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Brian Questions Whether District 9 Really Does Blow Your Mind?

District 9 has been called a lot of things over the past several weeks.  It has been said that the movie will blow your mind and that it is the must see movie of the year by Entertainment Weekly.  Harry Knowles of Aint It Cool News has gone on record as saying he was mind f*#ked by the movie.  Heck, when last checked today, the film even held an A- rating by both critics and users on Yahoo! Movies.  So why do I feel like the bearer of bad news and in the minority here?  That’s because I am.  I am going to spend the next several paragraphs giving you a quick history lesson about District 9 and convincingly try to explain why I feel that this one can easily be saved for a future rental or at least a matinee ticket.

A co-worker of mine originally educated me on the following and I did a little research to make sure his statements were valid.  As history would have it, once upon a time the legendary Peter Jackson asked Neill Blomkamp to direct Halo, a film based on the video game of the same name.  I’m sure you are all familiar with the game Halo so there is no need to expand anymore on that.  Well it seemed that the movie studios and even Microsoft could not get along.  Can you even imagine Microsoft not getting along with anyone?  Eventually things kind of fell apart on the Halo project.  I was alright with that.  The last thing the world needs is another crappy video game movie.  So anyway, Peter Jackson felt like he needed to make it up to Neill, so he offered him a chance to expand his short film, Alive in Joburg, into full-length feature.  And the rest as they say is history.

I remember reading that the film only had a $30 million dollar budget to work with.  The filming process involved months of shooting in South Africa before the creation and addition of the alien creatures.  I also read that only one actor portrayed them all.  I imagine it was done much in the same fashion as Gollum was from The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  Peter Jackson’s Weta Digital company even had their own cooks in the kitchen helping out with the creation of additional visual effects.  One thing is for certain.  While the film had a low budget feel to it, the effects, for the most part, were top-notch grade A quality, even when judged by a stickler like myself.  And if you are surprised that you don’t recognize any of the actors, you shouldn’t be.  Within the $30 million dollar budget there is not an A listed actor to be found.  It worked for 2005’s The Descent all those years ago so that is not necessarily a bad thing.

The film opens with a series of interviews that introduces us to the confrontational situation and the location in Johannesburg, South Africa that is known as District 9.  We learn from the interviews that the aliens appeared 20 years ago as scientists and military personnel found them starving and malnourished.  They set up refugee camps for them while private companies quickly realized they could make money off of them if they could learn how to build and utilize their technology and weapons.  One such company, called MNU, tasks a field operative named Wikus (Sharlto Copley) with moving the aliens, often referred to as Prawns, to a new District 10 camp.  It is here that the first act closes and the second act begins as Wikus comes into contact with some peculiar black fluid that he will probably always regret tinkering with.  I know I would.  The outcome of his contact with the antagonistic black alien fluid is the meat and potatoes of this film as Wikus becomes a refugee and must find ways to fight alongside the same species he has been condemning all these years.  One Prawn, appropriately named Christopher Johnson, and his son are the key to his survival and his compassion.  It kind of makes you wonder where that name came from.  I will have to do a little research on that one some day.  So anyway, I think you can kind of see the cliché pattern building here where former enemies unite for a collaborated purpose and a man rises out of the ashes to become much more than meets the eye.  There’s a robot joke in there should you chose to partake in a viewing of this film.  Anyway, I am sure you are all probably anxiously wondering what the alien creatures look like too?  Well wonder no more.  In case you did not see the trailers here is my District 9 recipe.  Go get yourself a big bowl, throw in some Gollum and Bumble Bee, bake for 113 minutes at 350 degrees and then you got District 9.  Sounds simple enough, right?

So what exactly does Harry Knowles mean when he says he was mind f*$ked?  I had to first consult the Urban Dictionary to find out for myself.  I believe Harry was referring to the following definition of the term he coined and other reviewers quickly followed suit with.  To be mind f*$ked means “to experience a situation which calls into question the way your mind currently sees a certain idea or the world in general.  Such an experience usually leaves the person stunned/speechless while he/she begins wrapping his/her mind around the new idea.”  I’ll give Harry Knowles one point for his proper use of the term.  I agree with him on at least that much.  My interpretation of the definition stems from the barbaric, and excuse me for using the word, but inhumane way the alien creatures were treated.  I guess you can say that the people of Johannesburg, South Africa treated the aliens just like Mr. Vick treated those poor pooches, down right disgusting.  The injustice inflicted on the aliens definitely opened my eyes to just how horrific different races are treated around the world.  The mistreatment of the fictional aliens is no different then the persecution certain groups still undergo in today’s world.  Plain and simple, the human race has always reacted very violent towards indifference and some things never change.  Freeing the mind, from the corruption caused by mankind, all hinges upon what the final shocker is that ultimately opens your eyes and removes blinders in this cruel world. The main character, Wikus, definitely experiences this revelation as he becomes intimately involved in the Prawn’s fight for survival.

So, did District 9 really blow my mind?  It did not.  For all the reasons I listed it above it did, but that was not compelling enough to completely entrench me throughout the entire third act.  The movie became a walking cliché of the obligatory and forced firefight scene, within the third act, and the ending was an utter disappointment.  Actually, the ending pissed me off.  I was so let down.  The film seemed to end so abruptly in all the ways I wish it hadn’t.  Had the movie played out and delivered all it had potential to do so I strongly believe we would be having a totally different conversation right now.  I was on the edge of my seat rooting for Wikus, Christopher and his son and then came the Invincible ending, a cop out if I may, that I totally despise.  The movie is just shy of a 2-hour runtime, but had you awarded me 15 more minutes to properly seal the deal and close out the third act I would have put the film in my coveted top 5 of the year.  However, that never materialized.  Without giving away any potential spoilers I lay all other qualms I had with the film down to rest.

In recap, the film’s lack of a payoff is what doomed it for me.  There are other compelling films out there like Blood Diamond or The Island, which mind f*$k you from the standpoint I believe Harry Knowles was referring to, but ultimately pay off in the end.  They reward you for your time invested in the movie.  You come out feeling elevated like anyone can make a positive difference in this world if they tap into the hidden leader inside of them.  And then there are films like District 9 that put you through this heart wrenching mess only to be left hanging in the end when there should have been so much more in terms of rewards.  It’s a sacrifice you got to ask yourself are you ready to make.  In other words, is it worth the price of evening admission?  I will encourage a matinee viewing if you are still hell bent on seeing this film after reading my review.  That way, if you do not like what you have seen at least you saved $3 dollars.  I guess I will chalk it up as another one of those films where my seemingly high expectations were unfortunately let down.  I was happy to have seen it, but unwilling to revisit it again anytime in the near future.  Will there be a District 10?  I think given the right amount of box office magic anything is possible.  I mean there was a Pink Panther 2 right?  Point made!  If I can offer one last piece of advice it would be a warning for parents to keep the kiddies away.  This is not your Independence Day summer blockbuster film.  It is Rated R for a reason.  Like I said in my prior review, gather the family and enjoy a fun filled showing of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.  You can’t go wrong!

 

 

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Owner/Writer/Reviewer/Editor, Dreamer, Producer, Agent of Love, Film Lover, Writer of Screenplays and a Devoted Apostle to all things Ford Mustangs (the real ones with V8's!). Some of my favorite films include FIGHT CLUB, MOULIN ROUGE, THE DARK KNIGHT, STAR WARS alongside television shows such as SEINFELD, 24, SANFORD & SON and even the often loathed in the geek community BIG BANG THEORY. Outside of my three lives I live I also enjoy spending time with my girlfriend and our three girls (of the furry kind).

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