Aliens - out!
Good science fiction is hard to find. Inevitably, what is supposed to be a feverish mix of paranoia and imagination (or, as author Neil Stephenson memorably put it, ‘idea porn’) will get bogged down into actioners with fancier weaponry, gadgets and inhabitants. It is true that franchises such as Transformers and Alien vs. Predator are not representative of classic sci-fi but sadly, they are too ubiquitous to ignore, and the non-initiates who scoff at the entire genre as a consequence of their popularity can hardly be blamed.
For all its outward freshness (the film employs a Cloverfield-like use of the shaky cam, exacerbated further by the ‘documentary’ snippets which frame it), District 9 is very much a sci-fi geek’s film, employing a patchwork of sources from various classics in the genre with glee. That said, its pitch is refreshingly mature and the concept is woven away with genuine care. The fact that it operates outside the Hollywood rat race may have something to do with it. The film is ‘presented’ by Peter Jackson (just as Tarantino has helped to cheerlead many a struggling production in the past), and, as he acts as producer, his stamp is felt throughout. It is the mark of a filmmaker who is in love with a genre and wants it to do great things, while channelling his many obsessions into a compact-if-baroque frame. And if one could criticise District 9 on any point, it would have to be its ambitious structure. Clocking in at two hours and cramming in enough political subtext and action to fill out a trilogy, it feels as if it could spiral out of control at any point. But let’s be honest: I’d rather have a messy piece of genius than a polished piece of crap. Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell’s screenplay wrings the heartstrings with wrenching gusto: we see the evolution of Wikus the insufferable bureaucrat into a chequered but still impressive action hero, and his plight keeps the suspense pumping. The humane factor is helped, not hindered by WETA’s ingeniously transparent effects work. Having proven their mettle on the Lord of the Rings saga, they blend the alien and human surroundings, helping to push the concept into that coveted area of documentary-like verisimilitude. The visual aspect is crucial, as even the slightest misstep can prove deadly to a film like this, whose high-concept can easily make the film feel a bit top heavy. But while its flaws (two-dimensional villains, slightly heavy-handed message) can hardly be forgotten, the fact is that Blomkamp has crafted a world from scratch, one that will not let you gasp for air until the very last coda.