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Let's All Go to the Movies ...

I finally saw "District 9" last night. Good movie! Thought I'd let it get a bit overhyped. Go in expecting a somewhat gruesome horror/survival film rather than an incisive art film, or an action-oriented summer blockbuster, and you'll really enjoy it. And for a slightly more nuanced exploration of many of the same things — human unity in the face of an extraterrestrial threat, drugs as a way to pacify an alien population — I highly recommend Harry Turtledove's Worldwar series.

The one part of the movie that has been bugging me are the previews. Mainly, the trailer for "Final Destination 3". I understand that movies have plot holes. But this movie seems based on a plot hole. Why is death so intricately kinetic? Why not just give the main characters a pulmonary embolism?

The "Legion" trailer, however, looked pretty promising.

By Ezra Klein  |  August 28, 2009; 5:40 PM ET
Categories:  Movies  
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Comments

Ezra --

Are there two different movies titled "District 9" going around?

The one I saw could not be characterized as "human unity in the face of an extraterrestrial threat." More like sentient creature unity in the face of a human threat.

It was obvious, by the trailers, that the studio was trying to promote this as a horror film, but if it was it was more like a film in which the government and the corporate interests played the mad slasher role. I thought it was more like "ET" hyped up for the ADD generation.

I did like the movie. The only thing I was bothered by was the the "witch doctor" trope in the Nigerian thug plot. That was what a lot of African Americans like to call an "ugga bugga" theme. One guy I know described those scenes as similar to the portrayal of blacks in "Birth of a Nation."

Posted by: PatS2 | August 28, 2009 6:20 PM | Report abuse

Peter Jackson and his new young director dude both have produced a good movie in District 9. Clearly the follow on sequel and at some time 'prequel' will come (why did that space ship land hanging on Johannesburg and how those aliens, first in thousands, came down); making stinking money for Jackson.

But I always like Jackson and the way he is ready to take risk. The director Neill Blomkamp is having a dream start to his career. So in the process they make ton of money, that is well deserved.

Non American Producer, Director and Location, done in English; that is good globalization. Hollywood has ensured getting some slice here (Sony while distributing the movie); but the direction of movie industry is probably taking an interesting turn if the trend here is followed.

Wikipedia is saying for the cost of $30 Million (low budget movie) it has made so far $94 Million; not bad at all for a good movie.

Posted by: umesh409 | August 28, 2009 7:01 PM | Report abuse

I really enjoyed it. It didn't seem like a low budget film--the CGI was amazing. Risky yet smart. I thought Shartlo Copley was great channeling Peter Sellars. I agree with what the studios have been saying for decades: big name stars are overrated. If you like genre-bending movies, I also recommend Peter Jackson's Braindead (Dead Alive) on DVD.

This year I also liked The Hurt Locker. Another Katherine Bigelow movie that's good on DVD is Near Dark.

I can't believe Final Destination has three sequels. That movie is so tedious and unscary, and the acting is horrible. If you want a good recent scary movie try Eden Lake.

Posted by: bmull | August 28, 2009 8:32 PM | Report abuse

My girlfriend and I went in to watch district 9 knowing absolutely nothing about it because a friend recommended it to me. (Hadn't even heard of it and never saw a trailer) The previews were a disaster for my girlfriend- I didn't know what kind of movie it was and after those previews I thought we were going to get some kind of horror movie which would not have gone over well with my GF. She ended up not liking the movie because she empathized too much with the aliens- but I can't help but think that every time they were showing them get exploited she was worried the movie was going to turn all hacker flick on us. To me the fact that her biggest problem was empathizing too much with CGI characters is a strong endorsement of the movie.

Posted by: spotatl | August 29, 2009 11:55 AM | Report abuse

I went to see it knowing zero about the film, and absolutely loved it. That main character was such a risk, and such a different kind of lead than you normally see in films. And the director did such a great job of making the aliens quite alien in the beginning, and then gradually humanizing as the main character turned into one of them.

