District 9: More Independence Day than Cry Freedom

September 14, 2009

Clapperboard Maybe my expectations were too high. Everyone has been talking about District 9 and its hard-hitting allegorical commentary about the horrors of apartheid, but I found it hard to take seriously.

For the first 20  minutes or so, I was asking myself if it was supposed to be a parody.  I was eventually able to engage with it, and it’s not as if I was checking my watch every 5 minutes, but at the end I was left scratching my head, trying to work out if the film was any good or not.

There are some criticisms that I feel sure are fair to hurl at it.  The first is aimed at the assortment of cardboard cut-out villains.  They do not belong in any “serious” film. The second is the rather hackneyed redemption storyline.  The third is the fundamental lack of credibility of key elements of the story line.  Would a vast organisation like MNU really attempt to evict 1.8 million individuals in a walled-off slum by sending in the project leader with a small back-up team to deliver eviction notices personally? Hardly up to the scale of the operation unless MNU planned to take centuries over the project.

But most of all, the film lacked any real gravitas.  It was violent but not gritty.  It supposedly had pretensions of depth, using the sci-fi medium to explore the dark nature of apartheid, but ultimately it did not tell us anything new on that score.  The apartheid construct was little more than an excuse for some violent action scenes.  Ultimately, it was a lot closer in depth to Independence Day than Cry Freedom.

So I don’t buy the notion that District 9 was anything more than a workaday sci-fi action film, so that’s how it should be judged.  And on that basis there are quite a few positives, not least the excellent graphics work on the aliens themselves and their squalid habitat. The action sequences involving the robot gun-suit were well put together, but that idea has been used before in a number of films, such as the “loaders” in Aliens.

Anything good to say on the acting and characterisation front?  Hardly.  All the characters are wooden stereotypes or subtitled croaking aliens, apart from Sharlto Copley as the central character, Wikus van der Merwe, who is deliberately portrayed as a sweet-natured oaf, promoted way out of his depth.  He pulls off the character very well, but while it is refreshing to have such an unlikely kind of hero, it does nothing to help with suspension of disbelief.

Final conclusion, then.  It was entertaining enough and different enough to be worth going to see.  But it does not remotely begin to merit the hype.

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  1. I believe the plot lacked depth. Just like you I was also having high expectations from the movie after seeing it high on Twitter Trends’ list for many day. In the end it was only a little more than your average alien movie. Maybe the sequel would have something better in store.

    • Thanks, Mridul. Glad to know I’m not the only person who thought that.

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