Sunday, August 16, 2009

District 9: Much ado about nothing

District 9 is currently the hot movie racing up the charts. This is true both in terms of box office dollars and critical praise. I saw it last night with great expectations. In short: It disappointed me. The absolute bottom line is that this is like many Peter Jackson's productions. It is strong on core concept and visual effects, and pretty lame overall. It is hard for me to put my finger on precisely what the problem was, but the movie is basically flat. I watched it, and I really didn't care. I just didn't give a damn.

So why did it fail? Perhaps it is a vain attempt to say something about race relations and international relations when you really don't have anything to say (of importance) about race relations or international relations. Perhaps it is because this movie is too sharply derivative of Alien Nation and Starship Troopers. I think this is probably the most important factor. Neill Blomkamp & Peter Jackson basically ripped an Alien Nation meets Starship Troopers Frankenhooker script, and shot it to the best of their abilities (which are fairly good). There are also elements of Kafka's Metamorphosis, and also the hand-cam movies like Cloverfield and Quarantine.

For those who don't yet know this, I took the basic film appreciation course at UCLA. It was the only fun course I took during my 2.33 years there. I did it for shits and giggles. The two most outstanding units in that text book were titled:
1. The truly rancid sequel
2. The Frankenhooker script

These two chapters attempted to explain at least two-thirds of epic disasters that have occurred in Hollywood history. When I say epic disasters, I mean tragically failed films which lost tens of millions of dollars, terminated promising careers, and sunk studio franchises. Transformers 2 is an example of the truly rancid sequel phenomenon. So was Blade III. The studio ordered up a sequel and scheduled the production budget before anyone had even bothered to think of a plot, write a script, or do a story board. That's how you get a truly rancid sequel.

The Frankenhooker is a bit different. A Frankenhooker script is one where the studio bosses demand the recombination of large components of other previously successful movies. You stitch together large story parts, as doctor Frankenstein did with body parts, and try to bring it to life with a jolt of electricity. A Frankenhooker is a concept that should be sexy, because it is composed of sexy body parts. Unfortunately, the surgical sutures are highly visible. The pieces that have been stitched together have inflamed red scars all over the place, showing signs of rejection and infection. Wanted was the great Frankenhooker of last year. It too was financially & critically successful. Two years ago, Doomsday was the big Frankenhooker. I actually liked that one, although it was neither critically nor financially successful.

Blow-by-blow, play-by-play, minute-to-minute, District-9 botches the game with fatious attempts at ultra-satire. It is very clear that Paul Verhooven is Neill Blomkamp super-hero and idol. He wants to make a snarky ultra-satire of the sort Paul Verhooven would be proud of. OCP in the Robocop movies is replaced with MNU in District 9. Their first job is to run around in District 9 getting the aliens to sign eviction notices. The Prawns have been given names like "Christopher Johnson". The Prawns engage in cross-species prostitution just as the aliens in Alien Nation did {when you see the Prawns, you will realize that this is fatious attempt at humor}. MNU is even more heartless than OCP, with the Big Bossman willing to vivisect his own son-in-law and leave his daughter widdowed in order to discover how humans can manipulate alien weapons. We have some preposterous leaps of faith in this script as well. I am expected to believe that exposure to an alien fuel cell will cause a human being to mutate into into a Prawn. I find this no more believable than the notion that a Prawn might mutate into a human after being exposed to battery acid.

What shocks me is that supposedly intelligent, high-minded art critics are greeting this film as an intelligent work of art!?!?! They hell you say waaahhhh? WTF? Who did what? I am absolutely sure I have no idea of what the hell they are babbling about in their reviews. They must not have seen the same movie I did. At the core, this is an incredibly stupid film, without any point to make. The only point was the Frankenhooker point: To recombine pieces of a previously successful pair of films, and make some money with a new property.

So can we laugh at this movie? Is it funny? Nope. Unlike Paul Verhooven's movies, my audience only laughed once during District 9. This was during the preposterous photo of Wikus fucking a Prawn. That was outrageous enough to make the audience understand that this was a clear-cut attempt at humor. They obliged the film makers by laughing. I thought it looked foolish as hell. Nobody would ever do such a thing. Any corp that broadcast this picture to discredit a guy, would itself become the subject of ridicule. Do you really expect us to believe this?

Ultimately, this is not a wretched-bad film, but it isn't a good one either. It is just a mediocre weird film. Put this in the same category with Peter Jackson's King Kong and with the recently departed Watchmen. It's just one of those mis-begotten concepts that almost panned out, but couldn't escape weak ideas & writing.