So here I am, the last guy in the world weighing in on Neill Blomkamp‘s District 9. It’s obviously a semi-thoughtful, hard-jolt, sit-up-in-your-seat thing from a young director out to make a name for himself. I was never bored and knew all the time I was watching a riveting, exception-to-the-rule sci-fi actioner. It’s certainly the best film I’ve ever seen that has the name “Peter Jackson” in the opening credits. It’s hard and mean and fast and fat-free, so Jackson must have left Blomkamp alone. Hard to accept but the proof’s in the pudding.
The racial apartheid/crappy ghetto metaphor fueling the story of alien “prawns” having been abandoned on earth like alien “Marielitos” and being kept in a kind of outdoor concentration camp/shanty town….all to the good. I fell 100% in love with that static image of the massive alien mother ship hovering over Johannesburg. The way the dust and polluted sunlight made it look slighty hazy in the distance…perfect.
But then I began to half-wonder why it was hovering, frankly. When you think of the energy required to counteract earth’s powerful gravity to keep a 150-million ton craft from crashing to earth…so much waste! And all because Blomkamp wanted it kept in the air because it looks cool.
Sharlto Copley‘s performance is…well, okay. He starts out as a smiling dork who’s married the boss’s daughter only to screw up when he’s asked to direct the relocation of the prawns confined to District 9 to another concentration camp….this is a sloppy sentence. But I’m not going to fix it. I’m the last guy to review this film so I can take liberties.
Copley, a sort of poor man’s Daniel Day Lewis, was, for me, too much of a grinning dork during the first 15 minutes, and then once he’s infected with the liquid and starts growing a prawn arm all he does is run around with wild eyes and breathlessly going “oh my gawd,” “no!,” “please!,” “I love my wife!” and so on. He never gets in front of the situation and studs-up. I wanted him to channel a little Clint Eastwood but he never lets go of the dork moves.
It’s a style movie in the sense that Blomkamp decided early on to desaturate the color and create an experience that was all about piss and beans and dust and garbage and gooey-gross-outs and scuzzy Nigerians. It’s an exceptionally well-honed and vigorous film for its type (i.e., the political sci-fi actioner), and I think it’s fair to say Blomkamp has cut his teeth and made his bones in the tradition of the first two Mad Max films.
But it’s not a movie that sent great waves of pleasure surging through my system. I liked it and respected the craft that went into creating the dusty, crappy-ass look of it. But bit by bit I began to feel a little trapped, and I gradually began to think about escaping. I wanted to see it through to the end, but watching it began to feel like being in a room with no a.c. during mid July, and I didn’t care for the sensation.
There’s so much garbage, dirt, dust and detritus in this film that I started to feel physically dirty after a while. I almost began to smell the stench. I began to feel like taking a shower or at least using some sanitary wipes.
If someone had come up to me and said “if you give me $20 bucks I can fix it so that the movie will stop with the dust and the desaturated color and all the scuzzy gooey stuff and cut to a full-color scene in a fashion mall with a couple of pretty women talking about nothing over margaritas,” I would have given him the money. Dust! Fucking smelly dust and skanky garbage and black goo leaking out of wounds! I needed to get away from this for a minute or two.
And I wasn’t all that rocked by the way the story rocks and lurches, taunting you into thinking “aah, okay, things are going to work out” only to pull the plug and leave you in the lurch, only to push the plug it back into the wall again. Up, down, in and out, oh my God!, here we go!, hair-trigger, cliffhanger. Writing a story along these lines is a wanker’s game. Come to think of it, it’s an old Peter Jackson tactic.
And I’m not a big fan of “the cackling villain who can’t be killed & shan’t be killed until the very end” cliche. Nor do I admire endings that leave everything & everyone hanging in the lurch in preparation for the sequel. District 9 is definitely playing this game.
But I agree with those who’ve been saying that Michael Bay could learn a thing or two from Blomkamp. District 9 is watchable and inventive and alive on the screen, which is more than you can say for Transformers 2.
District 9 director-writer Neill Blomkamp (r.), guy who plays the ultimate bald/studly/heavily-armed bad-ass.