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Internet fueled, knee jerk adoration has already bestowed the term ‘instant sci-fi classic’ on “District 9.”  It has a 9.0 on IMDB and is ranking in the best 100 movies ever.  Dear god.  This kind of quick decision to knight a film has been getting worse in subsequent years as science fiction films of merit are few and far between.  Already this year numerous writers jumped at the chance to shine their approving light on the exceedingly marginal film “Moon.”  “District 9” is in fact a film with a bold idea at its center and a young, determined director, Neil Blomkamp, behind the lens, but like so many films before it, “District 9” starts strong, builds up a head of steam and then lets its lesser instincts get the best of it.  It becomes too much B-movie action enthusiam at the expense of it’s inherently high-minded science fiction core.

We all know the set-up at this point.  Alien visitors, something like 7 ft. tall grasshoppers with mandible moustaches, land in South Africa, their ship hovering ominously over the city of Johannesburg, and quickly become a permanent underclass living in a military controlled slum.  Their effect sparks intolerance among the citizens, demands for their removal are made, and a relocation program away from the city is initiated.  This program is handed off to clueless, affable and enthusiastic bureaucrat, Wilkus Van De Mewre, played decently enough by new comer Sharlto Copely.  When Wilkus and his military patrols head into the district, they find a slum where many secrets are being kept by beings on both sides of the fence.

This robust, apartheid, inspired idea is the kind of political allegory the best kinds of sci-fi films love to exploit.  Blomkamp gives everything an unrelenting grimness, not wishing in the least to sugarcoat this story of undeserved subjugation.  The slums of District 9 are more realized and effective a setting as anything an all CGI world could create.  It’s around this time that Blomkamp’s film starts to take its initial missteps.  While trying to generate some sense of sympathy for these destitute alien creatures, which is rather unsuccessful, Blomkamp launches into a plot involving Wilkus being infected by alien glop which begins a slow Goldblumesque metamorphoses of his body.  No longer about the trials and tribulations of an alien race living in our backyard, “D9” becomes about a close minded bureaucrat trying to save his skin first, and a race of homeless aliens living amongst us second.  It all feels like a strange descendent of the ‘Crusading White Man’ movie where a noble, open minded white guy, usually a lawyer, rails against the injustice being delivered upon a minority while the minority in question plays the part of passive observer in their own story.  In line with this syndrome, only one alien, humorously called Christopher Johnson, is given any sense of presence or depth.  He’s one of the stronger all CGI creatures to grace a screen and his presence helps keep the film going.

The second and equally damning setback to “District 9” is its increasingly steady reliance on explosive gore.  Alien weapons make a gooey mess of whatever they shoot at, imagine sticking an M80 in a tomato, and this over the top effect begins to dominate the movie.  At first it’s humorous in a cartoonish way which makes the Monty Python fan in us giggle ever so slightly, as if Blomkamp and his team saw that fat man explodes skit one too many times.  But it never lets up and slowly but surely “D9” falls into a tired pattern of guns and blood.  He starts playing to the cheap seats and it brings his movie down to a level it shouldn’t be at.  Ideas and emotions slowly evaporate and we wind up in a well made but ultimately dispiriting action film about people and things being blown to pieces.  It was as if the viewer was transported back to seeing Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto.”  It too being another strong film rooted in political allegory which grew tiresome with each subsequent beheading and impaling.  The script also fails to explain certain things involving the climax.  Since I’m not into spoiling things for people, I’ll simply say, “That’s all they had to do?”

While knocking around this movie I still want to advocate it in some way.  It’s a strong first feature from a director with a lot of promise.   The low budget, CGI effects are top notch and far more convincing and creative than many from some of this summers billion dollar extravaganzas.  Also, Blomkamp mercifully does not subscribe to the hyperactive action gods.  His action scenes are well coordinated, efficient and easy to follow; I simply wish they had been deployed in a movie with less intellectual and emotional potential.  The seeds to continue the story are here and even though I felt disappointed in this outing, I would still consider seeing a follow up should it materialize.


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