Posts Tagged ‘Peter Jackson


Avatar VS District 9

I’m almost an entire month late, but I finally saw Avatar. I figure you don’t need a full blown review at this point, but maybe a side by side comparison of the two biggest sci-fi movies of 2009 will be illuminating.

So let’s do this… Avatar versus District 9.

What do they have in common? Quite a bit.

Both movies have extremely impressive special effects. Avatar obviously has the bigger (much bigger) budget of the two, and is therefore able to create an entire movie made up of effect shots. It’s almost an animated feature, with a few live characters. District 9 has seamlessly integrated CG characters that all look really good for a fraction of Avatar’s money. They could both be seen purely for “eye candy” appeal.

Both Avatar and District 9 are science fiction action films that have really obvious and preachy subtexts. District 9 ties its story directly to apartheid in Johannesburg, but swaps in some aliens. Avatar takes a more general approach, pointing the finger at humans who seek only to exploit resources and destroy the environment and culture of a beautiful planet for their own personal gain. Neither one is particularly insightful or subtle.

Both of these movies will spirit you away… if you let them. District 9 uses a documentary style introduction to give you a sense of immersion and make the world of the film come to life. James Cameron and his special effects team literally created a world and brought it to life with Avatar. Of course, if you slow down and try to chew on a few of the ideas both films throw at you, you might hit a couple bumps along the way. The Aliens in District 9 have been gathering teensy drops of fuel for years and have juuust enough to get home, but even after Wickus sprays himself with it they still have enough? Wait, fuel makes you mutate into one of them? In Avatar, the Na’vi can plug their hair into trees and the various creatures that populate Pandora, making the “connection with nature” of the natives literal. Did they really need to call the ore the humans want so badly “unobtainium” ? Don’t stop and think about these things in either film, just go with it.

Lastly, neither movie is particularly unpredictable or new in terms of the story being told. Avatar is taking a ton of flak for being almost a science fiction remake of Dances with Wolves or Fern Gully, which it can absolutely be compared to in terms of the format it’s following. Avatar is pretty straightforward, especially if you have seen either of those movies that it models itself after. As I said in my District 9 review, the movie quickly scraps its “oooh new and different” documentary approach and becomes every science fiction film I’ve ever seen. Also, the documentary style opening so clearly lays out all the elements of the story (the Nigerians, how the alien weaponry works, etc) that it is very easy to see where the film is going from there. The premise of using aliens to deal with racism isn’t new either, one can point to several Twilight Zone episodes or even Alien Nation to demonstrate that.

Okay, I get it, they’re kinda similar. Which is better?

Well you know that I only kinda liked District 9, but I kinda liked Avatar more. I don’t think it’s the best movie ever, and it’s certainly not Cameron’s best movie ever, but I refuse to let District 9 take sci-fi/action movie of the year from it. Whyyy?

Both movies ask you to root against humanity and side with a bunch of aliens, but Avatar does a better job of this. In District 9, everyone is a fucking asshole, including the protagonist and the aliens, yet somehow you’re supposed to root for both of them and be really happy to see some humans get gibbed. Avatar uses the very typical archetype of the “noble savage” to portray the Na’vi as culturally superior to the invading humans, who (except for the scientists and one chopper pilot) are portrayed as nothing but trigger happy marines and greedy businessmen. That trick is really old, but y’know what, it works.

I believed the cheesy developing love story in Avatar more than the cheesy developing friendship in District 9. Once again, Avatar’s version of the story is completely run of the mill, as the outsider from the foreign land falls in love with the girl from the native tribe and needs to learn their ways and so on, but it worked well enough. District 9 has Christopher mislead Wickus about transforming him back into a human, making Wickus feel so angry and betrayed that he knocks Christopher out and tries to leave without him. Minutes later, we are expected to believe that Wickus has such a strong redemptive streak that he is willing to further risk his own life to get Christopher home. These moments come so close together towards the end of the film without much explanation, and no matter how you spin it one of them has to ring false to me. I found the developing romance in Avatar to be completely derivative, but it worked and fueled the story just fine.

Avatar has a more awesome and somehow more believable bad guy, even though he’s completely over the top. I never got the sense during District 9 that the bald marine guy would ever be able to singlehandedly stop Wickus. He just seemed to miraculously survive every scene he was in, thus appointing him villain by sheer luck alone. The Colonel in Avatar is ridiculously badass; he runs out into an unbreathable environment to kick ass several times, and even has one quick scene where his arm is just casually on fire as he loads up his battlemech. He’s not as believable as Landa from Inglorious Basterds or anything, but you do believe that this guy could do some damage when the final showdown comes around.

Oh yeah, the final showdown… District 9 had little to no tension for me as Wickus piloted his battlemech (hey both movies have those too!). He was pretty damn unstoppable for the first two thirds of the firefight. In the fight at the end of Avatar, Sully is both physically outmatched in his Na’vi avatar AND in danger of his real (handicapped) body being found or tampered with.

The last, and perhaps most petty of the comparisons… Avatar is fucking prettier. It is. 3D or no 3D, Avatar’s special effects are worth the hype, even if the story isn’t. The movie is worth seeing if you’re an effects junkie. Everyone complains about CGI and many people think 3D is gimmicky, but this movie shows how these effects can be done to make a world seem real. District 9 has damn good special effects, but towards the end of the film it seems only interested in using them to throw more human bits on the camera. I suppose this is the least fair of the comparisons, since District 9 was made for waaaaay less money, but it is worth pointing out.

I’m sorry to say, but between “the little film that could” (please, Peter Jackson threw his name on it), and the “gigantic studio popcorn film in 3D”, I’ve gotta side with Cameron for telling a better completely derivative and cliched science fiction story.


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. 🙂

July 2018
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