Wednesday, September 02, 2009
Like a dog waiting for table scraps (except that the dog is also the chef), South Africa finally got the opportunity to see District 9 when it opened in theaters on the 28th of August, but, mainly due to illness, I was only able to see it the following Tuesday.
I tried going in with no expectations, for I would hate myself if I let hype ruin it. I think it's safe to say I was successful, as I loved the film. South African viewers, most of whom will have lived first-hand through Apartheid (or at least its legacy), and xenophobic violence will react differently to those in the US. We will invariably feel stronger connections to the events depicted in the film, and by the same token have less tolerance for improper treatment of such subject matter. With this in mind, I felt that the political allegory was clear, but never heavy-handed.
The protagonist, Wikus van der Merwe, was the biggest surprise for me. The character seems to have had a great deal of time spent on his development during the writing phase, but this is simply not true. Amazingly, the majority of his dialogue and actions were improvised, and his development occurred on camera. This is mainly thanks to the previously unknown talent of Sharlto Copley, a first-time actor who creates possibly the most emotionally engaging action hero (and I use the term loosely here) in decades. Taking Wikus from nerdy middle-management bureaucrat to saviour of an entire race, Copley goes through a whole range of emotions. He's simultaneously the film's emotional gravitas, action hero, and comic relief. Wikus is ultimately a character who, despite winning the affection of the audience, is not entirely likeable, which makes him very real indeed.
With Weta being involved, it's needless to say that the effects are amazing, but it certainly helps that you have a director with a background in special effects who knows how to set up a shot in order to get the most bang for buck. It is in the aliens themselves where this expert utilization of modern visual effects is most striking. These aliens aren't Star Trek's humans with scant prosthetics; District 9's "prawns" are possibly the most alien looking aliens ever put on film. The fact that these inhuman monsters become truly emotionally captivating speaks well of the director's ability to manipulate the viewer's emotion and steer it in the direction of his choice. It also validates the film's underlying message that, due to mankind's inherent flaws, even creatures such as these can be more human than humans themselves.
Despite following an inflexible application of Joseph Campbell's monomyth, the story kept me guessing until the end. I'm not sure if the ambiguous ending is purely to leave room for a sequel, or if it is meant to engage contemplation in the viewer, but it does both. Long after the credits rolled I found myself thinking about the questions that the film raised, and that is a trait which elevates a good science-fiction film into a great one.
Number of F-bombs: 137.