No Plot Spoilers
DISTRICT 9 isn’t an awful film. It’s also not a very good film. And it’s certainly not good science fiction. At least not in terms of intelligent, thought-provoking science fiction. By the same token, the film’s not stupid either. Just slight.
What starts out as an interesting premise only delivers, ultimately, on its action ingredients. The social commentary introduced in the beginning passages of the film are easily pushed aside for the bulk of the journey and never really explored except in the most basic, predictable ways. Unlike the best sci-fi (or even an average episode of STAR TREK), which would use the genre to explore relevant social themes, DISTRICT 9 mysteriously abandons those themes immediately after introducing them. DISTRICT 9 is more interested in its adrenaline content than its socio-economic content. But that doesn’t stop the film from being entertaining. It’s just not all that satisfying as good sci-fi. It would, however, make a great video game. Which is essentially what this is.
One of the biggest detractors for me in my ability to be absorbed into the world of DISTRICT 9 was its grossly under-developed lead character. A buffoon from the word go, this fellow eventually exhibits some predictable changes, but the cartoonish elements of his introduction within the film’s documentary-style opening puts this movie in a world that, sadly, never reaches the wonderfully satirical elements of ROBOCOP or STARSHIP TROOPERS, nor does it ever manage to feel authentic enough to be as exciting or as frightening as ALIENS; all films which the makers of this movie clearly borrowed from and, one would guess, greatly admire. Now I don’t mean to suggest that DISTRICT 9 should be more like other films. I truly love a movie that cannot easily be described or placed snugly in any one genre. It’s just that this film falls somewhere in the grey area between those above-mentioned films and, as a result, feels grossly under-realized. At least that’s the opinion of this viewer. And that’s all I can really speak to at the end of the day.
All this said, one positive element in DISTRICT 9’s favor is that it’s an action film with good effects that’s not based on a pre-marketable concept like TRANSFORMERS (though DISTRICT does have elements of that film, too!) and that was made on what would be considered a “modest” budget indeed by today’s standards ($30 million). And it stars a cast of unknowns (at least here in the States) and that also bodes in its favor. Especially given its extreme success both commercially and critically. And I am happy to see a science fiction/action film with a socially conscious and unusual setting. For once we’re not in a major American or European city. It may be a sign that some filmmakers are heading in the right direction. We’re just not there yet. Maybe this film can be one of the bridges to good films to come.
But for the moment, the film we’re discussing here left me bored by its conclusion. By a quarter of the way through, I had already let go of my hopes that this film was going to be one of those rare animals that is both extremely smart, well-written AND popular. But that was okay, I told myself, cause I was still enjoying the action. Even though I really didn’t care about any of the characters because they were under-developed cartoons. But I was committed to enjoying myself and, since I paid my money, I was intent on getting its full worth. But even at the bargain price of a matinee, I ended up feeling like I would rather have just rented it on Blu-ray.
So why does everybody love this film so much? Well, all I can attribute it to is the simple fact that we’ve been fed so many tasteless stories, so many lazy-to-bad screenplays, so much mindless action and effects with nothing at all of value behind it that, when something comes along which manages to poke its head even a hair above that, we start to salivate. And when that happens, well… we’re just happy to consume anything that has a little flavor. Even if its aftertaste doesn’t linger for very long.
For more thoughts on this subject, take a look at my recent post Cinema Of The Infantile: Welcome To The New Millenium.