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District 9 Now Playing in South Africa
August 31, 2009 3:01 PM   Subscribe

District 9 has generated some discussion here and elsewhere. But, what do South African viewers of the film think about it?.
posted by smrtsch (121 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
I prefer this review.
posted by Pastabagel at 3:05 PM on August 31, 2009 [6 favorites]


[hey look, those links are working, yay!]
posted by jessamyn at 3:05 PM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's a pretty pessimistic film. I wasn't surprised when I found out how the interview segments were collected. I am a little surprised at how the corporate subtext has been largely put aside, to deal with the racial aspects. Perhaps corporations have already replaced public governments and laws IRL to the extent that it is no longer controversial to anyone when the consequences are satirized.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:12 PM on August 31, 2009


Perhaps corporations have already replaced public governments and laws IRL to the extent that it is no longer controversial to anyone when the consequences are satirized.

I think you're right. I've read a couple of reviews whose authors didn't even notice that it wasn't the government--they refer to the main character as a "government employee", etc.
posted by equalpants at 3:38 PM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


That was my thought too, BP. I just saw the movie last night, and I was immediately drawn to the 'private security company' angle, which IMO served as the ultimate backdrop for the egregious events that transpired. If anything, it felt like intra-human racial issues were downplayed in the movie; I didn't really find any explicit exposure to that theme. I suppose it depends on the viewer.
posted by Brak at 3:38 PM on August 31, 2009


It was a pretty subtle blend of government, corporation, and "free media" - which is in fact what we have today, thank you very much NBC/GE/Jenna Bush.
posted by mek at 3:41 PM on August 31, 2009


I have never seen a movie that was directed so much like a video game; in fact, I think it would have been better as an FPS than as a movie. All the themes everyone's been talking about—racism, corporatism, apartheid—were just window dressing to provide a little context for the (awesome) shoot-'em-up sequences. Cutscenes, if you will.

That said, it was a lot of fun to watch.
posted by haltingproblemsolved at 3:47 PM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


"and remember, a smile is cheaper than bullets!"

District 9 really scratched my scifiAliensanticorporate itch in a way I haven't felt since... Well, Aliens.
posted by butterstick at 3:50 PM on August 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


in fact, I think it would have been better as an FPS than as a movie. All the themes everyone's been talking about—racism, corporatism, apartheid—were just window dressing to provide a little context for the (awesome) shoot-'em-up sequences.

Oh, sure, which is why they spend like half the movie following Wikus around with a shaky camera while he talks to aliens.

I dunno about you, but I always choose the Talky Documentarian in TF2 these days -- you can totally get by without a Heavy as long as somebody picks him.
posted by vorfeed at 3:53 PM on August 31, 2009 [9 favorites]


Huh. I though Multinational United was the UN. I had no idea it was supposed to be a corporation.
posted by mrnutty at 3:55 PM on August 31, 2009


I found the entire "multinational corporations out of control conducting human experiments" aspect of D-9 a little over the top. It was kind of a shallow way to introduce a stock villain, but whatever, D-9 was a great popcorn movie. The SA setting added a definite coolness factor to everything, but at the end of the day the movie didn't have much to say.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:07 PM on August 31, 2009


Huh. I though Multinational United was the UN. I had no idea it was supposed to be a corporation.
MNU seemed to me like the unholy offspring of Halliburton and Blackwater.
posted by deanc at 4:09 PM on August 31, 2009 [8 favorites]


I prefer this review.
posted by Pastabagel at 3:05 PM on August 31 [+] [!]



Um... what was that?
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 4:11 PM on August 31, 2009


D-9 was a great popcorn movie.

Baaaaaaaaad choice of words.
posted by Bromius at 4:11 PM on August 31, 2009 [14 favorites]


Um... what was that?

Excellent.
posted by TwelveTwo at 4:15 PM on August 31, 2009


So it's not a ham-fisted apartheid parable? Hot dog!
posted by nj_subgenius at 4:16 PM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm glad to have the context of District 9 illuminated for me, now that the allegory to South Africa's mass evictions of shantytown residents in the 70s is explained.

While I have a feeling that this movie is heading straight for the "most overrated film of the year" award, it was still very good.
posted by deanc at 4:20 PM on August 31, 2009


Sadly, a rather thin piece from NPR. Does the audio add anything? Otherwise, the insight was the same I had about the movie (though only having heard about District 6 in the lead-up hype for this movie). I thought it was fun and more thoughtful than your average action film, but not cerebral masterpiece. Very clean use of CGI and live action, and I rather liked Sharlto Copley in his first major role (according to wikipedia, he's in media production of sorts, so he's not a complete outsider).

I have never seen a movie that was directed so much like a video game

A friend of mine called it cinéma vérité. I felt like the attempt was not to put you in the shoes of the gunner, but set you amidst the action. Then again, Peter Jackson planned to produce a film adaptation of the Halo video games with Neill Blomkamp to direct the film, but that didn't happen, so they might have had FPS-to-movie on the brain.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:20 PM on August 31, 2009


in fact, I think it would have been better as an FPS than as a movie. All the themes everyone's been talking about—racism, corporatism, apartheid—were just window dressing to provide a little context for the (awesome) shoot-'em-up sequences.
Oh, sure, which is why they spend like half the movie following Wikus around with a shaky camera while he talks to aliens.

I dunno about you, but I always choose the Talky Documentarian in TF2 these days -- you can totally get by without a Heavy as long as somebody picks him.
That's not quite fair. Go play through the rest of the Orange Box and you'll find games that tell stories at least half as sophisticated as District 9 did.
posted by haltingproblemsolved at 4:22 PM on August 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


mrnutty: "Huh. I though Multinational United was the UN. I had no idea it was supposed to be a corporation."

THe UN analog in the movie is the UIC.
posted by boo_radley at 4:22 PM on August 31, 2009


Um... what was that?

A snarky stream of semi-consciousness pretending to be thoughtful and witty.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:23 PM on August 31, 2009 [5 favorites]


MNU seemed to me like the unholy offspring of Halliburton and Blackwater.

We already have that in Lockheed Martin: arms dealing and outsourced public services.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:26 PM on August 31, 2009


I prefer this review.

Wow. That was terrible.
posted by eyeballkid at 4:29 PM on August 31, 2009


That's not quite fair. Go play through the rest of the Orange Box and you'll find games that tell stories at least half as sophisticated as District 9 did.

Yes, but my point was that they don't tell those stories by spending half the game carefully introducing the setting, characters, and concepts, while meanwhile there's no gameplay going on. For a movie where everything but the action was "window dressing", they sure spent a lot of time on the windows -- there's very little action in D9 until the moment Wikus escapes, and that's at least a third of the way through the film.

District 9 had a lot of shoot-em-up during the second half, don't get me wrong, but it's clearly not the main focus of the movie. You said "all the themes everyone's been talking about—racism, corporatism, apartheid—were just window dressing to provide a little context for the (awesome) shoot-'em-up sequences", but I disagree: I think it's the shoot-em-up sequences which provide a little summer-movie context for the themes.

You can make any damn movie in which People Blow Up; Blomkamp made this movie, complete with themes like racism, corporatism, and apartheid, and that's no accident.
posted by vorfeed at 4:38 PM on August 31, 2009 [3 favorites]


Well, I didn't like it.

I prefer this review.

They're aliens, so no one can really understand what they're doing and you're just thinking like a human with all those silly baseless assumptions.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:43 PM on August 31, 2009


It was chilling to view the research doctor of MNU about to cut into Wikus van der Merwe’s thorax to begin dismemberment. So cold and analytical.
The Nigerian hoodlum wanted to ingest Wikus’ alien appendage to gain magic to enable him to operate alien weaponry.
On the one hand, a person considered as merely a bioproduct – like a slab of meat; on the other, there was a certain appreciation for the magic assumed to emanate from a body part – that would also be treated as a piece of meat.
posted by millardsarpy at 4:48 PM on August 31, 2009


I disagree: I think it's the shoot-em-up sequences which provide a little summer-movie context for the themes.

