August 23rd, 2009


Jo'berg's In Trouble

More Cold In West Michigan

High today was in the 60s and it rained on and off all day. Lots of low clouds scudding along, followed by brief openings and sunshine. It seemed a very sleepy day. But we'd planned on movie and a dinner at a Thai place, so we had to figure out which of two movies to see today. Unfortunately, despite three multiplexes in range of our dinner objective, they all pretty much had the same, somewhat inconvenient times.

So we settled on...

District 9 [R]
Celebration Cinema North #13, 4pm, $7

I'd seen two trailers of this Peter Jackson produced film, but stayed away from a lot of the speculation on the net. Much as I hate to compare SF movies all the time, the simplest explanation is Alien Nation with prawns instead of people with latex heads. With a worrying threat of an Independence Day attack in the background. And the action is in Johannesburg, South Africa, not Los Angeles CA. And like Alien Nation, the aliens can't go home in their ship. And they appear to be workers, not the brains behind the operations. Unlike Alien Nation, the aliens are not long allowed to roam free.

Part of the story is told documentary style. We're introduced to this guy who has gotten this great new promotion to handle the eviction of a million-plus aliens from District 9 to a new camp. At first he seems to be an affable idiot -- Alien Nation meets The Office? But this is South Africa and what comes out of his mouth seems more and more twisted. This cannot end well, we know from the start.

Problems: Others have noted the themes of apartheid being replayed here. One side note is that both South African whites and blacks wish the aliens, derogatorily called prawns, would just go away. They despise the aliens and treat them badly. But then there are the Nigerians. I couldn't figure out why the Nigerians were there, other than as opportunists and criminals. Mrs. Dr. Phil thought that they helped serve notice to outsiders, i.e. us, that Africa isn't one homogeneous country. I'm concerned that it was a way to have trashy blacks without being mean to South African blacks. As for the treatment of the aliens, well, suffice it to say one doesn't have to be nice to anything that's so obviously not human.

Those who are less familiar with South Africa might think that MNU is an allusion to, say, Blackwater. But South Africa has a long history of military armaments and mercenaries, so I think MNU is home grown. Putting them in charge is so wrong, it only works because it helps drive the plot.

This is not a pretty film -- in fact it's pretty violent and bloody. And there's a series of Brundlefly moments which made Mrs. Dr. Phil squirm.

Now... you might think that I hate this film, but in fact it's pretty amazing. The aliens are obviously CGI work, but they are integrated in so seamlessly that the images on the screen are never unbelievable.

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While I worry that some of the problems with the film will go right over the heads of too many casual audience members, this dystopian view of a First Contact gone horribly, stupidly wrong is one of the better SF films in recent years. But, as I think it was on the LocusOnline review -- please don't do the sequel. I don't know who I'd root for.

Highly Recommended

Trailers: Tim Burton's 9 isn't a kids film -- looks interesting. Zombieworld is, well, full of zombies. Not sure where it'll go. And after making sure I didn't see anything on the Internet, I finally saw my first preview for James Cameron's Avatar. Have no idea yet what the actual plot is about but it looks fantastic. Opens December 18th.

I guess the Fall won't be a total lose for films. (grin)

Dr. Phil