Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A smile is cheaper than a bullet. It can also hurt a lot more

Yesterday I went to see District 9, directed by Neill Blomkamp and starring a bunch of South African actors with weird South African accents. I absolutely loved it! Before I went into the theater I had two problems with the film's basic premise. The first was that I don't really like documentaries, or fake ones for that matter (more on that after the cute Prawn picture). Getting your point across through a series docu-style mock interviews just seems like a lazy way to do so. It's like the creators admit that they don't really have an interesting story or compelling characters, so all they're going to show you is a bunch of random scenes representing a bunch of random ideas they came up with in the shower one morning. The second thing that bothered me was that I don't really like science fiction that relies too much on allegories to current issues. I know allegories are the backbone of modern sci-fi, but when you lay it on too thick (interplanetary racial segregation in South Africa? how subtle!) it tends to get way too preachy in a very obvious way. I also feel that this brand of sci-fi storytelling is sort of apologetic, like, "yes, we're making a movie with aliens and spaceships, but it's nothing like all those other cheesy aliens and spaceships movies, this one is actually about important stuff!" Science fiction is a time honored genre in and of itself, and should be dealt with with pride, not embarrassment.
Thankfully, District 9 gets over those two points rather quickly, and so did I, and very happily so. It starts off as a docu-style sort of thing, but within about half an hour, after it's done setting up all you need to know about the world that the story takes place in, it turns into a very cool, very smart and extremely enjoyable action/sci-fi movie, never losing that dirty sense of reality, which is really really neat. The directing is excellent, the special effects are scary-real (both CG and practical), and Sharlto Copley does a very good job playing Wikus Van De Merwe, the lead character who starts off as an annoyingly cheerful Flight of the Conchords' Murray-type dork, and ends up as something quite different. And I really like the "humans are evil" vibe throughout the whole movie. I've been saying that for years! I totally want to see District 9 again, and I totally will.


Now, documentaries are not movies. I hate it when people refer to them as 'films'. If a documentary is a film, then a 3 minute TV news story is a short film, and every evening news edition is a short film anthology. That's the sort of doublespeak I loathe wholeheartedly. When you shoot a movie, you're creating something. When you shoot a documentary, you're just documenting. Walking around and pointing your camera at stuff does not make you a filmmaker in any way. If it did, every other asshole out there with a camphone would be calling themselves a filmmaker. Which I guess is already the case. Hmm.

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