Hmm. Maybe I was wrong. After reading through the other thread, I'll admit there are more intelligent things to be said about District 9 than I thought at first, which I guess is a good excuse to see it again.
posted by haltingproblemsolved at 4:51 PM on August 31, 2009


Although "summer-movie context" tends to include the the suggestion that any profundity is just the product of beanplating on the audience's part.
posted by haltingproblemsolved at 4:54 PM on August 31, 2009


Um... what was that?

It is a review forwarded to me by a friend who is in fact a psychiatrist, with the subject line "If this review of District 9 doesn't make you pee your pants with laughter, you probably don't have a bladder." I don't know what to do with the knowledge that my friend has urinary control problems.

A few weeks ago I read all the movie, play and record reviews I wrote for my university newspaper when I was eighteen. I was a smug, arrogant, Spy-magazine-fuelled poseur prick trying oh so hard to be cool and witty, and twenty years on, the articles are deeply cringeworthy.

But I was a better writer than this reviewer.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:55 PM on August 31, 2009 [5 favorites]


I would have liked District 9 if it actually had a story.
posted by tkchrist at 5:10 PM on August 31, 2009


So who wins... the pyramid or the robot?
posted by vectr at 5:12 PM on August 31, 2009


I think it's the shoot-em-up sequences which provide a little summer-movie context for the themes.

It's movies like District 9 that remind me that film is really a very limited medium. The first half of the movie was great and touched on some significant themes, and the second half became a shoot-em-up/action/escape movie. Which you sort of have to do, because otherwise the mass market wouldn't see it.

Another example of this was Apocalypto which was trying to develop a bunch of themes of societal decline and Mel Gibson's ideas of "collapse from within." But when you get right down to it, the movie was a "chase movie" about a guy evading pursuers and facing the perils of the jungle.

It's better than most science fiction movies you see in the theaters. Ultimately, I think the director had a vision of a science fiction story he wanted to tell and just placed it in the context of a summer, big-explosions blockbuster that lots of people would be willing to see. That's the reality of the market, but I feel like I'm getting to old for that stuff. The teaser-trailer promised more than it delivered, though.
posted by deanc at 5:14 PM on August 31, 2009


I have never seen a movie that was directed so much like a video game

You are clearly fortunate enough to have never watched a Zac Snyder film, then.

And when did The Last Psychiatrist whitewash their site and drown it in AdWords?
posted by mek at 5:17 PM on August 31, 2009


deanc's opinion mirrors my own. The parts of the movie that were told in documentary style really affected me and made me think it could have been a truly great movie if not for the summer blockbuster action scenes that filled the third act and diluted the impact. Best science fiction movie I've seen in a long time, though.
posted by nowonmai at 5:26 PM on August 31, 2009


Whatever. There was a little bit o' gold in that review.

Here's a sure-fire plot to get an Oscar nomination: a story about the greedy South Africans, played by America, who try to evict all of the Districts out of their ghetto in order to build a Disneyland, as seen through the eyes of a child.
posted by nosila at 5:28 PM on August 31, 2009


You are absolutley right haltingproblemsolved.

It's not only that the film is structured like a videogame, (documentary in beginning is the 'opening cut sequence', main character is ordinary joe who gets variety of cooler weapons throughout the levels, culminating in mech suit in which he has to protect another character from getting shot ((you can practically see the 'life bar' of the alien Christopher at the bottom of the screen)));

District 9 marks a great transition in film directors = the director of D9 makes movies, but he thinks first in video game narrative.
posted by jettloe at 5:30 PM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


A snarky stream of semi-consciousness pretending to be thoughtful and witty.

I picked a heck of a week to quit doing taglines!
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:45 PM on August 31, 2009 [3 favorites]


Here's a sure-fire plot to get an Oscar nomination: a story about the greedy South Africans, played by America, who try to evict all of the Districts out of their ghetto in order to build a Disneyland, as seen through the eyes of a child.

See, I think that highlights exactly why some of us don't like that review. He completely missed the point of the film. It wasn't about America at all, and I don't get how he kept seeing George Bush in it.

The film was a direct retelling of apartheid in South Africa in the 70s. They weren't being subtle or clever about it at all. District 9 = District 6, MNU = Executive Outcomes, etc.

It's really striking how the reviewer has his head so far up his ass that he can't see beyond his own country's borders. Horrible things happen in other countries, too.
posted by heathkit at 6:22 PM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


District 9 marks a great transition in film directors = the director of D9 makes movies, but he thinks first in video game narrative.

Well, we're basing our assessment of the director based on his body of work of one movie. Still, I can see why Jackson had pegged Blomkamp as the director for the now-scuppered Halo. I think there is an argument to be made that movies based on properties in other media or in newish genres do not generally get taken seriously until they are made by someone who grew up comfortable with the source material.

It took the baby boomers to make science-fiction movies work in a big way: once people who were old enough to have grown up reading Heinlein and Asimov and watching 2001 got behind the camera, you got the late-seventies bloom of science fiction movies.

Comic book movies stayed generally pretty dire until around 2000, when suddenly things like X-Men and Spiderman and Batman Begins began to get some success and critical acclaim. Before that, you had boomers (and even pre-boomers like Warren Beatty and Joel Schumacher) making things that were more or less, "you know... for kids!" Since the turn of the century, most of the comic books movies are coming from Gen-X directors who grew up with Silver Age comics. They were able to respect the stories that moved them growing up, and are now communicating some of that magic to audiences.

I have no idea about his upbringing, but by the time Blomkamp moved to Canada at 18, the fifth-generation videogame consoles (N64, Playstation) were about to give way to the sixth generation (Dreamcast, Gamecube, Xbox). The graphics were good, intricate stories were appearing in them: they could be pretty engaging. I can believe he might be a videogamer. He seems to have something of a video-game sensibility, but in a good way. I suspect if he made a video-game adaptation, he would not be slumming it. Still, I think the first great video-game-based movie is going to be made by someone none of us has ever heard of, because he or she is finishing high school around now.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:29 PM on August 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


As a constant movie-goer and downloader extraordinaire, I'd have to say it's about the best movie I've seen this year. Please though; if you've got something better for me to see, give me some suggestions. Time Traveler's Wife, 500 Days of Summer, Drag Me to Hell, Bruno, Funny People.... I didn't think any of them had the energy or depth that District 9 had. Up, Coraline, Watchmen, and the new Harry Potter were good but yeah - still felt that District 9 has, as people around these parts say, the whole town in lockdown sucka.
posted by Bageena at 6:44 PM on August 31, 2009


It's not only that the film is structured like a videogame, (documentary in beginning is the 'opening cut sequence', main character is ordinary joe who gets variety of cooler weapons throughout the levels, culminating in mech suit in which he has to protect another character from getting shot ((you can practically see the 'life bar' of the alien Christopher at the bottom of the screen)));

This plotline is pretty clearly a variation on The Hero's Journey. A lot of videogames are, too, but that doesn't mean that these tropes come from video games. The plot of D9 is essentially this: the hero gains magical powers and has to go through the underworld with his enemy-become-friend, after which he sacrifices himself so his friend can live. That plotline precedes the Atari 2600 by just a smidge, doesn't it? Nor is it shocking that the hero always fights "the boss" near the end of it, or that he generally collects magical artifacts/powers/whatever until he's strong enough to do so.

This is a really old story; IMHO, calling it a "video game structure" is putting the cart way before the horse. Coming soon to PS3: Gilgamesh and Enkidu! I can't wait for The Odyssey on the Wii!
posted by vorfeed at 7:04 PM on August 31, 2009 [11 favorites]


What bugged me about the movie was the jarring transition from the 40-minute news-cycle intro to the 1st-person action adventure romp. Reminded me of A.I. - genuinely fascinating first half of movie disintegrates into mindless special effects extravaganza.
posted by mek at 7:20 PM on August 31, 2009


Please though; if you've got something better for me to see, give me some suggestions.

