First of all, don’t get me wrong: I loved District 9. It’s always terrific to see a new voice in filmmaking burst out in such a robust manner.
But among all the glowing reviews, there were a few that echoed my own sentiments — that the film was kept from greatness by several truly shoddy lapses in logic.
Okay, more than several. There were a lot of logic problems.
I’m reminded of the great speculative writer Harlan Ellison, who criticized Star Wars when it came out for its shoddy logic. Not even mentioning its lamely roaring spaceships (in space, of course, no sound is emitted), he went straight for the cantina scene. He was shocked that none of the aliens, so to speak, needed any help surviving in Tatooine’s arid atmosphere. He posited that at least some of the creatures would have respirators, or bowls of water, or some sort of technological help to weather the planet’s unusually dry locale. Instead they all party as if they evolved there.
The same things occur to me regarding District 9, but even more so, because the movie wants to cling so closely to the alternate reality it creates.
A famous screenwriting rule is that your audience will accept one — one — leap of faith.Â After that, all should be realistic. For instance, take Spiderman — Peter Parker’s got superpowers. But beyond that, all drama and action follows the rules of its own system.
District 9 does not follow the rules of its own system.
Let’s take the opening: If an alien ship arrived suddenly, we probably wouldn’t send foot soldiers into the muck and goo found on it. There’d no doubt be microbes and little germy things that could potentially wipe out our race; we would proceed with extreme microbiological caution. Also, an advanced race — probably ancient and wise beyond our understanding — end up living in hovels, bullied by our limited technology and combustion engines? Nah. The same large, lumbering, super-strong, super-smart, potentially violent aliens being evicted by a small man with a clipboard? I don’t buy it. Later, the man sprays himself in the face with an alien goo, and he brushes it off and continues to do his job, even after vomiting? Not working for me. The same fellow, leaking black blood from his nose, goes home to a surprise party and doesn’t excuse himself and get to a clinic? Come on. And again, this advanced civilization craves catfood? What to say about that — it’s just nutty. And this is just in the first half-hour.
I could go on. Like I said, I really liked the movie and what it’s trying to do. But District 9 wants to be a ‘realistic’ movie so much that it violated its own rules. A lazy fantasy may have been able to get away with some of the lapses, but not this film. It aspired to greatness — to have characters (human and otherwise) acting as living, breathing people. With a bar set that high, it needed to rise to its own level of ambition.
Instead, the writing and the execution was — I’ll just say it — a little shoddy. To be a truly great movie, the writer/director Neil Blomkamp would have needed to have a Kubrickian attention to detail, to follow through on the movie’s own promises.
I applaud District 9‘s attempt at making an original, fully-realized science fiction masterpiece. But I’m sorry to say it didn’t happen that way.