Mr. Bill George Presents

District 9 Sleeps Alone

In Film on August 18, 2009 at 2:36 AM

I like to go into my movies fresh. I mean really fresh. I’ll watch a teaser for something, if there is one, or the first 30 seconds of a full trailer. If I’m watching the trailer online, I’ll simply stop it once I get the idea. If I’m watching the trailer in the theater, I’ll actually close my eyes after a certain point and do my best to ignore the sound.

Neill Blomkamp’s directorial debut District 9 was no exception. I watched the initial teaser trailer and went on a media blackout from then on. But I tell ya, that teaser stuck with me.

It didn’t depict exactly what the movie would be like, but it conveyed the premise and my imagination did the rest. Now I’ve seen the actual film and I’m having trouble reconciling what I saw on the screen and what I saw in my head.

I can’t help but judge this movie two separate ways. It succeeds in terms of execution but also fails by limiting itself to being a pedestrian action flick.


The film begins by getting the audience up to speed, documentary style, with the events of the past twenty years. An alien mothership has been hovering over Johannesburg and the aliens that occupied it now live in a contained slum known as District 9.

All of this is great, great stuff. The effects are fantastic, the story is gripping, and faux-documentary is always a winning style choice if you ask me (Death of a President anyone?). It begins to scratch the surface of all the sociological questions raised by these visitors… Then we start to follow around one alien affairs officer who begins to mutate into an alien.

Enter 30 straight minutes of running, hiding and screaming. (Lots and lots of screaming.)

Then, in the third act, our protagonist teams up with an alien in a sequence reminiscent of Aliens vs. Predator. Yes, this movie reminded me of AVP. (That’s never a good thing.) Together they proceed to run and gun. And gun and run.

Is it entertaining? For sure. Well done? Absolutely. Original? Eh, not particularly. Unforgettable? Hardly.

I suppose my overall gripe is with the filmmakers’ content selection. I found myself much more interested in the complexities of the mass relocation of a hostile alien race than in a pencil pusher going through a Fly-esque transformation. The vision they present to us in the beginning is worldwide in scope and its ramifications are on a macro scale. But by the end of the picture we find ourselves following a guy and his alien buddy trying to reclaim a MacGuffin.

Speaking of the finale, did I miss something or did it not seem to make much sense? So the ship’s fuel also has the interesting property of causing genetic mutation in humans? And is the fuel just for the drop-ship or the mothership or both? Did he need all that fuel just to fire up the tractor beam (which apparently is all that was really required)? Did he really just fall to his knees and give a ‘go on without me’ speech?

And so I stand before you a conflicted man. I love action as much as the next guy but some more depth would have been appreciated. Lord knows I’m not asking for an intergalactic Crash here, I just want some more effort put into the plotting of the second half.

As is, it is a great movie and you should see it. I just can’t help but remain fixated on the fact that telling a different story using the same premise could have yielded more spectacular results.

UPDATE: I know the reaction to the film has been very strong and positive. But I just wanted to toss out the fact I’m not alone. A former professor of mine and current filmmaker/scriptwriter/blogger posted about District 9 with similar feelings to my own. And frankly he put it a lot more succinctly than I did, so be sure to check it out HERE.

—Bonus points to the first person to name the song this post’s title is playing off of and who it is by.—

  1. I didn’t read anything except the first few paragraphs since I am going to see it tonight, but…

    ❤ The Postal Service (The District Sleeps Alone Tonight)

  2. I could not agree with you more, I really liked it, I just wanted more from the story line.

  3. This is a perfect review. I thought it was going to be a lot more about coexistence, etc. although judging by the way those themes were clumsily handled when touched on in the movie, i wonder if it would have been heavy handed. all in all, still a good movie although any message it had ended up being sadly garbled…

  4. George Thorogood – I drink alone?

    I saw the movie tonight and agree 100% with your comments, I actually can’t wait for District 10????

  5. I also saw the movie…I liked the premise but the movie got a little lost for me near the end…it was too simplified just like you said Bill…just a couple drops of fluid after 20 years in the making is going to get your people home? Just a little weak for me…should have
    had a stronger ending.

  6. I feel they will explain more alien technology with district 10. I mean this movie was from the point of view of how the humans view the aliens essentially, and they have no f’in clue how their technology works. digressing into why their magic space juice fuels ships and alters dna wouldn’t really of fit in well with the pacing of the movie. I mean Christopher was the only one who seemed to be an intelligent prawn and having him explain to Wikus the inner workings of their technology would have worked contrary to the action plot this movie was designed for.

  7. True Matt, but it does seem a little convenient that they were able to find this tiny bit of fluid after twenty years of searching in some random junkyard, and also that the same thing that could save the alien race also is capable of driving the entire plot of the movie forward. I don’t think it was necessary to have both be the same thing, and while they did an adequate job of explaining it, it was still one of my few issues with the movie. I do disagree with comments that say that because it was an action movie in the end that the message was clumsily handled. I think they did an excellent job of subtly layering a message underneath the plot. In fact I would wager it was the main focus, which might explain some of the convenient circumstances in the plot. In my opinion District 9 was a movie about a person coming to understand the people/animals/things he oppressed. It’s a universal theme that could be true for any oppressed group. I think they handled this with a suprising amount of subtlty, genius and control. I do wish that the plot hadn’t taken a back seat to the message quite so strongly though.

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