Moon.
posted by graventy at 7:30 PM on August 31, 2009 [5 favorites]


It's easily the best sci-fi film Hollywood has made in the past ten years of crap they've put out and numerous PKD story-rapings they've perpetrated.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 7:36 PM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


On the one hand, a person considered as merely a bioproduct – like a slab of meat; on the other, there was a certain appreciation for the magic assumed to emanate from a body part – that would also be treated as a piece of meat.

Kinda made me think of this.

Moon.

Goddamn I want to see that. But it doesn't even seem to be opening here. Argh.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:38 PM on August 31, 2009


And then there was the Armond White review, that upset the Rotten Tomato fan boys followed by the [sort of] defending then reconsidering of White by Roger Ebert thing that happened.
posted by Rashomon at 7:46 PM on August 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


I haven't seen the movie, but I have to say, the concept alone seems laugh-out-loud bad.

OK, so right there's these aliens, and people treat them bad, kind of like Apartheid. A little 80s, a little Oscar-pandering, mind-numbingly-obvious-allegory, but fine.

So the aliens land in....

SOUTH AFRICA???

What. No. You can't... That doesn't...

Put it this way. If Arnold Schwarzenegger is playing the Terminator, he can't turn on the tv and see "Kindergarten Cop."
posted by drjimmy11 at 7:50 PM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


That's not quite fair. Go play through the rest of the Orange Box and you'll find games that tell stories at least half as sophisticated as District 9 did.

In the case of Portal I would say more sophisticated.

The problem with D9 as a game would be the same problem Bioshock faced - placing you in the shoes of a douchebag protagonist.

I stopped playing Bioshock just five minutes into the game when my character jabbed the first dirty hypodermic needle he found straight into his arm without any kind of introspection. For me this was a dead give away that in terms of narrative my character was a slave of some description and what kind of slave really didn't interest me beyond that point. If it wasn't for all the hype the game received, I probably would have stuck with it - but I was expecting more advanced story telling than that.

I do not doubt that within the next 5 years we will have a game that will eclipse District 9 in most departments. It will have to have dealt with the problems of narrative perspective in some fashion, although exactly how is the million dollar question

To build on points already half explored in this thread; Summer blockbusters are a poor vehicle for narrative and characterization which is where a TV series actually makes more sense, and when it comes to action, immersion and world building, games do that stuff a lot better.

Spectacle seems to be the only area where the summer blockbuster is unchallenged. For me its not enough. Maybe if blockbusters were in 3D and had giant blue aliens fighting against transformer robots in some epic story I would be interested. Actually that sounds pretty cheesy.
posted by vicx at 7:53 PM on August 31, 2009


For me this was a dead give away that in terms of narrative my character was a slave of some description and what kind of slave really didn't interest me beyond that point.

You might want to give the game another chance.
posted by EarBucket at 8:01 PM on August 31, 2009


Armond White isn't a critic, he's a professional contrarian.
posted by crossoverman at 8:03 PM on August 31, 2009


I like this South African review that was linked from SA. Reveals some local subtext I wasn't aware of before.
posted by Silentgoldfish at 8:25 PM on August 31, 2009 [5 favorites]


District 9 was amazing. It was just a really witty take on tropes from movies like Robocop, with warped, Peter Jackson-ish humor at the expense of its craven, paper-pushing hero. I liked it because it somehow made me root for Vikus even when I was laughing at him for being a twit. liked it because I thought, when was the last time you saw a movie in which the hero dons a mechanoid power suit--and the first thing he does is try to run away form the fight?
posted by Kirklander at 8:40 PM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


I hear what you're saying vorfeed, but will respectfully disagree - the structure of the pic is closer to a videogame, (or actually is a video that you're watching someone else play), more so than any other film I've seen - not just the standard 'hero's journey'.

If I hadn't just done a 30min podcast on this i'd break it down in more detail here - but the introduction of the 'ordinary hero' in what felt like a cut-scene/sequence - followed by the acquisition of more and more powerful weapons, (from human to alien to mech suit), really was that of a game, (harrowing scene of danger/confinement followed by 3rd person shooting - over and over again - with the only variation being type of weaponry etc. etc.) and that whole sequence at the end where he has to 'protect' Christopher who was running behind the mech suit - basically it felt like a video game that wasn't produced, and instead of being scrapped, was turned into an non-interactive form.
posted by jettloe at 9:34 PM on August 31, 2009


My AskMe question about District 9 and movie Scifi .

Having watched the movie again, there's some appreciation for the story, specifically the lack of traditional hero and showcase of just how awful humans can easily be. But ultimately, it still fails, but at least it fails big in that it tried to go for a heavier topic from an non-American point of view. It didn't get there, but props for trying. I'm kinds discouraged that the director felt he had to tone the meatier aspects down, considering that the movie only cost 30 million, which is almost unheard of for a scifi flick, especially one as effects filled as this.

Compared to Moon, it's sorely lacking because Moon does what District 9 fails to do: tackle a ridiculous premise head on and in the process show why it's really not ridiculous.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:00 PM on August 31, 2009


It's easily the best sci-fi film Hollywood has made in the past ten years of crap

This is exactly why I found it so disappointing. I found it shallow and lacking any interest in exploring the fuller implications of the relationship between the aliens and humans. There was a lot of potential to explore why they had become marooned there, and why they were treated as they were, and the script was completely oblivious to it and instead skirted self-contradiction -- their leaders died off and the plebes are too stupid to be reasoned with, but oh no some of them are intelligent and in fact want the same thing the humans want, which is to leave, so why don't they. Not to mention the ambivalence of the humans to the moral status of the aliens or whether their treatment is appropriate. Mystery fluids, vague genetic mumbo jumbo. Bah, if this is the pinnacle of sci-fi film, well, that's just sad.
posted by kaspen at 10:09 PM on August 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


if this is the pinnacle of sci-fi film, well, that's just sad

So - a space ship shows up and for 20 years no one is trying to disassemble said ship to figure out how to fling a large object across interglactic space? How to produce such energy?
posted by rough ashlar at 11:13 PM on August 31, 2009


Did "Hollywood" make this movie? I thought it was just distributed or funded by usians, but made by SA and New Zealand -ers.
posted by eustatic at 11:15 PM on August 31, 2009


There was a lot of potential to explore why they had become marooned there, and why they were treated as they were

The answer to why they were treated as they were = the reason the humans don't bother to find out why they were marooned. You're not given the answer, you have to actually apply your own knowledge of the world.

There was plenty of time spent on the implications of the relationship between the aliens and humans, it's just that the characters are blind to it. They're unreliable narrators, even when we're getting 'documentary' clips. It's like asking Weyland-Yutani to comment on the events on the Nostromo.

That NPR article was a bit thin. I didn't listen to the audio though, does NPR typically summarise it for the website while leaving the full details in the mp3?
posted by harriet vane at 3:13 AM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


"They're unreliable narrators ..."

Yes. Thank you. I am amazed at how many people in this thread, for example, are taking at face value the idea that all the aliens are drones whose leaders died off, because a character in the movie said so.
posted by kyrademon at 4:05 AM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Consider what the movie could have been if we really ran with the premise, and after the aliens were segregated, nations strip-mined their spaceship to enable rapid technological progress, while permanently trapping the aliens' descendants on Earth, and poisoning them with generations of resentment. And then of course we would fight over the scraps and blow each other up in a glorious alien-weapon-fueled WWIII, with the prawns as our captive audience. A delightful post-colonial romp.
posted by mek at 4:37 AM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


The answer to why they were treated as they were = the reason the humans don't bother to find out why they were marooned.

Riiiiight, aliens get marooned on Earth and no one bothers to ask why? That's a basic and fundamental question.

I am amazed at how many people in this thread, for example, are taking at face value the idea that all the aliens are drones whose leaders died off, because a character in the movie said so.

Yes, it is amazing that people believe comments by a character in a movie, that's so weird!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:46 AM on September 1, 2009


Bageena Please though; if you've got something better for me to see, give me some suggestions.

Inglourious Basterds.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 6:01 AM on September 1, 2009


I have never seen a movie that was directed so much like a video game

Seen Crank? I started watching the sequel last night and it's even got literal power-ups!

