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District 9

Human beings like making up rules for things, and quite often this a good thing. Driving a car is much safer if everyone sticks to the agreed upon rules, and games like chess are pretty rubbish without any sort of system1. But sometimes we make stupid, arbitrary rules that make no sense, such as “You can’t have an intelligent sci-fi movie that is also action filled and fun”. Typically, this is an excuse to justify some rubbish blockbuster, but it is complete nonsense and I can prove it. Take, for example, District 9.2

District 9 is one of those sci-fi movies that uses fantastic elements to comment on real world issues. An alien spaceship becomes stranded on Earth, specifically Johannesburg in South Africa. The aliens are taken off the ship, and put into slums and ghettoes. The responsibility is palmed off to a third-party, corporate interest and mankind does its best to exploit the wealth of technology that has landed on their doorstep whilst trying to ignore the now stranded aliens, pretty much leaving them to rot.

The look and feel of the movie evokes a believable, news report style feel to it all

Sounds preachy? It’s not. It’s a rip-roaring sci-fi action movie, which uses documentary-footage as interesting framework. The story is told from multiple perspectives, and over time makes us understand actions of everyone involved, even those we aren’t going to particularly like.3

Comparisons to 1988 movie Alien Nation, which begins with a similar sort of set-up, may seem a bit inevitable, but the two movies couldn’t be any more different. Alien Nation is a buddy/cop movie that owes more to the likes of 48 hours and Red Heat than it does to any sort of serious look at race relations; it’s ultimate message is an optimistic and happy one from the start, whereas District 9 is a much darker, more gritty view of the world. It assumes that mankind is venal, selfish, lazy and easily repulsed by things it doesn’t understand, though also capable of being something much better. This isn’t a feel good movie, but it is honest, and by being blunt, becomes more real than any slow moving, lecture driven, overly-worthy sci-fi drama ever could be.

District 9 is smart sci-fi in which big things go boom and weird stuff happens. It’s also thought provoking, clever and brilliantly executed, and well worth your time.

1: I mean after you balanced the King on your head and stuck a pawn up your nose. After you’ve done that, the entertainment value has pretty much gone.
2: Apparently, this project came about because a feature based on the video game Halo fell through. Now, that could have simply been another silly blockbuster, but we could have had something that changed the rules on franchise movies. Ah well.
3: It’s easy to make us care about the lead character and the various aliens in the story. But there’s even a point where we feel a pang of sympathy for the villains of the piece. Like many stories about the alien on the doorstep, District 9 is a tale about being human.

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