Film: Neill Blomkamp: District 9 (2009)

On one hand, we could use the first half of District 9.  It’s got ferocious energy and a campy treatment of aliens living more or less peacefully among us, and – to a point – is told with the schlocky enthusiasm of reality TV that somehow feels more legitimate with its racial overtones.  Partly this has to do with its look: director Neill Blomkamp and his cinematographer, Trent Opaloch, have enormous fun with the throwaway suggestiveness of a well-placed documentary camera, tagging along as a team of government bureaucrats attempts to evict over a million aliens from their South African internment camp.  And partly it’s their unyielding commitment to present the situation with a straight face; Blomkamp deserves some kind of credit for trusting that we don’t need to see him tipping his hand.  If they’d stuck to this concept religiously, they might have had a wonderfully pleasurable little parable along the lines of Starship Troopers (1997), and retained the self-contained mystery of why the alien ship has stalled above Johannesburg to begin with, leaving its amusingly docile crew subject to the tactless anxiety of the human race.

On the other hand, it gives me no pleasure to agree with the contradictory likes of Armond White, but in the case of District 9 I think he’s deeply right.  Furthermore, whatever your personal feelings about a director’s implied intentions, Blomkamp hasn’t done himself any favors with interviews in which he discusses his disappointing failure to pull off Halo with producer Peter Jackson.  I doubt Blomkamp has much interest in the social metaphor lurking within District 9 outside of the extent to which it’s yet another familiar trope to add to this ratatouille – which includes the Hollywood war-realism of Black Hawk Down (2001) mixed with the disturbingly chaotic violence and social/racial undertones of Children of Men (2006), and a weird dash of Aliens (1986) – and this is okay, except that he’s consciously alluding to real, complex issues with the casual flippancy of a college sophomore with scant perspective (it’s no excuse that he’s from South Africa; he’s still making a movie).  I don’t know what I’m supposed to make of such a slapdash stew.  But Blomkamp’s silly descent into ultraviolent mayhem in the movie’s final third seems to tell me everything he makes of it.  I found his infantile insincerity making me angry.

What kind of reaction is that?  I guess I’ve just had enough of joyless destruction in movies.  If it’s supposed to be fun, make it fun; let the fascist army of Starship Troopers lose their heads – and arms, and legs – in a broadly allegorical campfest, but don’t leave enough room for us to invest a fuller-dimensional social context for the scenario in District 9, and then start annihilating the human quotient in wet splatters of blood and tissue for our amusement.

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