When I first heard that Peter Jackson was producing a new summer movie, my heart raced. When I saw the trailer – it raced faster. Not surprisingly, District 9 was the top grossing film in its first week of release. And at some point over the weekend IMDB reported that it had also soared to #26 on the all-time greatest movie list Combine this with one raving review after another – and I was fully caught up in the hype. So in an usual act of bravado (considering our current workloads), I met my business partner for lunch and a matinee. We were both pumped.
Then we saw it.
As we left, we looked at each other and shrugged. Hype sucks.
There may be some spoilers here, but this isn't a synopsis – so read on at your own risk.
The core theme of the movie is man's inhumanity to man. Except, it's aliens. Aliens as a double entendre. Aliens who almost crashed to earth but stopped right above Johannesburg, SA. Johannesburg as a double entendre. Apartheid is a black cloud that hangs over the city as a spaceship throughout the entire movie. I suppose all of these 'deep philosophical metaphors' must be the reason for all the hype. Which is to say that this movie was just smart enough to make you feel smart about recognizing the obvious symbolism – but not so smart to fully capitalize on it. In fact – I think the whole apartheid angle pretty much fizzled thirty minutes in.
The special effects are great. That I'll give it. The aliens are very cool – a cross between Alien, Predator and giant grasshoppers. Part Saw, part Starship Troopers and part Wild Bunch – this movie has a lot of blood (both human and alien.) If you're into movies about people vaporizing into red clouds, amputations, mutilations and mutations – this is the movie you've been waiting for. Plus, the weapons are like…so totally cool! And they use them basically the entire time – all while being filmed on hand-held cameras. It's a downright dizzying pace that stops just long enough for chunks of fresh meat to splatter onto the lens.
Oh, and duh, how could I forget? There is a significant Nigerian voodoo warlord angle in this movie too! FTW!
Ultimately though, this is a buddy flick. The question of whether there's hope for humans to overcome our fear of people (or species) who are different is played out through the relationship between one of the smarter aliens (who responds to the name Christopher) and a protagonist human who starts out as a infanticidal antagonist with a dogmatic commitment to duty. But rather than a relationship like Riggs and Murtaugh in the Lethal Weapon series – this one's more like Willis and Jeriba in Enemy Mine. In fact…oh forget it.
This movie mercilessly ends at some point. Or does it? There were multiple hints about a 'return in three years.' Maybe we'll learn to live with each other by then. But I doubt it.