Sunday, August 16, 2009


There will be many who read what I'm about to write and will feel I missed the point of the new movie District 9. Trust me when I write this - I didn't.

I get the metaphor to the events in Johannesberg. I understand the parallels to genocide and how the filmmakers turned the genre on it's head by swivelling around story conventions so the exact opposite of what we will assume will happen, happens. I appreciate the clear work, effort and thought which went into the style of the movie, it's tone, the much-adored 'documentary' feel for horror movies today - a very effective technique to break down the 'fourth wall' in drama so there is no separation between the events being shown and our involvement in them.

I see all of the work and talent and sheer audacity which went into the film, but this is my personal bottom line - it made me sick to my stomach. And to make matters worse, I walked out after 1 hour.

So I can't fully review what may have transpired in the final third act. It could have turned into a rock 'em, sock 'em action flick (which, from what I've heard, is partially the case), there could have been a great redemption in the end to counter the nihilist streak I endured the first hour of the film. I'll only know when I see this on DVD (perhaps).

But for me, this is what I saw in the first hour and it made me want to leave:
  • Aliens peeing on garbage
  • Aliens eating garbage
  • Aliens being hacked to pieces and devoured
  • A man mutilated by an alien
  • Said man tortured and cause grievous pain in a laboratory under harsh lights so all can be seen, screaming and begging for his life
  • Men vomiting and vomiting and vomiting
  • Fingers pulled from fingers; blood gushing following
This was all portrayed without a bit of irony or humor. I know why the filmmakers chose this, they were making a point about genocide, about war, about human cruelty, the same way Spielberg made a statement about war in Saving Private Ryan, but the simple truth is parts of these two films I found very painful to endure and I don't feel I want to spend my time enduring a movie without any base level of redemption or enjoyment (SPR did have redemption, it's true, but the first act is, quite possibly, so difficult to sit through it ranks in the top 10 movies I will never, ever see again).

I seem to be alone in this opinion. District 9 made $17 million on it's first day. Fairly astounding for August. And for a cheap movie. America is eating it up and I'm not entirely sure why. Entertainment Weekly calls it the best movie of the summer. They have spent millions pushing and pushing the movie. Except for a few gasps in the theater where I saw the first hour, everyone seems rather...placid. How they can remain placid during such graphic and unrelenting violence confuses me.

This is a matter of critics in the country praising this because of it's metaphorical content, thus absolving the filmmakers and not challenging them to find a more interesting way of showing graphic violence then close-up's on bloody arms and gushing heads blown apart. It's okay as long as the movie has a message, right?

The film reminds me of a film I personally loathe. Cloverfield. Cloverfield wasn't violent like District 9, but they both have the same feeling of a very elaborate and expensive hat trick pulled on the American public. Cloverfield relished in promising us something very interesting and visceral via online web ads and Internet campaigns and blogger postings. Fiscally, it worked. The movie made $171 million world wide and had a reported budget of $10 million. J.J. Abrams laughed all the way to the bank on that one. But the movie was, in the end, garbage both stylistically and in terms of narrative and cock teasing. All teasing; no showing.

District 9 isn't garbage; it simply isn't for me. While I truly don't understand why America is flocking to such violence, I respect it is tapping into something, yet I find what that 'something' is a bit disturbing. Makes me wonder why Peter Jackson chose to invest so much of his life into this. Must be some madness and rage behind those eyes we aren't privy to.

Despite what is, I'm sure, to all men under the age of 30, an instant 'classic' and 'totally cool', I'm going to have to say this:

Mikey Movie Madness scale - 5 for sheer technical and professional execution but a solid 3 in terms of gut-wrenching and painful viewing unenjoyment.

See you at the cinema!!


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