Enough To Put You Off Sea Food For Life.
Yo, this be Reuben. Might keep that as my starting line. Yep.
Anywhom, prior to watching District 9 all I knew about it was that it’s a sci-fi film and it could be cool. Didn’t flippin’ know it was a weird documentary film. It’s odd. But I think it’s good.
In the first ten minutes of the film I was left sitting there bewildered, having expected a cool sci-fi and having my flimsy trust repaid with some weird documentary aesthetic. In the beginnings of the film it helps to inform about the film’s setting and what’s going on, and what is going on is they’ve created a nice lil’ world. In an alternative modern day Johannesburg an alien race labeled prawns have been there for two decades after their mother-ship mysteriously landed above the city and the aliens were found in their deprived state. These aliens were then situated in District 9, a slum on the outskirts of the city influenced by district six in the times of the apartheid in South Africa – the whole film uses the apartheid influence interestingly. The MNU are the people put in charge of the aliens in District 9 eventually, and the unassuming slightly odd nice guy Wikus van der Merwe is appointed boss of the Department of Alien Affairs in the MNU.
Deceivingly, the film starts with a fairly light tone, with jokes thrown around here and there to spice up the boring documentary overview. However, along with being confusing to a moron such as myself, the first 20 minutes or so don’t represent the tone of the rest of the film – things turn nasty. It feels deliberate, however, as the progression of Wikus is clearly shown as the film goes on, as he turns from a mild-mannered innocent guy at work to a tortured lab rat and eventually a desperate and be-straggled half-alien guy. As he changes, the film changes, from slightly unconventional with nothing too unpleasant to difficult to watch and full of popping bodies.
It’s an odd film to watch, because the tone of it goes all over the place. At some points I thought maybe it was going to be a comedic sort of dealio, at other points I thought it was gonna be Ancient Aliens, and at some points I thought it was going to be an action blockbuster. Really, there’s bits and bobs of all of ’em. Although the progression of Wikus as a character is done to perfection, the film is a mismatch of styles, and really I’m not sure how well they really work together. I’m not sure if the transformation of the light comedy to the non-stop body popping action really works that much wonders; but I am sure that Shartlo Copley is a great actor and his Wikus is a well-written character. One of the many tones District 9 does get spot on is the sinister, hard to watch stuff. When he’s in the labs and when he’s being hunted it is perfectly intense, and it feels like a rush of adrenaline. There are so much questionable things being done as the film goes on, and you certainly forget it was sorta kinda trying to be a comedy at one point, because you are absolutely hooked on the action and Wikus’ horrible decline. Copley puts out a fantastic performance as Wikus, as he portrays his original light-hearted character perfectly and his hardship seems ominously genuine. It really is one of the best acting performances I’ve seen. I felt genuinely sorry for him on so many occasions, and felt myself routing for him for the whole film – even when he had done questionable things himself.
Regardless, he is let down a little by the screenplay. Towards the end of the film the action takes over, which although brings excitement and pushes the adrenaline to the max, it is slightly ridiculous. How many explosions do you need? It’s a shame, because what is an intriguing film becomes a bit of a mindless gore-fest. It ain’t bad, though. There’s still meaning behind it, Wikus’ struggle is still very, very apparent. But it is a shame. A lot of Wikus’ lines are reduced to the f word as the film hits its climax. I suppose it highlights the extent to what his toil has become, but I do think it’s a bit mindless.
The CGI, also, is a little weak. The prawns have an original design, but they don’t look great. I suppose it can be forgiven because it is now seven years old, but The Lord of the Rings from years earlier probably holds up better in its special effects, and more practical effects could have been a viable option. The blood, too, is pretty poor. It just looks like grape juice. So when it’s a serious scene and a guy gets blown up, the seriousness can be knocked out of it a little because it really does look like they’ve just stop-started the filming and replaced the guy being exploded with a popping carton of grape juice. These things, however, can be made up for by the film’s well designed South African aesthetic, with the apartheid influence working wonders for the film’s sinister feel.
The cinematography can also help towards making up for the issues with the FX. With the documentary aesthetic comes all sorts of camera angles, all working with the film nicely. This documentary aesthetic, however, feels somewhat confused. It is all the first 20 minutes are, but as the movie moves on it becomes less and less the focus and for a while it just isn’t there, and it feels like a normal film. I thought those bits were where the film was at its best. Still, I think the documentary style helps the film.
In conclusion, District 9 is an intriguing and a pretty darn good watch, as despite having various issues with tone, FX and script writing, it excels in waves of intense and gripping scenes following one of the better main characters in sci-fi’s distressing and ultimately action-packed journey.
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