The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft

Went to the cinema on Tuesday to see District 9. It was great fun, and you don’t need to have seen the previous 8 District films to understand it.

District 9 is an odd film; in terms of the subject matter, it should be a low-budget, straight-to-festivals genre piece. Instead the director was given loads of money and made an action blockbuster, but with what would seem to be a very uncommercial premise. The fact that the film’s done very well just goes to show that Nobody Knows Anything and that what is ‘commercial’ is often so safe, samey and predictable it performs badly, when what each film needs is to be Like Nothing You’ve Ever Seen Before.

Obviously there are all sorts of reversals I wouldn’t want to spoil; suffice it to say that in the first ten minutes of film you discover the setting; it’s set in the present day, more or less, but one in which an alien spaceship appeared in the skies above Johannesburg twenty years ago bringing with it a million alien refugees resembling giant prawns. Ever since, the refugees have been held in a ghetto township, and as the film starts, plans are afoot to have them moved to a concentration camp.

I’m not sure the film is supposed to be drawing specific analogies with the apartheid system; it does provide a certain frisson but mostly the South African setting is for novelty, and to give the film a gritty, dusty atmosphere, to make the science fiction elements feel more grounded and visceral.

The other uncommercial element of the film is that it doesn’t have any stars in it, no Toms, Brads or Johnnies. Instead it has a career-making performance from Sharlto Copley, playing a middle-manager who is wildly out of his depth.

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