Like my book reviews site, these are movie reviews I write for entertainment purposes only. These are just my reviews and my opinions. They are not endorsed by Blogger or any movie studios or anyone else. So there. I borrowed my scoring system from the Metacritic site, which does not imply an endorsement from them, although I think they do have a very nice website. I convert the 1-100 scores into 1-4 stars, essentially it works like this:

1 star = 25 points
2 stars = 50 points
3 stars = 75 points
4 stars = 100 points

And then if something falls about halfway between, then I'll give it an added half-star.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

District 9

I think it's safe to say "District 9" is everything "Avatar" isn't.  Its still not Fellini or Bergman but a definite upgrade in terms of story.  Really, if "Avatar" had been this good I'd have paid extra to see it in the 3D/IMAX.

Like "Avatar," "District 9" is the story of humans and aliens coming into contact with each other.  While "Avatar" takes place on a distant world in the 22nd Century where humans are the aliens, "District 9" takes place on Earth in the present.

And while the Na'Vi are sleek and pretty, the aliens of "District 9," known as Prawns are something else entirely.  As the name suggests they look like something you'd find at your local fish market or Long John Silver's or to describe them another way if you combined a shrimp and a grasshopper and made it about as tall as a human that's what you'd get.  The Prawns are not philosophical, religious, or in touch with nature.  They're essentially scavengers who subsist mostly on cat food.

In about 1982, the Prawn mother ship came to Earth, hovering to a stop over Johannesburg, South Africa of all places.  When no one came out of the ship, a human team went in and found the Prawns pretty much living in their own filth.  Though they were aboard a spaceship, it seemed the Prawns had no idea how to run it or fix it.

Fast forward to the present, where a ghetto known as District 9 has been set up outside Johannesburg.  District 9 has become overcrowded and nearby residents are sick of the aliens (the irony here being that victims of apartheid are as intolerant of the Prawns as whites were of them) and so a new District 10 is being set up farther away.  Rounding up the aliens is the job of the generically named Multi National United conglomerate.

Wikus van der Merwe is the man in charge of the operation, in part thanks to being the son-in-law of a company honcho.  Wikus and some other company weasels, along with an armed escort, descend upon District 9 to serve eviction notices to the Prawns so everything is nice and legal.  Except when Wikus barges into the shanty of a Prawn whose human name is Christopher Johnson he comes upon a strange tube that sprays him with some weird alien goo.

In no time Wikus starts coughing up a black substance and is taken to a hospital, where he finds that his left arm has become a Prawn arm!  This draws interest from MNU (including Wikus's father-in-law) because the alien weapons found on the ship only work with alien DNA, but Wikus can use them with his alien arm.  The company then naturally wants to experiment on him--and they're not going to take no for an answer.

When Wikus manages to escape, he goes on the run to the only place no one will look for him:  District 9.  He has to find some way to avoid being taken by MNU while searching for a way to change himself back that just might lie with Christopher Johnson and his son.

While "District 9" isn't exactly subtle with its message, it's not quite as shrill as "Avatar" either.  As I pointed out earlier it's ironic people who have suffered from intolerance show the same intolerance to the Prawns.  Then you have Wikus himself, who starts out as a doofus, a mid-level bureaucrat condescending to the aliens and later has his eyes opened not only by becoming half-Prawn but by seeing what his company has been up to.  For the most part I thought Wikus stayed true to himself throughout most of the movie, never turning into Braveheart.  He does at least get his chance to act heroic.  Unknown actor Sharlto Copley does a good job of making Wikus seem more or less like a normal guy who's caught up in extraordinary events.

It's equally impressive that the movie is helmed by first-time director Neil Blomkamp.  Instead of trying to dazzle us with effects, Blomkamp uses a documentary style through much of the film and maintains more of a gritty look that you probably wouldn't want to see in 3D.  You also wouldn't want to see some of the stuff that earns the movie its R-rating--at least if you're not squeamish--like pulling out fingernails, teeth, and bits of skin as well as people exploding and a lot of F-bombs.

From a pure geek standpoint I have to add I thought the Prawn weapons were cooler than anything in "Avatar."  You can see why the humans would want to get those to work since they kick ass, especially the mechanical suit thing.  Though I wonder why humans can't just reverse-engineer at least some of the technology in the weapons.  That they don't work with human DNA wouldn't seem to stop you from tearing one apart.

Overall because the Prawns aren't the noble savages of the Na'Vi and not all the characters seem out of central casting, "District 9" to me is a better quality product than "Avatar."  If you haven't already, definitely check it out.

That is all.

My score:  100/100 (4 stars)

Metacritic score:  81/100 (3 stars)

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