People Tell Me I Look Like Han Solo.
Monday, August 17, 2009
  District 9. Oh my god.


I've had this problem with hyperbole for a very long time, and it sort of gave me pause when I first started this blog. See, when I love a movie, I really love it, and that means I sometimes make big statements that I later have to climb down from. In this very space just a few weeks ago, I declared The Hurt Locker the best movie of the summer (though, to be fair, I did add the caveat in my review that it wasn’t really a summer movie in the traditional sense, like, say, Star Trek or Transformers, movies that would seem weird getting released in February or March, but rather a “real movie” that just happened to come out in the summer...but I’m digressing), and now, after having finally seen District 9 – which regular readers were probably starting to get sick of me getting worked up about – I have to eat some crow.

District 9 is amazing. It’s easily the best movie I’ve seen this summer, and a lock for my year-end best-of list. Despite my rabid excitement going into the movie, I didn’t really know what to expect (as opposed to Watchmen, another film on my best-of-the-year shortlist, but I was a devoted fan of the book so aside from the acting and some of director Zack Snyder’s choices, I had a pretty good idea of what the movie had in store for me), and Sweet Fancy Moses was I blown away. No joke, I spent probably about 30%-40% of District 9’s running time with my mouth hanging open.

I’m a science fiction fan, and District 9 is one of the best sci-fi films I’ve seen in years. Like the best of the genre, it uses its fantastic conceit – it’s set in 2010 Johannesburg, 20-plus years after an alien mothership filled with sickly refugees appeared over the city, and in the ensuing decades a fenced-in slum for the alien “prawns” has been created, much to the chagrin of Johannesburg’s human denizens – to make a statement about human nature and society. Director/co-writer Neill Blomkamp grew up in South Africa under the apartheid regime, but District 9’s allegory can be applied to countless similar situations and regimes across the world over the years. District 9 is real sci-fi; it’s not just a fantasy adventure with rayguns and aliens, it’s about something.

Which brings me to the main thing about District 9 that I hadn’t been expecting: it’s the best damn action movie I’ve seen in recent memory. This is a movie that cost somewhere in the vicinity of $30 million (almost literally a tenth of what a major studio will spend on a “tentpole” franchise film once the promotional and marketing costs are factored in), and the climactic sequence is some of the most incredible action I’ve seen this year. Blomkamp is going to be a big deal. He was formerly attached to direct the adaptation of the massive game franchise Halo with D9 producer Peter Jackson up until the ballooning budget caused the studios that were co-funding it to effectively kill the project, and that’s a damn shame. I’m positive it would have been the first genuinely great video game movie, and it’ll go down as one of the coolest movies never made.

There’s one last thing I have to mention about District 9 (aside from the special effects – by WETA, the guys who did The Lord of the Rings movies – which are among the best I’ve seen; there’s no practical alien effects in this movie at all, and I still sort of can’t believe that) and that’s Sharlto Copley as the main character, Wikus Van De Merwe. I can’t discuss too much of what he does lest I give anything away, but this guy’s gonna be a star. Wikus’ transformation from a dorky bureaucrat to a heartbreaking action hero is some of the best acting I’ve seen since The Hurt Locker. Which sounds like I’m damning him with faint praise, as I just saw that movie a few weeks ago, but that was some of the best acting I’ve seen all year.

District 9 is an amazing piece of cinema, and I can’t wait to see it again.

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