I've yet to see Moon, but D9 is the best film I've seen this year, and the best sf film I've seen in many a year
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 6:28 AM on September 1, 2009


Bageena Please though; if you've got something better for me to see, give me some suggestions.
Not necessarily "better" but very original and worth viewing: The Hurt Locker.
And seconding Inglorious Basterds.
Although I think that D-9 touches something very political, very down to earth and very important whereas Tarantino is all in fantasy land.
posted by bru at 6:35 AM on September 1, 2009


I gave Jackson a pass on some of the skeevy race issues in LOTR since he was adapting Tolkein's work, and therein lay the root of said skeeviness.

I was less comfortable with giving said pass in the King Kong remake, what with the cringe-inducing portrayal of the "savages".

But District 9, using a long-dreadlocked "medicine woman" encouraging Obasanjo to eat the alien body parts would give him GREAT POWER? Hell, naming said cannibal leader "Obasanjo", like the name of the previous president of Nigeria? SERIOUSLY?

Yeah, alien cockroaches living in the slums waiting to be saved by a white guy. Hoo-rah.

(though the shoot-em-up scenes were keen)
posted by ShawnStruck at 6:40 AM on September 1, 2009


Yeah, alien cockroaches living in the slums waiting to be saved by a white guy. Hoo-rah.


You mean the aliens living in the slums who almost had their plans completely screwed up by a government drone?

Neill Blomkamp has mentioned in interviews something that I wish the movie had broadcast better: that the aliens have something of a hive intelligence, with the leaders of their group having been lost somehow before the ship became stranded on earth. Over time, a member of the group will grow to have the intelligence necessary to lead, similar to how some amphibians will change sex in the lack of a breeding population. In my opinion, that explains the lack of intelligence of the group as a whole and why there was such a time gap between their arrival and the attempt to leave.

As for the racism in creating the Nigerian thugs that prey on the residents of District 9, were MNU really not worse? The Obasanjo & company wanted to find a way to gain the power of the aliens and be able to use their weapons. MNU wanted... the same thing. Whether hacking someone apart or performing vivisection while alive is more cruel is really the viewer's call.
posted by mikeh at 7:31 AM on September 1, 2009


ShawnStruck: I agree that there are some skeevy race issues in D9. However:

1. Apparently South Africans have a backwards, racist attitude towards the Nigerians. To some extent, the film assumes the audience is aware of this, and the film is supposed to be a commentary on this. If they'd addressed this in the film...it still would have been hinky, but it would have come off as less hinky.

2.
alien cockroaches living in the slums waiting to be saved by a white guy.
Yes, but Wikius doesn't "save" the prawns. Further, the more alien he becomes, the more humane he becomes.
posted by pxe2000 at 7:33 AM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


Please though; if you've got something better for me to see, give me some suggestions.

I'd like to second the mention of Hurt Locker. I think it's the equal of District 9 in terms of subversion of the summer movie experience. D9 and Hurt Locker are two of the best movies I've seen in years, and it's interesting to me that they were both released this summer because they have some striking similarities: Both were financed outside of the usual studio system, both graft summer-movie thrills to a structure that is much more psychologically complex and satisfying than the usual summer film, and both sport truly interesting, flawed, and deeply human protagonists.

This is, I think, one of the most interesting aspects of District 9, and something you'd absolutely never, ever see in a mainstream Hollywood summer action movie -- the main character is actively, intentionally unlikable for at least the first third of the movie, so that his character arc is all the more satisfying. Throughout most of the movie he acts cravenly and in his own best interests, in total subversion of the usual summer movie hero.
posted by Frobenius Twist at 8:00 AM on September 1, 2009


Yes, it is amazing that people believe comments by a character in a movie, that's so weird!

Fictional characters can be less than fully informed, lying, unwilling to admit their ignorance, or just flat out wrong about stuff, same as real people. It's a common narrative device.

As for the "not asking questions" thing, it's not that I think no-one asked, it's that the people who asked didn't want to reveal the information, and everyone else just filled in the blanks with whatever explanation seemed to fit without thinking too hard about it. Same as quite a lot of people do with stuff they don't understand but can't be arsed finding out about.

It's entirely possible to have a good story where the main characters don't know everything that's going on and never do find out. It's also possible to have a good story that doesn't cover every angle of potential narrative, but focuses on just one aspect of an issue.
posted by harriet vane at 8:10 AM on September 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


This is, I think, one of the most interesting aspects of District 9, and something you'd absolutely never, ever see in a mainstream Hollywood summer action movie -- the main character is actively, intentionally unlikable for at least the first third of the movie,
Another thing I appreciated that you never see in a Hollywood movie is that the movie had a foreign setting and did not give into the temptation to add a "token American" to give the US audiences someone to "relate to." It was a relief to be able to watch a movie involving south africans without an uninvited intrusion of a character who doesn't belong there but is considered needed by studio executives to make it more marketable.
posted by deanc at 8:23 AM on September 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


It's entirely possible to have a good story where the main characters don't know everything that's going on and never do find out. It's also possible to have a good story that doesn't cover every angle of potential narrative, but focuses on just one aspect of an issue.

Exactly. One of the best things about this movie is the fact that it doesn't constantly stop to go "as you know, Bob, the prawns don't rise up against us because blah blah blah exposition." I really admired the filmmakers' refusal to deviate from the limited perspective of a guy who knows very little about the prawns, and doesn't really want to know. It's especially nice to see that in sci-fi, which tends to be big-picturey and plate-of-beansy to a fault.

Also, it's not as if the humans were portrayed as the sort of people who give half a shit about how the ship works and why the prawns don't fly away and how come they just let us boss them around. And you know what: that's because humans are not that sort of people. For instance, we know very little about how, say, Scandinavian folk religion went... because we fucking smashed it. And when we were done smashing it, we went "lol owned!" and moved on to the native Americans and the Africans and whoever else we could beat on. There was no part where we stopped to send someone over with a clipboard and ask "hey, guys, how is this Thor guy supposed to work anyway?" or "wow, you guys let women own property?" or "world tree: fact or myth?" Nope. Owned. Next. The vast majority of the cultural traditions of antiquity are gone, gone, gone, because their conquerors and/or successors didn't care to ask questions... and that holds for pretty much all values of "conquerors and/or successors", not just the ones who are currently running the place.

Likewise, the only thing the humans in this movie cared about was the alien weapons. All these other questions were not only unimportant to the humans, they didn't even really exist. And that's the way it always is: do you know why the refugees in Darfur or wherever are there? Do you know why the homeless are all living in the park? Hey, why they don't just get organized and found themselves a new society? Is this a pressing question on the world stage? Because it seems to me that those people are just over there suffering in a stupid camp or shelter or something, getting in the way of everybody else's very important ownage.

"Nobody knows about them, nobody cares about them, and I guess we hafta move 'em/kill 'em/enslave 'em" -- that is the beginning and the end of the human species' interaction with things that don't "belong". The idea that everybody would stop to study the disgusting alien bugs' rich cultural heritage is far more unrealistic than anything in this film.
posted by vorfeed at 9:32 AM on September 1, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's entirely possible to have a good story where the main characters don't know everything that's going on and never do find out. It's also possible to have a good story that doesn't cover every angle of potential narrative, but focuses on just one aspect of an issue.

Sure, I just don't agree that D9 did a good job of this. Glad you enjoyed it though.

And when we were done smashing it, we went "lol owned!" and moved on to the native Americans and the Africans and whoever else we could beat on.

Sure, but by many measures, the aliens should have been beating on us in terms of the advanced technology.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:58 AM on September 1, 2009


vorfeed, I can appreciate your argument, but even then if this was supposed to be a devastating criticism of humanity's ethnocentrism and xenophobia, which by all means I acknowledge and loathe, I still think the film failed to fully exploit that angle. However, I don't find that cynical view of human nature either fully true or necessary. Yes, I do to some extent know why the refugees in Darfur and my city parks exist (it has something to do with China, oil, and economics in both cases does it not?), and yes, some of us are interested in world mythology. There's this thing called anthropology, you may have heard of it. (tangentially, conquering cultures actually tend to subsume and appropriate the cultures they occupy. consider the pagan roots of Christmas.)

