filmed by news crews or film makers. It’s completely jarring. Imagine The Blair Witch Project, but every now and then they cut away to a helicopter shot to show the witch’s position relative to the campers.

Perhaps we’ve been spoiled by Diary Of the Dead, [rec], and Cloverfield, but documentaries carry with them inherent questions about who is filming them, why, and what their agenda consists of. This movie pays no attention to any of that. In fact, we don’t even get to see the documentary style cameras in the wide shots. Eventually they drop the style completely and go for a traditional hollywood film. Which brings me in to my next point.

It’s TOTALLY a traditional hollywood film. Don’t buy all the marketing about how it’s a first time director and how it’s completely different from anything you’ve ever seen. This movie reaches a point around the middle where it’s everything you’ve ever seen. It becomes any sort of “government project gone wrong” movie… following in the footsteps of The Incredible Hulk, or X-Men Origins : Wolverine. It becomes completely predictable, and extremely cliched. Sure, it tries to snap back into the artsy documentary stuff at the end, but the bulk of this movie is a big dumb action movie. There’s nothing wrong with a big dumb action movie, but this film seems to revel in its action and gore while pretending to be subtle. Once again, master of the transition… this leads me right in…

The “clever social commentary” makes George Romero look subtle. I was worried going in that there would be too much preachy social commentary and too little attention to story. I found the commentary that was there was completely obvious… and it didn’t seem to go into much depth. I think maybe the movie is afraid to delve into the issues it wants to present. When the action really picks up, the movie abandons its ambitions for satire altogether. This movie will not generate intriguing debate about Africa afterwards, you will be talking about the alien battlemech instead.

The “villain” soldier guy sucked balls. Okay this is a minor complaint, but still. The best this movie has to throw in Wickus’ way is this bald soldier guy who only seems to be the bad guy because he miraculously survives every scene he’s in. Over the course of the film we see Wickus take down huge amounts of soldiers. The idea that this one guy could pose any threat to him is a bit of a stretch.

Overall, this movie is a very small film that collided with a very big film. It’s no surprise that the big film won, leaving bits of small film blood left all over the screen, suggesting that there once was more there.

I’ll end this review on that quippy note. District 9 fans, I urge you to disagree with me and write a comment or two. 🙂


3 Responses to “District 9 – A mineshaft review”

  1. August 24, 2009 at 3:28 pm

    I basically agree with your review, except that I came out on the ‘this movie was awesome and a very good sign of things to come in sci-fi’ side of things, which is going to make a fuck-you-you’re-wrong-and-here’s-why response difficult. But fuck you, you’re wrong, and here’s why.

    I think you’ll admit that calling District 9 ‘TOTALLY a traditional hollywood film’ and saying it makes ‘George A. Romero look subtle’ (Kevin. Land of the Dead. But you know that.) is unfair hyperbole. The ridiculous government project gone wrong thing the movie did in the second half is an archetypal action/sci-fi plot, and the level of empathy you feel for the characters at all times (even Wikus, shithead though he was) elevated the movie out of dumb action flick status. Sure, in the end, District 9 ends up being another alien movie. But it is another alien movie done well and thoroughly, not half-assed and certainly not poorly.

    I don’t think it skimmed it’s social issues either, and you seem to agree that what exposition was given was ‘really interesting’. Furthermore, I think you’re missing the point thinking that the commentary was meant to be ‘clever’ or ‘satire’; District 9 holds the horror of the plight of refugees and the effects of apartheid straight up to the viewer’s face. I think the movie’s wide release is very interesting, in that, frankly, I’d question whether or not North America is the film’s target audience. It is only opening in South Africa this week, it’ll be interesting to see what happens. Which is why I can’t write off the whole Nigerian crime syndicate thing as bad, it makes me want to understand where that came from.

    And yes, the villain sucked balls. Why that movie needed an evil GI is beyond me. Peter Jackson, was that a bad production choice? I think so…

    Watch Alive in Joburg. Unless you have already, because you’re the kind of smart reviewer who goes into his reviews knowing what he’s talking about.

    • 2 reddingmineshaft
      September 1, 2009 at 3:32 pm

      See that’s the thing though… watching Alive in Joburg would lead one to believe that maybe District 9 would be different from what we’ve seen before. As would reading all the glowing reviews about it. It’s fine to be a stellar run of the mill film, but nobody seems to be saying how straight forward and formulaic this one becomes.

      You said that your sympathies towards the characters was enough to elevate the movie. Another thing that I didn’t really have room to mention in my post is that my sympathies weren’t always where the film seemed to assume they were. Early on, when the marines and Wickus pull up into District 9, one of the prawns kills one of the marines by one of the MNU trucks. This isn’t one of those biased news clips from earlier in the movie, this is the prawns being unpredictable and murdering an innocent marine. I know the marines senselessly kill the prawns in several scenes as well, but if this movie is about a misunderstanding between two species, it’s wrong to think that I would instinctively side AGAINST humanity.

      Towards the end when things are getting really action packed, Wickus is fragging people left and right with his mech, and I found myself thinking about how these humans might have wives and children of their own, and how they are just soldiers following orders, not the real bad guys that are making the policies keeping the prawns down. Not only that, but they don’t even stand a chance against Wickus and his super awesome death lasers. They can’t even slow him down. It’s nowhere near a fair fight at that point. If the story is going to be charged with the undertones of apartheid and xenophobia, gibbing soldiers on the “other side” doesn’t seem like a very sensible thing to have your hero doing. We’re not meant to be critical of Wickus here either, this is during his big redemptive streak at the end.

      Are we really supposed to believe that the death of Christopher’s yellow alien friend at the beginning of the movie is hard hitting and tragic, but the death of countless soldiers is no big deal? Both sides are filled with assholes. Both sides randomly murder one another. The MNU are obviously bad guys that want their hands on alien weaponry, but the aliens are assholes too, they trick Wickus into risking his life to help them and refuse to hold up their end for three years (if that!).

      Is that what I was supposed to learn about apartheid? That both sides are assholes? Perhaps the humans are bigger assholes, but is that enough to make me cheer when the stupid villain marine gets ripped apart and eaten at the end of the film?

      Maybe I’m just racist though, who knows.

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August 2009
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