District 9 came out to the theaters shortly after I lost my job, so I decided that I would treat myself and see it in the theater. This turned out to be a good move because it was a really good movie visually and something would have been lost seeing it at home on TV or even in the low-rent theater where I see most of my theaters.
The movie was entertaining throughout, which I guess is mostly what you’re looking for. It was also well-paced. That’s about all I can really say about it. Beyond that, it was pretty disappointing. Not because the movie wasn’t good, but rather because it wasn’t the movie that I wanted to see. I can’t put the blame entirely on myself for this, because it either made the claim (or had the claim made on its behalf) that it was the kind of movie that I wanted to see: something thought-provoking, allegorical, and even insightful.
Instead, it was mostly just a movie about a guy being hunted by an evil, multi-national corporation. It was sort of like how I felt after watching X-Men. A movie that was supposed to transcend the superhero genre turned out instead to be a movie about a deathray (of sorts) emanating from the Statue of Liberty. The joke Wolverine made about wearing a yellow costume rang hollow because, given the plot of the movie, he might as well have been wearing a yellow costume. Or at least a costume of some sort that draws it in tighter with the comic book. The problem is that X-Men couldn’t decide which sort of movie it wanted to be, tried to be both, and had me coming out feeling disappointed.
Likewise for District 9. The aliens as apartheid South Africans was a fascinating concept, but it was almost entirely relegated to the backdrop. The movie did not tell us anything interesting about the Apartheid. The villains were so dastardly that we really could not see ourselves in them, which is one of the things you want to do if you’re wanting us to question our allegiance to social justice and liberty and all that. For instance, it doesn’t really challenge our government’s previous support of the white South African leadership because, for all their faults, weren’t doing what the MNU folks were doing. There was only one side to this story and when it’s absolutely clear that one side is good and one side is evil, you do get the audience to side with the good guys, but not in any way that’s applicable to the world around them.
I spent a portion of the movie figuring out what I might have done differently. Making the villains a little less villainous would have been a start. I might have gone a step further and said that they should have made it morally murky. Instead of trying to take the prawns’ technology for eeeevil weapons, I would have made it about a form of alternative energy. So on one hand you have people that are trying to save the world by creating a form of energy that will save the environment… but they’re having to do unconscionable things to get there. That would have been a far more interesting movie, in my book.
But it would have made it a far less compelling action movie. Being hunted by evil corporations, on the other hand, makes for a nice, simplistic action movie. And a good portion of the audience likes to know right off the bat who to root for or against.
After I watched GI Joe, before I watched D9, there were a couple of people were talking about the movie as being fascinating and thought-provoking. Maybe if I’d never heard that conversation, I would have liked the movie a lot more than I did. Or at least if I hadn’t heard the buzz surrounding it. Not unlike my view of X-Men being somewhat dinged by my roommate’s constant talk about how it was going to be a different sort of superhero movie. The thing is, though, were it not for the potential of it being more than an action movie, I never would have seen it to begin with.