Thursday, August 27, 2009

District Nine

I love movies and science fiction. In part I love them because they can transport me far away from things that I would rather not think about. So I was delighted when my daughter offered the prospect of a science fiction movie, District Nine.

The plot has some interesting developments, so I cannot talk as much about it as I might like--forgive the circumlocutions.

First, overall it is vaguely reminiscent of Alien Nation--which I liked both as a movie and as the TV series. It suffered, as so many of the adaptations of science fiction to visual media do, from a kind of dumbing down or over explanation of familiar themes. Despite that I liked it, so I welcomed the comparison of District Nine to Alien Nation.

I think District Nine had enough special effects--some of which I actually liked although that is never my particular interest in a movie--to appeal to wide audience. Even those who are not familiar with Alien Nation, which, as my daughter pointed out, was brought out quite some time ago now, can enjoy the tension of aliens more powerful than humans held captive by them. Special effects also included some elements a la Alien and Terminator. Certainly not enough to be derivative, more like a continuation of basic elements of the genre or an homage to those films.

For me, as always, the movie has to have characters that I care about--even the bad guys have to be well drawn enough that I can believe in them. Paramount, though, has to be the story. I need to be drawn into a story, and District Nine did that for me.

One of the virtues of science fiction is that it can more effectively describe very human situations by translating human interactions into creature-human interactions. And this film offers plenty of opportunities for those comparisons. Set in Johannesburg, it also offers the obvious comparison to a new form of apartheid as aliens are set apart in restricted compounds and their behavior is described in stereotypical, quasi enlightened management speak.

The strength of the movie for me as narrative is that the characters grow in plausible but unexpected ways. It seemed like the movie was conceived at least in part as a trailer for a TV series or the first of several films. I would like to see this happen because I want to know more about what happens with the characters--another sign of a good movie.


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