Friday, August 21, 2009

On District 9

Back when the term “Science Fiction” meant little more to most people than little green men in flying saucers, robots and ray guns messages could have easily been misconstrued or, more likely, completely missed. Stuff like “Godzilla” representing the man made evils of atomic power, like “THEM” and “The Blob” representing the invading forces of the “Red Menace” or like “The Terminator” and the Hal 9000 representing our technology outpacing our own ability to remain the master of said technology. Those were the days when “Science Fiction” was definable; the days when you knew what you were getting into when you bought your ticket at the movies. I am a believer that the term “Science Fiction” is no longer applicable. It has reached its expiration date. It should be something like Soon to be Realized Fiction. There is no such thing as Science Fiction anymore. If you don’t believe me pick up a newspaper (do they still print those?), flip on the news, or listen to what corporate America is selling you in any venue they can. The future is here. Any speculative fiction these days is exactly that, speculative fiction; or rather, just fiction.

Before my wife and I snuck away to see “District 9” this afternoon I was horsing around on Twitter. I clicked over to see what John Favreau (director of "Iron Man") had to say on the topic. He had Tweeted that the movie was “Kafka meets Cloverfield”. After seeing the film this afternoon I am hard pressed to find a more succinct description. Please note, Gentle Reader, there will be some major spoilers ahead so if you wish to remain pure then stop right here and go to the theater to support this film. Be warned it is not a “feel good” summer movie. Still, go; the allegory and story are worth the trip. BTW I hear that theaters are air conditioned these days! See you next time.

Still here? Good. About a year and a half ago I heard rumors about a possible “HALO” movie with Peter Jackson producing and, at the time, he was marketing around Mr. Neill Blomcamp as director. Not much was known about Mr. Blomcamp but Peter Jackson? After making some pretty amazing genre related films he brought “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy to the big screen in jaw dropping Oscar sweeping fashion – suffice to say, Mr. Jackson’s got Geek Credibility. The major studios, SONY especially, were almost interested. Jackson invested time, energy and money into developing this “HALO” movie and, at the end of the day, SONY said “no thank you”. Now I am just guessing here since no matter how hard I try to meet Mr. Jackson for an interview or autograph, those restraining orders are still quite legal. Anyway, I believe that Blomcamp and Jackson had some great WETA Workshop stuff already completed for the Arbiter character from the HALO series because the aliens from “District 9” are his splitting image. Whatever the case the alien’s work; speaking of working the film works on several levels since this is one of those stories that holds a mirror up to just who we truly are as a people and a global society. And that reflection is scary.

In the world of this film aliens have been zoned to live in a barbed wire and walled shanty town know as “District 9”. There is not a human character in this movie save for the lead (adeptly portrayed by Sharlto Copley) who by no means other than accidentally, falls into a set of circumstances where he is quickly becoming the thing that he hates and the human you begin to hope for. It is a fascist world where humans keep the aliens “contained” thought brute force and cruelty. The most noble character is an alien who wants to save his people by returning to the mother ship (and ultimately his home world) that has been hovering above Johannesburg South Africa for the last twenty years. The unlikely pairing of the MNU bureaucrat and an alien is the only glimpse of the noblest qualities that we aspire to has a species. There are no degrees of evil here. There are no clich├ęd evil verses less evil factions in this film. The African warlords in “District 9” are no worse than the MNU (Multi National United) army – the multi national force that is “legally” in control of the aliens. The real monsters here are all too human. Whether it is destroying alien eggs to control population, medical & genetic experimentation on the aliens or just target practice the startling lack of “humanity” is all too… real. If this particular set of circumstances were actually play out, sadly, this is how it would happen. “District 9” is not your typical summer excursion at the movies. It holds a mirror up to just who we truly are. I would hope that when the aliens do return for their brethren that they are as forgiving as we aspire to be.

As I have said, this is not a “feel good movie”. Favreau was right, “Kafka meets Cloverfield” pretty much sums it up. May God and the returning aliens have mercy on our souls.

“District 9” is worth your time.

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