And of course the movie presents us with a series of unreliable narrators, I just didn't feel they were plausibly or fully satisfying. So the complete ignorance towards the aliens' makeup, capacities, culture, identities is supposed to be deliberate (and scathing!), yet there is constant live footage of the compound and frequent demonstrations and widespread unease across the world. And no one has any interest in these questions? And yet despite this, every character is shown to speak the alien language (at one point the protagonist asks him to "click" speak slower so he can be sure to understand)?

I can appreciate what everyone sees in the movie, and I'm enjoying very much everyone's opinions in this thread, but I maintain that the premise could have been so much more rewarding and that whoever doctored the script made it deliberately two dimensional and flat.
posted by kaspen at 10:10 AM on September 1, 2009


Yes. Thank you. I am amazed at how many people in this thread, for example, are taking at face value the idea that all the aliens are drones whose leaders died off, because a character in the movie said so.

I was really confused at the motivations of the aliens (other than Christopher and his son, the characterized ones). The fact that they had these ridiculously destructive weapons yet submitted to the oppression of an NGO was really disorienting. Why didn't these people fight to save themselves (outside of throwing rocks at the immediately threatening humans)? One humalien with a single gun destroyed a building, and these guns are just lying around the slums. It's really their lack of action that makes me think the living prawns, save for Christopher, his son, and maybe the other guy that was helping them, are drones missing their leaders. Maybe I've stumbled on some alien society class commentary, or maybe this was just a section of laziness in an otherwise deeply considered story. I'd love for someone to explain it to me.
posted by nomad at 10:32 AM on September 1, 2009


the aliens should have been beating on us
Give it three years.
posted by Rat Spatula at 10:33 AM on September 1, 2009


The fact that they [...] submitted to the oppression of an NGO was not really disorienting because [...] the living prawns [...] are drones missing their leaders.

I made your sentence say the way my brain was about that part instead of saying the way your brain was.
posted by Rat Spatula at 10:36 AM on September 1, 2009


But that's what I'm saying; it's not just the human interviews onscreen that state that the prawns are drones missing their leaders. The way that they act strongly suggests that the majority of the prawns are unable to revolt either due to some physiological difference from their (mostly) dead leaders or they are oppressed (or enslaved) by their leaders when on their own planet/ships and haven't yet figured out that a revolution against their new oppressors would likely be a rousing success. Either way, the humans' assertion that they are drones without their leaders is supported by real (in)action.
posted by nomad at 11:00 AM on September 1, 2009


Rat Spatula, at a certain point, trying to rationalize every plot hole with "the prawns are drones missing their leaders" while wilfully ignoring the times in the movies where they act with a certain amount of agency (eg, derailing trains, trading with the nigerians, throwing rocks at the humans-- why weren't the weapons used to do similar things?) stretches credulity. I'm more willing to chalk it up to "the movie had some unbelievable plot holes" rather than "there is a consistent logical explanation for why things worked the way they did."

The large guns and weapons were there not because they were part and parcel of the scenario but because a summer action movie required a set of gun battles. The heavy weaponry was simply grafted into a world where it didn't quite fit, which is why the severe incongruity is there.

The alien weaponry exists because there needed to be a scene where Wikus and Christopher fought MNU toe-to-toe. It's the same reason that MNU brought along a battery of surface-to-air missiles when they had no expectation of having to shoot down flying aircraft when dealing with the aliens: because there needed to be a scene where where the aircraft gets shot down.
posted by deanc at 11:08 AM on September 1, 2009


And of course, even if this whole absence of leaders, diffuse zeitgeist consciousness coming to arise in one or two individuals (those that they bothered to characterize) scenario did rationalize and render coherent the plot... well, we only have this information because someone quoted the director about it upthread. Would have been nice if they'd included this vital plot related information in the movie itself, no?
posted by kaspen at 11:45 AM on September 1, 2009


at a certain point, trying to rationalize every plot hole with "the prawns are drones missing their leaders" while wilfully ignoring the times in the movies where they act with a certain amount of agency (eg, derailing trains, trading with the nigerians, throwing rocks at the humans-- why weren't the weapons used to do similar things?) stretches credulity. I'm more willing to chalk it up to "the movie had some unbelievable plot holes" rather than "there is a consistent logical explanation for why things worked the way they did."

I think you are discounting a lot of what we see in the movie to make your point. The information that the aliens are derailing trains for fun comes from the same unreliable sources who paint them as drones missing their leaders, the throwing of rocks in immediate self defense is a rather different thing than organizing a massive armed uprising, and the trading with the Nigerians is presented as the actions of addicts. Addicts are not notorious for undertaking well-thought-out, sensible actions to feed their addictions.

The large guns and weapons were there not because they were part and parcel of the scenario but because a summer action movie required a set of gun battles. The heavy weaponry was simply grafted into a world where it didn't quite fit, which is why the severe incongruity is there.

I would not go so far as "severe incongruity" but I grant that, like a thousand other sf movies, it frittered away some interesting ideas from its first half to make a trailer-friendly second half. Drama requires conflict and the easiest way to show conflict is violence. As has been pointed out above, it was totally at odds with the formulaic summer sci-fi blockbuster in so very many ways, do you really begrudge it injecting enough action to sell some tickets?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:21 PM on September 1, 2009


The movie definitely had unbelievable plot holes, but I actually think the prawn-drone stuff was less leaky than other stuff (if the kid-prawn's can operate everything via remote control, couldn't Christopher have done so? Couldn't they just tell the mothership to go/send-a-shuttle-to/send-a-message-to Prawnworld XI?)

To me, yeah, the prawn-drone bit added up to class commentary, along the lines of "like real-life refugees all over the world, these are the downtrodden, with no leaders among them; therefore their agency extends only to survival and occasional expressions of frustration" (cf. trading things-they-can't-eat for cat food and mucking up the place.)

Agree mostly about the Big Gun Battle being tangential to the plot and only being there because of Summer Blockbuster-ness; but the one good part there is it gives Wikus yet another chance to prove what a snivelling coward he is.

nomad, I guess I got tangled up reading your comment, which seem to start off saying that you were confused about the prawns' motivations, but then ended up by saying that you weren't.
posted by Rat Spatula at 12:26 PM on September 1, 2009


it frittered away some interesting ideas ... do you really begrudge it injecting enough action to sell some tickets?

Yes. Isn't that exactly why it's received such high praise, because it defied the schlocky tendencies of so many, in fact most all, science fiction movies? You're damn right the choice was between a coherent and intelligent piece of speculative fiction and selling more tickets, and we know exactly where this film fell on that choice.
posted by kaspen at 12:27 PM on September 1, 2009


I am sincerely and honestly shocked that people actually liked this movie. I wanted to like so bad.

But. It was, IMHO, barring some cool vaporizations and explosions, absolute crap. No real story. No likable or interesting characters. Plot holes galore. Distracting ADHD cinematography. Completely humorless. The mockumentary narrative device was an annoying ill-thought conceit that the filmmakers themselves could not even maintain past half an hour or so.

All it was was an excuse for effects. Which would be fine, normally. If it wasn't so ponderous, heavy-handed, cynical, and inconsistent in it's allegorical moralizing. Yes. It takes the White Guy POV (TM) for us to finally understand that racism (species-ism?) is sooooo horrible. Why do film-makers always do this? Remember Cry Freedom? We'd never understand the cruelty racism inflicted on Steven Biko if it wasn't seen through the eyes of whiter-than-white Kevin Kline.

Then of course there is the wanton one-dimensional negative stereotyping. Of the Nigerians. Of the Afrikaners. And lastly of the aliens themselves. Aver charachter was a like a villain cartoon. Shit the Mercenary guy actually twisted his mustache and did an evil laugh for Christ sake.

I think people feel obligated to like it because:

A) It's associated with Peter Jackson
B) It's "dark"
C) It's about some, like, heavy subject matter, man
D) Spaceships!
E) DOWN WITH THE MAN!

