Sunday, August 23, 2009

District 9

When I first saw the trailer for the virally-hyped sci-fi flick, my heart sank. The promo featured a Transformer-esque alien wreaking havoc. Oh no--not another Michael Bay bombastic "blow @#$% up" fest! Fortunately, the trailer gives absolutely no indication of the terrifically nifty District 9 has in store for viewers.

Set in Johannesburg, South Africa, the film features no famous names--other than producer Peter Jackson. The location is fitting given that District 9 recalls the specter of apartheid, along with the inhuman and inhumane conditions of refugee camps and a bit of genocidal violence to boot.

Actually there's more than a bit of violence: those who chose to see Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds most likely got their fill of sadistic and twisted gore, but District 9 provides bullets, bombs and @#$% blowing up along with a tense and suspenseful story.

The aliens are not a warm and cuddly bunch ala Spielberg's E.T. In fact, they're a thoroughly unattractive lot. There is a mini alien who offers what could be construed as "cute," but kudos to writer/director Neill Blomkamp for letting the finely crafted story lure us into rooting for the opposed bug-like beings. The story is told via Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley) a bureaucratic buffoon who eventually becomes our hero protagonist.

There's a bit of Greek Mythology (watch for the Trojan Horse!), nods to The Fly, Independence Day and Iron Man--and a little bit of Beauty and the Beast as well. But truth be told, District 9 is really its own beast--and very different from most sci-fi action thrillers I've seen. While there is no preachiness or heavy-handed message, District 9 evokes the shantytowns and slums of India and South America, African refuge camps and even World War II interment and concentration camps.

The film doesn't get bogged down in political, but rather enables the viewer to get caught up in the action, story and characters by allowing us to empathize--and perhaps walk a mile in another's chelae.

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