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Jay Lake
Date: 2009-09-07 16:00
Subject: [movies] A bit more on District 9, which I highly recommend
Security: Public
Tags:calendula, movies, reviews
Saturday, calendula_witch and I went to see District 9. It was engaging, entertaining, thought provoking and hyperviolent. It was also my favorite SF film of recent times, possibly years.

Most of my observations on the movie would echo this excellent review by Howard Waldrop and Lawrence Person, so I'm just going to link through rather than largely repeating what they said.

Beyond their comments, I want to focus on a few things. First, District 9 tapped deep into my 'suspension of disbelief' vein. Not many movies do that to me any more. My internal editor is always on, always analyzing story, structure, technique, continuity, dialog; whether I'm reading a book, watching a movie, or, in many cases, simply experiencing real life. I suspect part of this was the pseudodocumentary format, which was incredibly well-effected, at least to my taste, and blended smoothly into the direct action scenes as the movie progressed. That alone is a huge win for me as a viewer. Obviously, this criterion is idiosyncratic, in that I can't know whether your viewing process is analogous to mine, but basically, I'm a picky mofo, and this movie disarmed my picky.

Second, as calendula_witch said, it was great to see an alien invasion movie that picked up years after the fact. Everyone's long since gotten so used to the starship overhead that it's just landscape. (Which, on sober reflection, is a huge plot hole, but I'll let Howard and Lawrence's analysis address that — it worked for both us as we watched the film.) This is science fiction embedded in contemporary history, a conceit which the pseudocumentary format played directly in to. There was a level of believability to it that was far more natural than most SF films can engage.

Third, the character arcs impressed me considerably. In the early stages of the film, the human characters are presented as, if not sympathetic, at least comprehensible, while the aliens are little better than random monsters. By the end of the film, the aliens have been humanized in some very touching ways, while the humans have become monstrous, fusing the banality of evil with stereotypical corporate greed. That reversal was accomplished so smoothly that I didn't understand it until later reflection.

Finally, I'm not sure this film could have been made outside South Africa. As others have pointed out, District 9 is very self-consciously a fable of apartheid. For me, that worked well; for some viewers, it's intrusive to the point of complete distraction. As the case may be, the origins of this film lend an authenticity to the subject matter which I found fascinating.

Is there a lot to complain about? Sure. Could this have been a better movie? Absolutely. Was I completely taken in by the movie I saw? More than, and for that reason alone, I highly recommend it.

Originally published at jlake.com.

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User: madrobins
Date: 2009-09-08 00:45 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
One other comment: the CGI was so good that within a few minutes I didn't notice it. The aliens were just...aliens, and watching the effects didn't get in the way of the film for me.
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User: biomekanic
Date: 2009-09-08 03:51 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Same here with the CGI. This is the first movie that I can think of where the CGI wasn't apparent to me.
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Renegade Vagabond
User: khaybee
Date: 2009-09-08 01:01 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
My experience was so very different. I am usually able to suspend disbelief for nearly anything, but to try to believe that a corp that would do to the lead human what they did and would not have done that to the aliens they were torturing was so far from believable and so central to the plot that the entire thing was spoiled.

I also never had the feeling that the aliens were "humanised". It just felt like they inexplicably changed from the randomly urinating, arsonistic idiots to something else for no apparent reason and without explanation.
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Peter Hollo
User: frogworth
Date: 2009-09-08 07:26 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
There's a really fascinating South African perspective in this review, which I really think is worth a read.
Found via Lauren Beukes, a South African author whose Moxyland is one of the best books I've read this year...

I'm seeing District 9 tonight, so I'll be interested to see what I make of it.
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