So. You want Sci-fi that is actually worthy? That has some scintilla of thought put into it? Go see Moon. Or Cold Souls.
posted by tkchrist at 4:09 PM on September 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


I liked District 9, but I felt a bit like the director was shoehorning aliens into a story about apartheid. The parallels all seemed incredibly forced.

It was still an entertaining movie, but I think Moon did a better job overall of answering any and all questions I could pose about the film.

I was going to recommend Hurt Locker too, because it was one of the most suspenseful movies I've ever seen. However, after some reflection, the movie doesn't hold up as well. Too many times the characters do ridiculous things, and it culminates in that the absurd nighttime scenes towards the end of the film. I don't care how reckless or "loose cannon" your protagonist is, he's not that incredibly stupid.
posted by graventy at 4:43 PM on September 1, 2009


tkchrist: "It takes the White Guy POV (TM) for us to finally understand that racism"

In this movie, the White Guy never really comes around.

Attention Internet: Moon is on our queue. Everybody shut up about Moon until we see it.
posted by Rat Spatula at 5:29 PM on September 1, 2009


I'd love for someone to explain it to me.

nomad, scroll up to my earlier comment. Here's the article I had read.
posted by mikeh at 6:29 PM on September 1, 2009


But. It was, IMHO, barring some cool vaporizations and explosions, absolute crap. No real story. No likable or interesting characters. Plot holes galore. Distracting ADHD cinematography. Completely humorless. The mockumentary narrative device was an annoying ill-thought conceit that the filmmakers themselves could not even maintain past half an hour or so.

Sounds like someone wants hand-holding and spoon-feeding. No real story? Do all films have to be largely narrative driven? Couldn't you appreciate the situation and the characters without need some kind of three-act structure to carry you along? Oh, look, there actually was a narrative - which is about Christopher and his son trying to get back to the mothership. But, of course, you couldn't look past the lead white guy because...

No likable or interesting characters? Likable, I might give you. Except I liked Christopher. Otherwise... do you really need your films to have likable characters? Can't you conceive of a good story with people who are heartless and cruel and unwilling to see past their ignorance? What fascinated me about Wikus was the fact he was a corporate drone who thought he was funny while committing acts of evil. I don't want all my films to be like this, but D9 was refreshing in this take on the matter.

Plot holes? I think people actually throw that term around far too much. Okay, we don't know how the alien society works or why they don't pick up their weapons and start firing back sooner. We could take a guess - hive society (which the film tells us, unreliable narrator or not) and perhaps these drones are peaceful and know shooting up the planet aint going to get them into their ship or home again. But apparently those kind of details kill the story for some people; I'll never understand why metaphor isn't enough. The strength of this film, for me, is its examination of racism and classism - but some people get hung up on the fact that we don't understand how the alien liquid works. But is it a hole in the plot or just not relevant? A macguffin, as Hitchcock used to call them.

ADHD cinematography. To each his own. This kind of complaint just annoys the crap out of me because it's so completely arbitrary to the point of being meaningless. Especially in this film, which is a combination of things, but apparently it's not allowed to be that either - since you think the mockumentary device was ill-thought out because they couldn't sustain it? No, it was clearly designed to not be a full documentary film - since that can feel distancing to the characters. It has multiple view points to garner a macro and micro view of the situation. It cuts from believable documentary style to a more traditional narrative to tell Christopher's story. Why can't a film do both things?

Then of course there is the wanton one-dimensional negative stereotyping. Of the Nigerians. Of the Afrikaners. And lastly of the aliens themselves. Aver charachter was a like a villain cartoon. Shit the Mercenary guy actually twisted his mustache and did an evil laugh for Christ sake.

I've heard this accusation thrown out a lot - and I wonder how anyone could be so dense as to not think this is part of the commentary the film is making about racism?

It takes the White Guy POV (TM) for us to finally understand that racism (species-ism?) is sooooo horrible. Why do film-makers always do this?

I dunno, why do you think that audiences needed anyone to tell them this at all? Particularly through Wikus, who is vile and contemptible throughout. If you think people actually need the character of Wikus to get that message through their heads, you've got a bleaker view of humanity than the film does.
posted by crossoverman at 7:52 PM on September 1, 2009 [3 favorites]


For me, the biggest weakness was the alien fluid somehow being both fuel and virus-thingy (although I read later that there was supposed to be nanotech involved, which is fair enough, I guess). I didn't have any problem with the aliens not being in open rebellion--I figured that was kind of par for the course after 20 years of subjugation. And the hive mind/worker drone explanation just plain never occurred to me; I figured that there were probably a bunch of smart, organized aliens, but the documentary portion just didn't show them, because it was human-produced and didn't know about them (except for the hint about gang signs).

It just blows my mind how varied people's reactions to the plot are. I've never seen a movie with so many different plot points that were troublesome for some folks and no big deal for others.
posted by equalpants at 8:18 PM on September 1, 2009


the biggest weakness was the alien fluid

I'm sympathetic here. But it doesn't rise to the level of the remote-control business for me because, had they put Magic Fuel Beans in this box over here and Infectious Prawn Juices in that vial over there, it would remove the crux of your complaint and have virtually zero impact on the rest of the movie (there's no reason that Wikus couldn't have just, say, gotten popcorn-abortion juice on him, and later found/impounded the fuel)

Oh, hey, um... spoilers.

But in the main I agree with your larger point; not only does everyone hate this movie, they all hate it for different reasons. You can try to break it down into the Psycho-Sociologists, who think that mankind/prawnkind are painted inaccurately/simplistically, and the Techo-Gunologists, who have specific nerdly complaints about computers and widgets, but even that's just a rough cut. I mean, I guess I fall mainly into the second camp, but I also have trouble with some of psy-so aspects.

For example, there should have been some kind of useless Prawn Council, dithering about a flag and keeping the best tent patches and can openers for themselves.
posted by Rat Spatula at 9:09 PM on September 1, 2009


But in the main I agree with your larger point; not only does everyone hate this movie, they all hate it for different reasons.

Heh heh. Actually, I really liked the movie. I thought it was the best movie I've seen since 1999 or so. (Now that was a good year. Don't make 'em like that anymore.)

I think a third category of complaints are the "why didn't we see X" variety--where was the prawn government, why didn't the humans explore the ship more--complaints about the narration not being comprehensive, and instead just following one guy around.

I disagree with your popcorn-juice theory. I think it was pretty clearly shown that the fuel is what infected him.
posted by equalpants at 9:48 PM on September 1, 2009


Oh, I didn't hate the movie either. Any dramatic work that shows human beings as fundamentally irredeemable automatically gets points for accuracy from me. And of all the complaints about this movie, the one I have the least sympathy for is that they sold out, man. Halfway through I sat comfortably in my seat fully expecting Wikus to become Prawn Neo, mending the world. I was inexpressibly pleased with what happened instead. My biggest complaint really is that the Prawns had big, plaintive, expressive eyes. They should have been glossy black and there should have been five of them on each side of the head.

It's certainly flawed, and I'll concede it's sufficiently flawed that I don't really begrudge anyone who does hate it. But for me, Wikus is played just about note-perfect, and that saves the movie for me.

(And, yeah, I agree the fuel infected him; I was just saying that the writers could have easily patched around the problem of the fluid being both a fuel and a biohazard pretty easily, and it wouldn't have altered any of the rest of the movie at all, so for me, that flaw is easier to ignore than others.)
posted by Rat Spatula at 10:08 PM on September 1, 2009 [1 favorite]


10 Ways District 9 is an Alien Nation Knockoff
posted by benzenedream at 12:59 AM on September 2, 2009


Sounds like someone wants hand-holding and spoon-feeding.

