Sci-fi fans are some of the most beaten down in the world of cinema, second only to horror nerds in terms of being repeatedly disappointed by the projects that are green lit and eventually make it to the screen. The idea of intelligent science-fiction – you know, the kind that actually has snappy dialogue and a plot to go along with hissing alien faces and flying laser bolts – seems to have died out in the 1990’s and been replaced by special effects highlight reels that leave audiences feeling empty inside by the time the credits role.
I honestly thought “District 9” would be different. After having seen the short film it was based on, I felt that maybe they would be able to capture that same pithy, anti-Apartheid sentiment and somehow stretch it out across a full-length feature. I should have known that the chances of that actually happening were about as slim as the chances that Paris Hilton could pass an STD test without having to cast some kind of magic skank healing spell.
All the pieces are there – aliens who click and clock like Eddie Murphy mocking African tribes in the 80’s, institutionalized racism in the form of vaguely Germanic corporate bureaucrats, and a black goo that mysteriously renders your best masturbatory arm a confused tangle of slimy tendrils. Throw in some about-to-take-place ethnic cleansing and we would appear to have a winner – at least from a social commentary perspective.
It’s at this point that I can almost picture the meeting that went on between the creative principles in the film. Sitting around one of those big tables, shooting the shit and hammering out those vital plot points over a huge bowl of blow:
“Say,” says one of the honchos. “These aliens – they’ve probably got some pretty kick-ass guns, right?”
“Right,” says one of the script minions.
“Well how about a scene where they, you know, test them out. On dead pigs and stuff. And each other.”
“Errrr – ok,” says the script minion, nervously glancing around the room and wondering where this is going.
“And then how about tacking a half hour of pure mech-suit carnage onto the end of the film where we shoot as many bullets, lightning bolts and rockets as possible. Oh, and a three-way firefight between skinheads, a Nigerian gang and an unstoppable robot.”
Because that’s EXACTLY what sci-fi fans want to see. 100 metric tons of blood, hot lead and explosives smeared onto the tail end of a movie like some kind of big, ultra-violent middle finger to anyone in the audience possessing more than half a brain. Sorry, “District 9” didn’t come here to think, it came here to fuck – and it’s going to leave a great big stain on YOUR side of the bed when it’s done.
In many ways, “District 9” represents precisely what is wrong with all the torture-porn and pointless SFX garbage that gets shoveled at horror and sci-fi fans these days. Back in the day, directors knew how to ride the knife edge between tension, believability and action. Now, all they do spray as much blood as they can across the silver screen before signing their names across the bottom like some kind of obscene, stylistic finger-painting.
Why bother making alien characters compelling if you are just going to eviscerate them for everyone’s pleasure in the second hour? Why bother parking a giant alien ship in the sky if all it’s going to do is rust for 20 years and then act as deus ex machina in the final ten minutes? The real question, finally becomes why would you waste your time and money on drivel like “District 9” when you could just make Devil’s Tower out of a plate of mashed potatoes and derive the same level of artistic enjoyment?
What’s that? It’s Peter Jackson on Line 3 – he wants to option your leftovers - and then blow them up. Awesome.
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