‘District 9′ (2009)

district_9 All the reports that I’ve read have said that director Neill Blomkamp and Wingnut Films elected to do ‘District 9′ while they were in a holding pattern while they were waiting on a green light from Microsoft to do a live-action adaptation of the Halo video-game.

Imagine a couple million dollars of filmmaking equipment, and empty studio and several tens of state-of-the-art technicians waiting on some Seattle lawyers, and you get the idea. though the film is a little more substantive than  that.

As someone who’s hasn’t played many video games in the past 20 years and been disappointed by just about every game-to-movie adaptation I’ve seen. ‘District 9′ exceeds all of the expectations I never had for ‘Halo’.

Plot-wise, ‘District’ is sort of novel because it starts with an unlikely premise — technologically advanced extraterrestrials end up marooned here on Earth, living in dire, 3rd world conditions. Strangely enough, these aliens don’t exert their prowess and take-over the planet. Somehow, they end up as an underclass here on Earth, whiling away their time in an aimless barrio in Johannesburg, as poor as any of the former bantustans living off of cat food

Why Joburg? To quote the characters on ABC’s current space-opera, Defying Gravity , “H2IK” — hell if I know. Any other storyteller would use the Joburg location to make a point — about South Africa’s apartheid history, it’s role as a former British colony or Nelson Mandela’s heroism. Unfortunately, that’s just where ‘District 9′ seems to fail. You shouldn’t pull an ornate prop or set-piece out of storage unless it’s going to serve your play in a constructive manner. Here, Johannesburg is just a city, like any other.

With all of the potential that D9 ‘s dystopia had to offer, it really doesn’t go anywhere. Had D9 been set in Asia somepalce, the film might have played as an metaphor for the money that the West pours into Asia year after year, only to see human rights violations  and hungry children persist.

My understanding is that director Blokamp hails from Joburg and had done a 6-minute science-fiction film, ‘ Alive in Joburg ‘ ( film ) back in 2005. ‘District 9′ is an expansion of the AiJ premise.Though the visuals are fairly impressive, I didn’t get the impression that D9 was ever intended to be a game-changer the way that ‘Close Encounters’ and ‘Star Wars’ were. 30 years ago.

Shot for only $30M, the film is a marvel of low-budget, high-end effects, but it’s still too expensive for the SyFy channel. I only wish they’d given the script another 2 weeks, to drive home an enduring story.

Rating: ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

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