RogerBW's Blog

District 9 07 January 2023

2009 horror, dir. Neil Blomkamp, Sharlto Copley, David James; IMDb / allmovie. The people who don't look like us have to be moved on.

You can be subtle about your message, or you can be heavy-handed. And this is a very South African film about the South African flavour of racism, though it goes some way towards universalising it. The alien ship arrived, and was full of directionless aliens and ultra-tech weapons which the humans couldn't use and the aliens wouldn't; so the aliens live in a shantytown in Johannesburg, and now it's time to move them further out of sight.

When this film came out many of my friends praised it very highly; but while I don't mind a low-budget look, I do like a bit of nuance in my storytelling. Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley in his first acting role) is a minor functionary who just wants to get on with the job, blind (wilfully or otherwise) to the suffering he causes, and ends up on the aliens's side… more or less? But other than one action right at the climax, everything he does can be explained just as well by his own self-interest: yeah, when his former friends are hunting him to carve him up into a treatment to let their troops operate alien tech, he's less in favour of them and by default more in favour of the aliens. That doesn't take a great moral shift to achieve.

Combine that with a second half that looks like footage from a computer game, complete with shaky-cam and gun-cam and the obligatory vehicle sequence, and I found myself rather disappointed. As a low-budget actioner it's not bad, but it holds out a promise of much more, and then does very little with it. There are some good moments – for example when mutated Wikus has been testing various alien weaponry on a firing range, and his employers put an actual live alien on the range for him to shoot and he suddenly can't avoid realising what sort of organisation he's helping – but even that is undermined by a standard Peter Jackson messy wet explosion. (Jackson organised financing and other resources for this film after the Halo film he'd planned to produce with Blomkamp directing got stuck in legalities.)

It's all right. But it's very forgettable.

As usual if you want more of my witterings you should listen to Ribbon of Memes.

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  1. Posted by Owen Smith at 08:48pm on 07 January 2023

    I agree, this promised much and delivered little. It could so easily have been so much better.

  2. Posted by Ashley R Pollard at 11:01am on 08 January 2023

    I disagree, it's a film we bought on disc, though we still buy a lot of films on disc... because.

    And, on this occasion, we re-watched last year, and I Have to say it gets better each time I've watched it.

    The documentary style (low budget as you described) sits very well with theme of the story. A glossier film would make it more gun porn/alien action that would take away from the story.

    Wilkus is portrayed as bit of a simpleton, and added to his Father-in-law's involvement in the weapons division I think explains the Wilkus's journey to redemption.

    As for the complaint about Wilkus's moral shift, I would point out that the great majority of people are concrete thinkers, and those who are abstract formal thinkers only manage this for about a third of their time.

    That's not a defense of the moral quandary, only an explanation that people didn't evolve to maximize moral fitness.

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