WDEL Blog: Eclectic Hobbies with Allan Loudell

"District 9" - Not your typical Sci-fi!

I must confess I'm not a big fan of sci-fi movies. I don't rush out for the latest installment of "Star Wars" or "Star Trek". "Starship Troopers" left me cold.

The few sci-fi flicks I've really liked ("Contact", "A.I. Artificial Intelligence") transcend the special effects to challenge us about faith, discrimination, etc.

Not to overshadow our prime movie reviewer - Rachael Samuels - here...

So when my wife dragged a less-than-enthusiastic me to see "District 9" Sunday, I was prepared to be bored. At the start, I was.

But I gradually got drawn into this movie depicting extraterrestrials as unwanted immigrants stranded in Johannesburg. The documentary-style interview clips hooked me.

I hadn't really read reviews about this movie, so I was a bit surprised to hear the South African accents (and the SABC - South African Broadcasting Corporation - logo in the "news" accounts).

The clash between authorities of a South African para-miliary and a "global" company (like Haliburton?), and the extraterrestrials substitutes metaphorically for the lingering racial and class tensions in the new South Africa, not to mention Soweto and the "homelands" in the old apartheid South Africa. (In South African history, the White minority government forcibly relocated people of mixed race from District 6, once a rather cosmopolitan section of Cape Town, to the "Cape Flats". Fast-forward to now: The very filming of "District 9" - in Soweto - took place as Zimbabwean refugees faced massacres, and eviction, from South African shanty towns... an eerily contemporary parallel! Indeed, some Zimbabwean refugees have lived illegally - and faced persecution - in the "old" Soweto.)

But since the film plays at two or three levels, you don't have to know that subtext to enjoy this movie, I suspect.

Hollywood could NOT have done this.

Still, I'm struck no reviewer I've read has noted a parallel between "District 9" and Steven Spielberg's "A.I. Artificial Intelligence". One reviewer DID mention parallels with "The Fly" for our central character; the parallel crossed my mind too.

Interesting that a low-budget, space-alien flick set in South Africa with no known actors or actresses opened as Hollywood's Number One movie this past weekend. That it earned more at the box office than it cost to make tells you something.

The last South African film to score before U.S. audiences actually came out before the end of the apartheid era: "The Gods Must Be Crazy" in 1985-86. These movies differ greatly, but I believe they have a some things in common: A certain sensibility to the human condition, fascination in the clash of cultures & civilizations, and a tightly interwoven story-line, each component periscoping in the next.

I suspect word-of-mouth, viral marketing, plus mostly positive - and some ecstatic - reviews.. will buttress "District 9" for a second weekend.

Look for the sequel!

WARNING: A definite R-rated flick because of the graphic violence and a flurry of South African-accented, expletives.

That said, many parents brought their kids.

As I recall, "Starship Troopers" got pretty gory, and contained the shower scene and another adult scene you don't get in "District 9".

Posted at 3:37pm on August 17, 2009 by Allan Loudell

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Comments on this post:

Rick Jensen
Fri, Aug 21, 2009 11:06am
Ray Bradbury said of SciFi: "Anything you dream is fiction, and anything you accomplish is science, the whole history of mankind is nothing but science fiction." Although I haven't read the following in any quote of Asimov, Bradbury or others, I think you'll find that the best of science fiction writing (see Fahrenheit 451, the Martian Chronicles, Ender's War, Foundation Series or I, Robot), is that which explores the Human Condition in an unusual setting.

Tue, Aug 25, 2009 9:41pm
You are not stepping on any toes. I ride the fence about whether to see this flick or not as I traditionally don't like alien movies, (although ET was my fave movie when I was 4). I look to check this movie out possibly on demand or via redbox when it does hit dvd.

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