Escape Velocity

A curated Collection of Fantasy and Science Fiction Media

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A mothership full of aliens in desperate plight arrives on earth, hovering menacingly but ultimately passively over the city of Johannesburg. Society responds as it always has to the arrival of outsiders: the aliens are excluded and end up packed together in squalor in a slum. After a period of riots and other struggles, Wikus van de Merwe is tasked with leading the private security operation of evicting the aliens and transferring them to a new camp further outside of the city.

I watched Elysium, another of Blomkamp’s movies, a couple of weeks ago. As I wrote then, I thought back to District 9 and I remembered it being better than Elysium. That got me thinking, because apart from the premise, I really I didn’t remember all that much of District 9. So I decided to re-watch it – and honestly, I was a bit disappointed.

The movie has a great premise that flips the script on the usual first contact narrative, with the aliens needing the humans’ help as opposed to presenting an extra-terrestrial threat. The documentary-style cinematography sucks you in, and the first half of the movie seems to set up for a more thoughtful sci-fi drama that focusses on cultural impact and delivers a (perhaps a little heavy handed) critique of apartheid in South Africa and racism in general. But as the plot progresses, the movie (d)evolves into a more predictable sci-fi action flick with blood splattering the camera in long shootouts throughout the city with a multitude of vehicles and weapons. The critique of apartheid and discrimination is undercut by the aliens’ barbarity (and frankly, the depiction of their (lack of) mental faculties) as well as the stereotypical portrayal of the Nigerian gangs in District 9. The documentary style is mostly abandoned to show some more intimate moments, especially with the aliens themselves, but that also starts raising questions on the aliens’ background that are never answered – which now feel more like gaps in worldbuilding than mysteries beyond the documentary makers’ comprehension.

As a result, I feel like there is a very stark divide in style between the first and the second half of the movie that hurts it overall. I am not saying it is not passable as a sci-fi action movie, but if you’re looking for alien shootouts and mech suits throwing cars, that’s locked behind about an hour of set up about how humans mistreat aliens. And if you’re looking for a more thoughtful film that subverts your expectations on first contact and delivers a scathing societal critique, you’re probably better off switching to a different channel about halfway in, lest you be bored by a hail of bullets that lasts about an hour long.

Overall, I especially like the movie’s first half – it stuck with me over the years and I believe it makes District 9 definitely worth watching. But be prepared for a violent (but spectacular) second half that leaves some itches unscratched and loses some of the movie’s potential along the way.

This movie started out very promisingly. It has quite an interesting premise and I was very curious to see where they were going with it. The first half of the movie mainly shows the immense cruelty in how the aliens are dealt with, and the parallels that were clearly drawn with the South African apartheid regime added an interesting layer to this.

However, after this promising beginning it quickly went downhill for me. The movie primarily follows one main character who experiences some very traumatic events. However, since he is shown in the first thirty minutes of the movie as an incredibly cruel and incompetent man, it was very hard for me to care all that much about what was happening to him. From there the movie developed into a standard action movie with a lot of shooting, which is where I lost all of my remaining interest. To be very honest, at some point I even fell asleep and so I missed the end of the movie. I don’t feel I missed anything worth going back for.

Considering the fact that I never really enjoy action movies, I probably could have predicted that this would not be the movie for me. However, the way it started out really did make me think that maybe I would at least somewhat enjoy this one. I am sure there is an audience of people who will love it, but sadly I am not one of them.

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