Sunday, December 4, 2011

District 9 - Neill Blompkamp

District 9 is one of the best science fiction films ever made, and it was the big thing in the summer of 2009. The critiques about it were overwhelmingly positive, with the exception of those made by Nigerians, who complained that their fellow countrymen were depicted as cannibal gangsters -District 9 was actually forbidden in Nigeria.

One of the reasons behind the success of District 9 is that, it is a movie with a story, where special effects are just an ingredient of a plot instead of its central object. Think about Independence Day, which is the quintessential special effects movie, with a very basic story: aliens come to destroy the Earth and we must stop them. In Independence Day, the story basically serves the purposes of the special effects designer: the images of the White House exploding in the middle of an alien attack comes back to memory more easily than any part of the plot. If nothing else, the value of District 9 is that it tears down the idea that science fiction is inherently connected with special effects. They're not, but most people think they are because that's the way Hollywood has taught us to think about movies. An action movie with not-over-the-roof special effects can be successful if the story is good enough.

The comparison with Independence Day is interesting from an ideological perspective too. Filmed in the middle of the 1990s, a period of American hubris, the message is pretty straightforward: aliens are entities who come to destroy our World and we must be afraid of them. In fact, we will destroy them on our own because we are the only power on Earth. By the way, by "we" I mean "Americans." On the other hand, District 9, filmed after the dreams of a South African Rainbow Nation were shattered by reality, shows that aliens can be used as cheap labor and exploited, even in poor countries. Multinational corporations and mercenaries ("private security contractors") are used to deal with them. Aliens may not necessarily be evil, but since they are not human, they don't deserve equal treatment or entitlement to any rights whatsoever. It is interesting how the historical context and the country of origin determine how an encounter between aliens and humans will go over. I wonder how a Russian or a Syrian alien movie would look like.

Some people have tried to see a metaphor of South Africa's migration policies in this movie, but since the writer and the director have denied any political message in it, I won't talk about it.

Another reason for the exit of District 9 is having a good producer: Peter Jackson, who also produced the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The website of District 9 is here, and is actually really fun.

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