Yeah, noticing big and gaping plot holes means you're stupid.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:02 AM on September 2, 2009


(And, yeah, I agree the fuel infected him; I was just saying that the writers could have easily patched around the problem of the fluid being both a fuel and a biohazard pretty easily, and it wouldn't have altered any of the rest of the movie at all, so for me, that flaw is easier to ignore than others.)
The reason this doesn't bother me is that since operation of the weapons depends on interaction with alien biology, it makes perfect sense that most any alien technological component will be biologically-based. Having a form of fuel that contains alien DNA and sparks a biological reaction when ingested by humans is a perfectly believable plot twist. In a sense this can be used to justify a lot of what we regard as plot holes with the ship: it's basically completely unusable by humans because so much of it depends on alien biology. Maybe the humans did explore it, but they couldn't move it or interact with it, so it got left in place.
Halfway through I sat comfortably in my seat fully expecting Wikus to become Prawn Neo, mending the world. I was inexpressibly pleased with what happened instead.
When you put it that way, sure, the movie avoided being a lot worse than it could have been. The thing is that I don't really like the "human-alien hybrid" trope to begin with, though one could argue that District 9 did a decent deconstruction of it.

If I had to come up with some justification for my complaint about the plot holes introduced by the weapons, it's the the alien weapons were fundamentally easy to operate. They do not appear to require any high-level intelligence or training to use or aim. Wikus is forced to fire them involuntarily at first and uses them to great effect later. If they're just lying around in District 9 for decades, even if you wouldn't see any organized resistance, you'd see them being fired off by the aliens a lot more often, and their use has a game-changing effect, basically allowing an individual to fight off a small army.

In a movie you get two hours to tell a story. Thus, District 9 is a better-than-most heist/escape movie with an alien-apartheid setting as backdrop. The thing is that for many movies that I really like, a really good movie starts with the simple trope and later reveals itself to be a more complex story. District 9 started with the complex story (aliens as refugees) and then revealed itself to hinge on a simple trope (heist/escape).
posted by deanc at 8:07 AM on September 2, 2009


> Yeah, noticing big and gaping plot holes means you're stupid.

There's a big difference between a plot hole (ie a something illogical that causes the narrative to make no sense), and leaving things unexplained. District 9 leaves a LOT unexplained, and that seems to be something that has upset a lot of people. I see it as one of the film's virtues. Too many science fiction films use handwavy bad science to try to explain things that just needed to happen for dramatic reasons (see midichlorians).
Q. Why are the aliens who arrive on the ship a bunch of witless drones unable to look after themselves? A. Because that's the whole premise of the film. For me, there is no need to have it all explained; it's fun to speculate, but I don't need everything tied up for me. I love films and books that give a limited viewpoint of a much greater whole (especially using unreliable narrators) leaving room for speculation. Unanswered questions are food for thought.

> District 9 started with the complex story (aliens as refugees) and then revealed itself to hinge on a simple trope (heist/escape).
This is the film's great weakness, but it wasn't enough to ruin if for me.
posted by nowonmai at 8:24 AM on September 2, 2009 [2 favorites]


...although I did like the end of the movie: Is Christopher mortally wounded? If he comes back will it just be a rescue mission or has the human race proved itself too dangerous to be allowed to survive? If he doesn't come back will the prawns find a new leader? Wikus?
I hope there isn't a sequel.
posted by nowonmai at 8:39 AM on September 2, 2009


There's a big difference between a plot hole (ie a something illogical that causes the narrative to make no sense), and leaving things unexplained.

It's more like there's a big difference between what people perceive as a plot hole. That's fine and makes discussion much richer, but I do resent the descent of those differences into "You're stupid, No YOU'RE STUPID" back and forth.

Too many science fiction films use handwavy bad science to try to explain things that just needed to happen for dramatic reasons (see midichlorians).

Yeah, but that seems like a lazy approach to me, especially when a short scene could have been done to. Besides, just because past scifi films have used bad science to explain things doesn't mean you have to either continue using bad science or just say "screw it, we're not going to explain it". The creators could actually put some thought into it.

Q. Why are the aliens who arrive on the ship a bunch of witless drones unable to look after themselves? A. Because that's the whole premise of the film.

That's fine on the scale of a few aliens, but there's a million of them that show up in ship, so one of the first questions should be "Hey, how and why are you guys here?" If the answer is "I don't know" then that naturally prompts more questions.

Look, if the answer is "No one knows" that's fine, but no in the film says that, there's no indication that anyone asked the aliens "WTF", which would be basic communication if humans want their technology.

It's as if Blomkamp had theidea to use the District 6 situation in a scifi setting but then really didn't develop the scifi aspects and didn't realize the major difference between the two: The government wanted District 6 gone, while humans would want alien technology and be very willing to accommodate the aliens in order to get it.

Seriously, no one thought "Huh, only the aliens can use their technology and they love cat food. What if we paid them in cat food to do X,Y and Z?"
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:07 AM on September 2, 2009


Seriously, no one thought "Huh, only the aliens can use their technology and they love cat food. What if we paid them in cat food to do X,Y and Z?"

You're forgetting about the premise that the aliens are biologically capable of using their technology but also mentally incapable/unwilling to do so. Also, this includes technology that is stupendously simple to operate by others later in the film, creating a major, major plot hole.
posted by deanc at 9:37 AM on September 2, 2009


Seriously, no one thought "Huh, only the aliens can use their technology and they love cat food. What if we paid them in cat food to do X,Y and Z?"

How do we know nobody tried that? They'd been there for 20 years, and we only saw a tiny fraction of what happened to them during that time.

I guess you might expect the pseudo-documentary to address that point, after they explain that humans can't use the weapons. But I don't think the documentary was supposed to be reliable; probably they left out all kinds of info. (How reliable was our media about Iraq, for example?)

I don't really buy the "mentally incapable/unwilling" angle. To me it seemed more likely that they just gave up trying to fight back for the most part, after 20 years of seeing every uprising ultimately get crushed. Of course the documentary is going to portray them as incapable--its makers are racist/species-ist/whatever.
posted by equalpants at 12:07 PM on September 2, 2009


How do we know nobody tried that?

Because we're not shown any indication that anyone tried that.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:23 PM on September 2, 2009


Well, that's the crux of it, then. I didn't assume that we were being shown everything relevant. If you do assume that, then definitely, there's tons of stuff missing.
posted by equalpants at 12:33 PM on September 2, 2009


(...which, again, I find it pretty amazing how varied the reaction to this movie is--to me, that was one of the movie's major strengths, the not-showing-everything and not-addressing-every-question.)
posted by equalpants at 12:39 PM on September 2, 2009


I don't really buy the "mentally incapable/unwilling" angle. To me it seemed more likely that they just gave up trying to fight back for the most part, after 20 years of seeing every uprising ultimately get crushed.

It's not really plausible that such an event happened. (a) Even a piece of anti-alien propaganda would have mentioned it in order to remind everyone how dangerous they were to justify District 9, and (b) if the aliens did such a thing they were defeated, then it simply isn't plausible that they aliens would have been allowed to keep their weapons around to later trade with the Nigerians.

There are some plausible explanations I can make up to close the plot holes: for example, that there were only a few weapons in the entirety of district nine, a couple which ended up in the hands of the Nigerians and a couple which ended up at MNU. And that was it... these three or four artifacts out of a population of more than a million. However, I don't really think it's my job to come up with plausible explanations to close the blatant plot holes that the writer and director themselves created in order to convince myself it wasn't as flawed as it is.

Brandon's explanation is the most plausible:
It's as if Blomkamp had theidea to use the District 6 situation in a scifi setting but then really didn't develop the scifi aspects and didn't realize the major difference between the two
"District 9" is considered a "good" movie because it uses a creative premise that's more thought provoking than the average sci-fi movie. But the premise is just a backdrop for the heist/escape part of the movie. If I'm going to be particularly scornful of the movie, then I'd say that the very thing that draws praise for "District 9" is just a MacGuffin.
posted by deanc at 12:40 PM on September 2, 2009


Even a piece of anti-alien propaganda would have mentioned it

Ah, but the documentary wasn't anti-alien propaganda--it was wishy-washy liberal propaganda! It was pro-alien, anti-MNU, but very quietly so, making sure to emphasize that even the bad guys are decent folks. It was something you might see on 60 Minutes; something that the Democratic Party might put out.

But I agree about the quantity of weapons lying around in District 9. Obviously they're not going to be able to find everything, but you'd think they would've found the big-ass mech suit, for example.
posted by equalpants at 12:50 PM on September 2, 2009


But I agree about the quantity of weapons lying around in District 9. Obviously they're not going to be able to find everything, but you'd think they would've found the big-ass mech suit, for example.

