Sunday, August 16, 2009

Have you seen District 9?

If you haven't yet, you'll want to. Forget Star Trek. THIS is the summer movie that everyone will remember and be talking about long after the warm weather leaves us. Breathtakingly original and thought-provoking, this is why God invented science fiction.

I don't dare say much about the film's premise, because the less you know about it the more it will have the power to gobsmack you as it rightly should, but I'll set it up for you a bit. A spaceship appears, not over New York or Los Angeles or London or Tokyo, but over Johannesburg, South Africa. The ship hovers over the city for three months before someone decides to cut their way in. What lies in wait is about a million emaciated, disgusting-looking creatures. The city attempts to make a place for them, albeit not a comfortable one, and if you know even a little about South Africa's recent history, you'll be drawing some rather striking parallels early on.

The film cuts between faux documentary-style footage and video testimonials and a more personal, intimate story. The doc-style segments are heaviest at the beginning and end and much lighter in the middle. Some critics might call this uneven, but what I think this does is set up how you see the main character in the beginning, before you follow him on this journey, and contrast it with how you see the character when the film goes back to the more news-like footage.

There are a heck of a lot of elements to this story, and every twenty minutes or so it confounds your expectations about where it was going to go. It's exciting to see a film that keeps you guessing and doesn't give itself away on the posters and trailers.

Special mention must be made to the heroes of this movie. Yes, the only name people will recognize on this movie's list of credits is Peter Jackson, who produced it, but two names are about to skyrocket into the cultural consciousness, if this film gets the attention it deserves from audiences.

First is Sharlto Copley, for whom this is a first feature film. This is literally his only acting credit on (which, admittedly, is not the most accurate source in the world, but other sources seem to bear this out). He also apparently ad-libbed most of his lines in the "documentary" footage. This man is proof positive that you don't need a long list of film credits and a $25 million paycheck to carry a film. And he's a far more compelling "action" star than most of the bloated, overexposed action heroes Hollywood has at its disposal.

The other hero of this film is its director, Neill Blomkamp, who did with $30 million what other filmmakers could only dream of doing with 6 or 7 times that kind of budget. He does for sci-fi - specifically stories about contact with aliens - what Romero did for zombie movies. Good genre fare with a little (or even a lot) more to it. Blomkamp and Copley are sure to have a lot of opportunities come their way in the wake of this film, and they deserve every bit of it. It's incredibly satisfying to see talented people who aren't seated in the golden hand of Hollywood make an impression.

At least as satisfying as seeing this film hit the top of the box office totals for its opening weekend, bringing in more money in one weekend than was spent to make it. And this is surely not the end of its success. Tarantino may rule the roost this coming weekend, but District 9 is a movie that's going to grow as people hear about it and talk about it. This could turn out to be the most exciting film of the summer.

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