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Aug 24 2009

District 9

Why are you reading this? Go see District 9 instead. Then come back and we can talk.

You want a review? Fine. This movie does what more science fiction should do. It educates you in science. Social science. History, politics, sociology, psychology–they’re all in here. They are aggressively, in-your-face in there.

This is the best science fiction movie since Serenity.

Like Serenity, District 9 is brutal. Unlike most films, science fiction or otherwise, District 9 uses its brutality to good effect. When violence shocks you, you know you’re not supposed to be taking it for granted. When you see a moment of casual evil, you know you’re not supposed to look away, that it’s meant to be there, that you’re watching it for a reason. Still, if you think the messages of the movie are delivered with 2x4s, you’re not catching them all. Nor is it all about its messages.

The film does have its flaws, of course. You’re supposed to be unsettled, but unless you bring Dramamine, your stomach may take the brunt of it. There are plot holes centered around the alien tech, some of them large.

Ultimately, however, the tech isn’t what the movie is about. It’s about all the different ways we generate excuses to treat each other like crap and the consequences we don’t consider when we do that. In short, it’s right up my alley. It’s bracing and thought-provoking and, frankly, all I really want to talk about right now. I want to dive into how it was constructed and compare notes on what people caught and what they didn’t. I want to see the movie reflected in the minds of the people around me.

So go on. Go see it. Then come back. I’ll be waiting.

Still waiting.

Go.

Update: Don’t go into the comments if you want to avoid spoilers.

7 comments

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  1. 1
    Michael

    Yep, was a great one (although I thought the documentary-style frame and voiceovers ruined a lot of potential). One thing I found interesting was the confusion about the legal process of the serving of the eviction notices. For instance, they were giving them 24 hrs in advance. However when the fixer of the spaceship says "legally I have the right to a 24 hr advance warning", the team gets very agitated even though this is what they're apparently doing. Also the evictions themselves are only begun after the movie ends — and there doesn't seem to be a plausible reason why the events of the movie should necessarily have stopped the evictions.I think some of this might be a plot hole as opposed to something deliberate but it creates a definite impression of the way in which there's a disconnect between the theory and practice of regulations set up to supposedly protect human rights, to give people legal rights etc.

  2. 2
    Stephanie Zvan

    On the other hand, I thought the documentary pieces were a great exercise in watching raw events become story. For all it looked like the experts were talking moderately openly about what had happened and the situation that led up to it, their version was so sanitized it hurt. It's as though the writers were saying, "Here are the words. Over here? Here is the meaning."I read the discomfort over the notice as being the difference between recognizing that the aliens had rights on paper and finding an alien who insisted he had rights. It's a pretty big distinction, which you get at too.As for the manhunt, it takes much more manpower to bring in one free person you can't kill than to move thousands you expect to stay put and not fight back while you do anything you want, including kill them. Also, once they started the publicity that said the guy might be contagious, they couldn't really be seen as splitting their attention.

  3. 3
    Rich

    I was actually kind of annoyed by the social commentary, or lack of it. Like it started out to make a statement, but just fizzled and turned into an old fashioned special effects free for all. And the POV camera work made no sense part way into the movie. There was not some guy following the action with a handi-cam, so why present it that way?Maybe my standards haven't been lowered by most of what's being put out these days, because I very rarely watch movies (rented or in theaters or on TV). But I guess I wanted to like it more, but felt it didn't live up to its potential.

  4. 4
    Mike Haubrich, FCD

    Saw it, liked it. I was also puzzled at the shift in POV towards the middle. Who was shooting when they raided MNU?

  5. 5
    Toaster Sunshine

    The POV shift was handled very well, I think. For a similar effect watch the excellent psychological horror movie Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon. The blending of documentary and feature film brings a raw authenticity to the material, makes it seem more real than just a glitzy Hollywood show.I liked that District 9 was not WOWFLASH-BANG-PEW!PEW!PEW!LAZERS! sci-fi, but gritty and harsh, presenting the science fiction elements as extant everyday realities instead of shiny spaceship dogfights. It is remarkable that special effects have progressed enough in just the past 3 years to even be able to pull it all off.The social commentary, in my opinion, was largely about 1) humans are shitty to anything they can label as an out-group and 2) the newsreel and scholar interviews sharply illustrated the disconnect between reality and history.

  6. 6
    Michael

    True — I guess the narration and documentary showing the disconnect between recorded history and reality panned out more in the end than in the beginning. In the beginning, I think I had a natural reaction of "here's another voiceover that explains the obvious and talks down to viewers". So even though it worked well towards the end, the fact that this device has been misused so much in the past probably generated some unneeded skepticism in the beginning.

  7. 7
    Stephanie Zvan

    Michael, I can definitely see the skepticism. I walked in being skeptical of how history is made in cases like these, and there were just a few subtle clues up front that things weren't as simple as they were presented to be. Since I love unreliable narrators, that just pulled me into the movie all the more.Some other bits of social commentary I noted: the construction of criminality (requiring Christopher to have a permit he'd never be allowed to get) and the use of the media by corporations. Hand them a few sketchy but intriguing details, and boom, suddenly we have pictures of alien sex? Typical tabloid mockup–not done by the company.Also, I read the action not so much as a change in the movie as additional commentary. We largely create the dangers to ourselves in perpetuating an unjust society, and it doesn't take a massive group uprising to really upset things. It's silly of us to underestimate how much damage a very few individuals with nothing to lose can do.

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