This Space Ship Doesn't Fly
Here is yet another perfect example of what should have been a really interesting concept as a baseline for a great sci-fi movie. Instead we get a story that initially hooks you but then loses focus and eventually drifts off into absurdity. The tip off should have been the fact that to gain any traction, this movie had to have Peter Jackson’s name attached to it (as producer); because most of us have never heard of anyone else in this film.
WETA studios (provider of the outstanding effects for the ‘Lord Of The Rings’ trilogy) provides the special effects, but with mixed results. While the alien craft and other devices are presented in good detail, the real star of this movie has to be the rendering of the alien creatures themselves. Unfortunately, the film neglects to make full use of this as not all of the features/characteristics of these beings are ever explored. Other effects, such as the alien weapons, are a bit over the top, inflicting hits that turn targets into water balloons – only a lot messier.
Director Niell Blomkamp had chosen to start off the film with a documentary format, but halfway through the move he has to switch gears and revert to a more standard mode and drops all pretense of that angle – but again switches back when the story allows. The results are a bit convoluted and confusing. The film jumps right in with a background primer on how a huge alien space ship came to a stop several hundred feet above Johannesburg, South Africa, and we’re told that for 3 months it sat there doing absolutely nothing. At that point it was decided to launch an exploration mission to get inside the craft. Once inside, investigators find a large group of aliens huddling inside and in poor condition. A decision is made to off-load them and they are quartered in an area designated as ‘District 9’.
From this point the movie goes on to draw parallels with greed, exploitation, stereotyping, cultural dominance, prejudice, and population control – all very weighty subjects to be sure. However, in ‘District 9’ all we get is some broad brush strokes, and no real substance on any of these topics. You could easily compare the aliens with any oppressed race/culture that has ever existed in our society; unfortunately the film takes none of these moral topics anywhere. The film also falls into its own trap by presenting us with standard cookie-cutter characters like the bad-ass military leader who believes in shooting first and asking questions later, to the shady Operations chief with his own hidden agendas and a total lack of scruples.
‘District 9’ reminded me a bit of ‘Cloverfield’ (camera work) and also ‘The Fly’ (mutation as a subject), but doesn’t rank nearly as high as either of those IMHO. Were it not for some huge plot holes (that you could practically fly a spaceship through) and the mixed format, I might have enjoyed this a bit more. The film did set itself up perfectly for a sequel, and current box-office buzz may promote interest in churning one out, but here’s hoping that it never gets off the ground.