Or the piece of the ship that fell off and lay there for at 3 months before any alien set foot off the planet. It's a neat trick that they managed to find and then bury it, very smart, those clueless aliens.

the not-showing-everything and not-addressing-every-question

There's a fundamental lack of understanding here. I'm not asking for that everything be shown or every question be addressed. I'm asking for a sensible plot. The premise is interesting, but once you start to pose questions, the plot falls apart and then you're left with an interesting premise and good effects.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:05 PM on September 2, 2009


"Know one knows" would be perfectly acceptable, its a total strawman to say that everyone complaining about the film demands hand holding and complete explanation. No, it's that no one wants to know when it becomes implausible. I love a story that hinges on one or several unreliable narrators, but these narrators weren't so much unreliable as unbelievable. Uninquisitive, unsympathetic, uninteresting. Stock personas with no real motivation who display no interest in the bigger picture, which, remember, is what supposedly makes this movie unique, the edgy allegorical scenario it opens with in a rush, and who in the end learn nothing except that they miss their wife and want everything to go back to normal. Which in the end is pretty much what happens, nothing changes and life goes on as usual, like in every episodic sitcom. No catharsis, no anagnorisis. It's a good enough movie as pieces of crap go, but I had been informed that it was different. Hence the higher standard, hence the disappointment.
posted by kaspen at 1:49 PM on September 2, 2009


There's a fundamental lack of understanding here.

Maybe so, I guess. I took this comment to mean that if we didn't see it in the movie, then it didn't happen (at least for major plot points like "why don't the humans just try to assemble a prawn army instead"--obviously they can't show every tiny little thing). Did I misunderstand?

nothing changes and life goes on as usual

Heh heh, I guess I'm just a sucker for pessimistic movies. I would've hated it if anything had changed, or life hadn't gone on as usual.
posted by equalpants at 1:52 PM on September 2, 2009


its a total strawman to say that everyone complaining about the film demands hand holding and complete explanation. No, it's that no one wants to know when it becomes implausible.

Agreed. Everybody's suspension of disbelief works a little differently; everyone's going to find some of the missing plot points implausible while not objecting at all to others. I didn't have any major objections to the plot, but if I had, I would also want them to be addressed.

I do think that this movie was made by pessimists and cynics. I think that the people who will find the movie the most plausible are the people with the most pessimistic outlook, for better or worse. Some of the most common plot objections (why don't the prawns fight back? why don't the humans hire prawn soldiers?) aren't implausible if your default view of things is "that'll never work"--best laid plans of mice and men, and all that shit.
posted by equalpants at 2:17 PM on September 2, 2009


Some of the most common plot objections (why don't the prawns fight back? why don't the humans hire prawn soldiers?) aren't implausible if your default view of things is "that'll never work"--best laid plans of mice and men, and all that shit.

Yet you're perfectly willing to accept the idea that Wikus is able to escape MNU, make it back to District 9, steal the Nigerians' weapons, and then team up with Christopher to use the alien weapons can break back into MNU, steal the fuel, then get back to District 9, fight off the MNU, and get the secretly-hidden command module back in flight (after being shot down) to return to allow the mothership to depart. That'll never work.

I think you're missing the arguments that a lot of people are making. It's not just about the situation within District 9 itself. It's about the situation in the context of everything else that happens in the movie.
posted by deanc at 2:27 PM on September 2, 2009


No, it's that no one wants to know when it becomes implausible.

Just to clarify, I meant that no one within the film seems to give a shit about these broader questions, not us the audience. The aliens are on cable news 24 hours a day with hysterical coverage, yet the public has no curiosity whatsoever as to the aliens culture or capacities? Even though we speak their language?

Don't get me wrong, I can appreciate your argument. I just didn't feel the movie was pessimistic enough.
posted by kaspen at 2:43 PM on September 2, 2009


Yet you're perfectly willing to accept the idea [...]

Yep. C'est la vie!

(Hey, what can I say? I'm not saying anyone else is wrong, I just find it interesting to talk about which parts were plausible and implausible for different people. Wikus's action-movie heroics bothered me a tiny bit, but not really all that much. To me it doesn't seem that unrealistic that one guy who knows what he's doing can have some brief success, but ultimately lose once everyone else catches up with him. He does lose, pretty much--he manages to deal with the MNU guys who come in after him, but after that he's cornered inside District 9 with no more weapons. I would expect any prawn uprising to be similar--some early success, then a comprehensive beatdown.)
posted by equalpants at 2:45 PM on September 2, 2009


Also, it would appear that deanc has "gotcha" there.
posted by kaspen at 2:45 PM on September 2, 2009


I have to say I liked Rat Spatula's insight on this discussion to best:
not only does everyone hate this movie, they all hate it for different reasons.
As I wrote on my twitter feed when coming out of the theater, it manages to be a disappointment while also being one of the best science fiction movies I've seen in a while.
posted by deanc at 3:05 PM on September 2, 2009


> It's more like there's a big difference between what people perceive as a plot hole.

Yeah, I wish I'd said something more like that.
posted by nowonmai at 3:23 PM on September 2, 2009


Oh, okay, he got me. I don't like the movie anymore. :)

(Seriously, this movie inspires some weird discussions. I can totally see how the weak plot could ruin it for someone. But I sat there and watched it and was able to suspend disbelief for almost all of it--I was able to imagine explanations that made sense. I'd be lying if I said otherwise!)
posted by equalpants at 3:24 PM on September 2, 2009


Haha, by all means love it. The discussion here has been worth the ticket price for me, and if it sells enough tickets to give sci-fi some credibility and inspire others to attempt more non-conventional plot lines, it's a net win. Now I'm off to investigate this Moon movie.
posted by kaspen at 3:38 PM on September 2, 2009


(Seriously, this movie inspires some weird discussions. I can totally see how the weak plot could ruin it for someone. But I sat there and watched it and was able to suspend disbelief for almost all of it--I was able to imagine explanations that made sense. I'd be lying if I said otherwise!)
Certainly in its defense, if the movie were a crappy braindead summer blockbuster, we wouldn't be having this discussion at all. Both the original teaser trailer and the Alive in Joburg short film on which District 9 was based are really great pieces of science fiction. Once you set up that premise, people are start going to start being more demanding about consistency and plot than they are in, say, Transformers 2.
posted by deanc at 3:38 PM on September 2, 2009


Maybe so, I guess. I took this comment to mean that if we didn't see it in the movie, then it didn't happen (at least for major plot points like "why don't the humans just try to assemble a prawn army instead"--obviously they can't show every tiny little thing). Did I misunderstand?

Yeah, I was only talking about that specific scenario you proposed. I'm fine with things being left unsaid or not spelled, I loved the ending of Lost in Translation for that specific reason, but it worked there. It doesn't seem to work D9, there's too many holes

How did that mecha suit get down on the ground? How was the fuel still good after we're shown a single drop was enough to fill it up, yet Wickus uses considerably more when it sprays all over him? Why the hell didn't the mother ship come looking for the piece that fell off if it was so important?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:52 PM on September 2, 2009


I am surprised that there very few mentions to Kafka's The Metamorphosis. To me, the transformation is handled the same way. It is not important how he is becoming a bug. It is what it means to face your buggy-ness.
posted by FireSpy at 7:51 PM on September 2, 2009


deanc: "I have to say I liked Rat Spatula's insight on this discussion"

I won't deny it gives me a Special Feeling to hear you say that, but I think I was just echoing what equalpants said. Which I guess means you guys aren't really arguing.
posted by Rat Spatula at 10:05 PM on September 2, 2009


How was the fuel still good after we're shown a single drop was enough to fill it up, yet Wickus uses considerably more when it sprays all over him?

I was under the impression that the whole "fuel collection" thing was a significantly long process. Which doesn't completely jibe with the "Christopher evolved his intelligence over time" thing that I've seen as an explanation.
posted by graventy at 4:03 PM on September 3, 2009


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