Friday, August 14, 2009

Review: 'District 9' (B-)

By Chase Kahn

Below the hazy, sun-beaten and massively stagnant alien mothership is the slum known as District 9, an area established by MNU (Multi-National United) to segregate aliens from humans – an obvious metaphor for apartheid, the system of legal segregation by the National Party of South Africa from 1948 to 1994.

Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 takes this premise, this politically charged allegory, and makes it into a feature-length science-fiction action film that elicits mixed results. On one hand, its implementation of visual effects into live-action is seamless and inspired, creating a visceral and enjoyable experience. On the flip side, its politics are occasionally hypocritical and its genre elements partly conventional. Call it a wash, an enjoyable disappointment.

When Wikus (Sharlto Copley, think South African Christian Bale), a goofy and unassuming MNU employee, is picked to carry out the eviction notices in order to move the prawns (aliens) into a new facility, he gets more than he’s bargained for – a face full of fuel that implants in himself a large dose of prawn DNA. Wait, what? Ah, just go with it.

Now Wikus, an employed ambassador to the segregation of these filthy and unwanted visitors, these public enemies, is slowly becoming one of them. Through this initial transformation, he becomes acutely aware of the cruelty and inhumanity being lashed down upon the poor prawns and himself.

Of course, Blomkamp is condemning not only the apartheid history of South Afrika, but racial segregation in general, using Wikus as his test dummy – you don’t like these people? – become one of them and find out what it’s like from their point of view.

District 9 opens with a barrage of faux news reports, interviews and documentary footage of Wikus’ journey to the camp in a barrage of tedium. The first half of the film loses steam quick with its apparent need to actively impress us in a bouquet of gimmicks. Fortunately, once Wikus’ transformation is underway, the thing kicks into full-gear – a balls-to-the-wall chase film with political intrigue and action to spare.

Unfortunately, it’s not enough to overcome all of District 9’s faults and, in fact, just creates new ones.

While Wikus’ moral and physical journey is thrilling and quite emotional at times, he squares off against a bland, archetypical and predictably bald and chiseled government-hired badass who stays alive just long enough for the film to reach its desired length. Additionally, by portraying a group of militant Nigerians as scarred, ruthless snarling dogs, Blomkamp is inadvertently exposing the kind of racism his film is theoretically divulging.

1 comment:

  1. Hey, man. I'm here! We'll see how it works out...hopefully well. Anyway, I really want to see this movie...should be catching it soon. Hey - any advice on making my site better? Should I just put the rating of the movie as one of the labels...I want an easy way to track what I have rated what.