And I'm still weeping over one little scene where the alien parent thought they were going to have to go to the refugee camp, and had to break the news to its son. When it pointed to the picture of the tents in that horrible brochure and said to the little boy "maybe we'll get this one!" I just completely lost it. It still hurts me to think about that scene.

Posted by: theorajones1 | August 29, 2009 1:56 PM | Report abuse

I dunno. It had some nice elements, but a few things really bothered me. The first were some awfully big plot holes - death in a movie that wants to use verisimilitude as a selling point. We're supposed to believe that an alien crew with the training and discipline to drive their awesome ship across space would descend into the chaos we saw in the slum? What? We're supposed to believe that the world's government are uninterested in the transformational technology represented by the ship itself - that they'd let the aliens fester in a slum and leave their ship unmolested, while a corporation and few ragtag gangs fight over the superweapons? What?!? That no government would worry what would happen if the rest of the prawns got wind of what was going on?

Which leads to the second point, that the movie chickens out at the end. When the main character helps the prawn leader escape, he's also quite possibly doomed his planet. With some guts, they could have ended the film by showing the prawns' return three years later - with dozens and dozens of ships, and an unstoppable force prepared to return the favor to the humans who abused and vivisected their crew.

Finally (Ok, it's a third point, so shoot me) I really don't need to see that many people liquified by superweapons.

That is all.

Posted by: Sophomore | August 29, 2009 8:37 PM | Report abuse

sophomore- I think the film is set up for a sequel to give you the return of the prawns 3 years later.

Posted by: spotatl | August 30, 2009 4:47 PM | Report abuse

Sophomore-- sometimes it's best to leave some things unmentioned and left to the imagination. The fact that the ending was simultaneously triumphant (the alien escapes!) while also being extremely dark (he's going to return to wreak revenge on humanity for their crimes) is well done on its own terms. The fact that the human crowds in Johannesburg are out in the streets _cheering_ while the ship departs makes this double-edge ending even better.

You're right about the multitude of plot holes. There are even more than the ones you mentioned.

Posted by: tyromania | August 31, 2009 12:28 AM | Report abuse

-"We're supposed to believe that an alien crew with the training and discipline to drive their awesome ship across space would descend into the chaos we saw in the slum?"-

Keep in mind that the movie mentions speculation that the aliens they found aboard the mothership, malnourished and starving to death, were basically "drones" - the entire leadership caste had more or less been wiped out by something (probably illness). Individually, they don't seem too unintelligent, but more sort of lethargic and short-sighted.

-"What? We're supposed to believe that the world's government are uninterested in the transformational technology represented by the ship itself - that they'd let the aliens fester in a slum and leave their ship unmolested, while a corporation and few ragtag gangs fight over the superweapons? What?!?"-

Remember that they couldn't use the Prawn technology - it was somehow "locked" to Prawn DNA.

As for the WorldWar series, enjoy it - but keep in mind that in the sequel series it basically descends into human techno-wank. I mean that, literally - just read the last book in the series, "Homeward Bound".

Posted by: guardsmanbass | August 31, 2009 1:51 AM | Report abuse

A couple of points.

One of the common tropes in SF is the idea of a master race/slave race theme. Another is the idea of political prisoners who are captives of a warlike group from their own or other races, sometimes with pacifist overtones, being shipped to or imprisoned in penal colonies. In films, the John Sayles masterpiece "Brother from Another Planet" is an example. The "Men in Black" series also touched on this notion. The idea of a successful mutiny against the guards/ masters, or the death of the guards/masters suggested above would explain many of the contradictions that seem to be present as of now.

I obviously have no idea how the District 9 film people will work out the plot, but I am suspicious one or both of those plot tracks will turn up. We will certainly find out, since with $91 million domestic so far and with foreign, DVD, and so on still to come on a $30-$35 million investment and a fairly low, although clever, promotional budget, we will be seeing "District 10" in a year or two.

Posted by: PatS2 | August 31, 2009 6:04 PM | Report abuse

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