Tuesday, August 18, 2009

District 9 - Taking the science out of Science Fiction

District 9 review

I was actually kind of excited about this movie. Peter Jackson's name is attached to it, though at the end of the day, I doubt he wrote more than a check for it. On the surface, the story seems to be a 'realistic' depiction of what it would be like if a shipload of docile alien refugees one day landed on our doorstep. Indeed, the first ten minutes of the film are just that, providing first-person testimonials about this new 'social problem'. The aliens apparently arrive here malnourished and helpless. With no place to put them, we created a sort of refugee camp for them, like we do, called District 9. All this, by the way is happening in South Africa for some ungodly reason. Not that South Africa plays any part in the film at all, the majority of the film takes place in a slum that could have been shot in Arizona. Fast forward twenty years and now the aliens, numbering almost two million, are still living happily in their little slum. Only the slum is too close to the city and the powers that be want it shut down. So begins an attempt to move all the aliens to a new slum (District 10), away from the city.

In charge of this move, is a hapless bureaucrat named Wikus (pronounced Vikus), played by absolute unknown, Sharlto Copley. Wikus is the sort of marginal character that usually gets eaten by a T-Rex in the first act of a Jurassic Park movie. Yet, here he is not just the main character, but the only one! While going door to door evicting Prawns (a derogatory name for the aliens), Wikus finds some special extra-terrestrial dildo that squirts in his face and gradually begins to turn him into... yes, a Prawn. For American audiences, prawns are what South Africans call shrimp (something the film takes for granted we know). So begins two hours of nonsense that does everything it can to take the 'science' out of science fiction. First of all, there is no scientific precedence for any species to suddenly change its DNA and become another species. Genetic evolution is something that occurs over thousands of years, not twenty minutes. Unless the aliens themselves are that way because this jizz turned them into these monsters. Which means, that they might actually resemble humans in their natural state. But none of this is explored. No, Wikus just has a very bad case of the Jeff Goldblums. The first thing to 'turn' is Wikus' hand, which becomes a sort of reptilian claw. But here let's take a pause to examine the aliens themselves.

The Prawns are depicted as more animal than human. They live like pigs, their social graces would make Klingons cringe and their motivation does not seem to extend beyond their obsession with cat food. Another unexplained phenomenon. Like, what's in cat food that can't be found in dog food? Indeed, they trade all their weapons and technology for the stuff. Which brings us to the next point. They seem like aimless, stupid creatures yet somehow they made their way over here, not a small technological feat in itself. So they are actually far more intelligent than we are. Huh?! Their weapons, mind you, are so superior to ours that we are led to believe that if only one of them decided to arm himself and go on the warpath, it would take an army to stop him. Yet they live in pitiful squalor and do everything we tell them to do and just basically bend over every time a human raises his foot. WTF?! It's hard to have any respect for these Prawns. Why did they make these weapons in the first place if all they're good for is trading for cat food? But get this, only the Prawns can use their own weapons which require some sort of genetic signature just to press the trigger. Another technological mystery. Apparently humans in real life are now developing firearms with fingerprint locks but this would assume some sort of biological interface and these weapons are anything but biological. Anyway, this brings us back to Wikus, who with his new Prawn claw, now finds himself able to use their weapons. This, of course, makes him tres valuable and pretty soon he finds himself on an operating table, ready to be dissected for some completely unexplained reason. Wikus, with his newly acquired super-strength, breaks out of the lab and goes into hiding in District 9.

The rest of the plot revolves around re-acquiring the E.T. dildo as it apparently is the key to the Prawns leaving Earth. To go where is also a mystery. Presumably they will just dock on another planet and become a burden on some other species. I mean, if there was a home to go to, why did they leave in the first place? This is a mass migration, not some starship explorer. And do they really expect to find more hospitable environs than on Earth? Why leave at all? Because they are persecuted against? Get over yourselves. Pathetic aliens. What they should do is grab some of those guns that only they can use and take over the planet like any normal alien would do. Would have made for a much more entertaining film, too.

In the end, this movie is simply not very well thought out. I am consistently blown away the devotion to detail in the special effects of these big budget flicks. Now if only a fraction of that devotion went into the writing, we might have something here. As it is, the film is a chore to watch. The only reason I stuck around was the promise of some big budget crescendo it never really delivered. Supposedly a sequel is now in the works after a big first weekend at the box office. At least next time I'll know what to expect and wait for the DVD.

Grade D