Sunday, 13 September 2009

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - District 9

Often lazily referred to by people as this year's Cloverfield, the phrase is nonetheless appropriate in many ways. Both are science-fiction films, both are directed by first-time directors in a documentary-esque manner, the films are produced by far more famous producers, J.J Abrams and Peter Jackson respectively. However, where Cloverfield was a romping adrenaline rush of a film, this here is a completely different beast. While Cloverfield exists really as an exciting entertainment film, this is far more dense and deep than last year's mystery film. The story goes that in Johannesburg in 1982, an alien ship suddenly appears and does not move, and the aliens inside must be kept somewhere, so a camp is built for them in order to keep them housed. The film is presented in a rather unique manner. In contrast to the much overly-used at times recent style in which films are shot with a digital camera in a documentary style, for while this is used for numerous scenes, it is also presented in digital film, faux interviews and faux documentaries, so as to create a story which is as grounded in reality as it possibly can be. Which is really what set's this movie apart from the rest of these films. While most attempt to ground their films in reality, they really more or less disconnect their audience from the action, whereas with this you completely involved. To start with the good of this film, of which there is a lot, I was greatly impressed by Sharlto Copley as Wikus van der Merwe. In what truthfully could have been a nothing role and merely an excuse for an effects movie to exist, Copley completely grasps this role with both hands reached out, giving a role that both surprised and impressed me with it's multi-facetedness. Copley improvises all of his dialogue during the eviction sequence, a sequence which is key to setting up the hypocrisies and three-dimensional portions of his character. Also, he is genuinely well written as a character otherwise, with his journey throughout the film giving him a rather interesting character arc, which sees him transform as a human being throughout the course of the film. Also, Neill Blomkamp does a brilliant job of directing this piece, especially as a first-time director. This is a project that even Peter Jackson, the film's producer would have found challenging, but Blomkamp makes the film's direction and focus seem so relaxed throughout. Another thing that is pulled off brilliantly here which done very rarely these days is that this is quite clearly a science-fiction as much about humans as it is aliens. The film's depiction of the suffering of the aliens is quite clearly a social commentary on slavery, with the way that the unwitting aliens are locked up and isolated and on xenophobia and racism in the way that the human's treat and exploit the aliens, such as the slang name "prawn" being used to refer to them as a result of their resemblance to the food. Also, not only is it a social commentary, a good one at that, it is a very scathing satire of capitalism, the arms trade and the security forces of America in general. This fits with the argument very much that only foreign directors can make satires on America, such as Robocop by Paul Verhoeven being the prime example. Finally with regards to the themes, it is also as much about human nature as anything else. The film suggests to the viewer, is it really humans who are corrupt, or are they corrupted by the world around them? It is questions like this which really challenged the viewer. Also, one thing that must be talked about and must be noted by producers, particularly in our current economic climate. Transformer 2: Revenge of the Fallen was made for a grand budget of $200 million as one of the most expensive films ever made. If anything, the visual effects in this are as good, if not better, and let's face it, guess which is the better movie. District 9 was made for a budget of $30 million small by Hollywood standards, yet the effects and action sequences hit with the panache of a movie of five times this budget. The production of this film is stellar on the part of Jackson, and he deserves commendation for producing a Hollywood blockbuster of a film at it's best and keeping the film relatively low-budget by Hollywood standards. This film and Cloverfield stand as proof that you can make damn good Hollywood blockbusters for lower budgets and beat at their own game by making damn good films full stop. Producers should be released ten of these films a year intead of bloated messes like the Transformers franchise. If you want to look at it selfishly and financially, The Transformers films were made for a budget $350 million together. Together they made over $1.5 billion. While District 9 is still is the cinema, with it's current $120 million gross, I think it will leave with $140 million at an estimate. If you made ten District 9's for $30 millions, estimated gross would be $1.4 billion. Oops, I'm sorry, the Wombles (my word for moguls, coincidentally, is quite like muggles) are down $100 million. Don't worry, because you've still got $50 million left, you can make another one, just to be sure. It's that easy. And, I forgot to add, with the $20 million left over you can make some really good low-budget films. Overally revenue at rough estimate: $1.8 billion. With money like that, I could fund my entire film career for life and have about nine tenths of it left over! Anyway, excuse the way off topic digression, we'll get back to District 9. Unfortunately we have come to that stage where I must point out the film's issues, of which there are few but halt the film's acension to the higher echelons of science-fiction. At 112 minutes, the films around twenty minutes too long, and a shorter film would certainly have made the themes which the film-makers are trying to get across come more to the forefront. Also, while the action sequences certainly are very impressive, they at times lack effectiveness and can be quite numbing, disconnecting us from the reality that the film is quite clearly entrenched, the best action sequence being between Wikus, the alien Christopher Johnson and the MNU operatives on their attack on the building. Also, at times the script is rather troubling, particularly as the film gets on, suffering from the old syndrome in science-fiction of such a strong film throughout hitting a real dead end. You just feel that while it is entertaining, the film really has just given up and decided to revert to the primitive excuses resorted to by the likes of Michael Bay and Tony Scott. Is it a masterpiece? No it is not, but it is certainly a great film, a genuine suprise and a real pleasure to watch, proving that 2009 might well be the year of the re-emergence of serious science-fiction with Moon also heading up that category. All and all, a good, solid film that really touches all bases (no connotations please) in the variety of film audience member's categories.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.6/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Pleased

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