Friday, February 26, 2010

Why District 9 Blows

**Spoilers** If you don't want the plot of this chunk of crap to become known to you, stop reading now (though I think I'd be doing you a favor).

Originally I didn't want to write this post all in one posting. I was going to do it, one on wednesday - one on friday. But, I had to go to the store on wednesday and never got around to it then on Thursday I was going to take care of part 1 but, I don't know, Marathon Man was on tv and I got caught up watching old episodes of "Dragon Ball". So here it is.

I also didn't want to call it "Why District 9 Blows", what I wanted to call it was: Why District 9 is a Big Steaming Pile of Shit. But I didn't think that would look good as a posting on Facebook. So here it is.


Maybe when I went to see District 9 (which here after will not be in italics) I had my expectations out of whack. From what I had gathered from the previews and buzz was that it was a gritty, documentary style, sci-fi flick about a bunch of aliens who crash on earth and begin to suffer from discrimination and persecution by us no good humans. It would be a realistic "what if?" type movie, that would make people look at ourselves and our own prejudices.

But that's not what happened. At least, not for most of the movie. The beginning sort of starts out that way. The allegory is a little heavy handed and there is some unnecessary audience manipulation (alien abortions?) to try to unsettle you. But if that gets under your skin, just wait, you ain't seen nothin' yet.

After around the half hour mark, the documentary style story line is completely thrown out and the movie quickly disintegrates into a frenetic, action movie shoot em' up, gore-fest that has more exploding bodies than I had drinks that time I ran through a screen door at that party (fuck doors!).

Which brings me to my first major problem with this movie: the senseless and gratuitous violence.

Now, I have nothing against a good, violent, shoot em' up movie. I love flicks like Aliens, or The Matrix. But with those movies, the violence makes sense in the world of the story. Its gotta happen, and you know it. With District 9, the violence comes out of nowhere. When you see that first body explode you go "Woah! I was not thinking that would happen." That's not necessarily a bad thing, unless it is overexploited. By the third or fourth body you are thinking "Okay, I get it, the alien guns make people explode like confetti from a cannon." Then it happens about ten more times.

It isn't just exploding bodies. The scene where the gang is killed, for example, the Battlemech or whatever it is, kills all but the gang leader with the bullets from their own guns (a completely bloodless affair). Now, it could have done the same to the gang leader, but no, it shoots him in the head with something that looks like a pepsi can which then explodes bursting his head like a dart to a water balloon full of red kool-aid. Why? Did it know it was the leader and thus should die an extra gruesome death?

Or even when the violence isn't that disturbing, I.E. the scene where they are torturing Wickus (D-9's "hero") with a cattle prod so he will use the guns. Up until the point when they want him to shoot the living alien I couldn't help but think "Wow, this just all seems really unnecessary." It just didn't make sense to me that in this world they couldn't explain to the Wickerman that they wanted him to try and use the guns and if he refused just poke him with the cattle prod once, or even just threaten him with it. I'm sure it would be more than enough to get him to comply fully. Its not like its hurting him any to just shoot a dead cow.

The whole sequence was in there only to shock the audience and make the establishment out to be villains to the point of them being cartoon like. It didn't make any sense otherwise and doesn't do anything to enhance the story.

Now on to reason #2 why this movie blows: The Hero Sucks!

Now, when this movie starts you are supposed to think Wickus is a putz, a pushover, a sheep in a shepherd's clothing. Which is fine. Going by the story, you would expect that Witwicky, by starting to transform into one of the aliens, comes to understand their plight and realize that what everyone is trying to do to them and how they are being treated is wrong. He will come to look at them as intelligent and emotional beings.

But no! The whole time he still acts like the selfish little pussy that he was at the beginning, only now he is having a really bad day.

Hello, don't I look heroic? No? I don't act heroic either.

Even when you think he is turning into a decent person/alien he does everything he can to still act like a prick. Case and point: the scene when they are about to escape in the alien craft underneath the shack. They are all set to go but there is one problem. The Alien is going to go home first, and that is going to take 10 years. But then he'll come back and help Wickus. Now understandably this upsets Wickus, but really, what was he expecting? This Alien to choose him, some guy who was a complete dick to him until today over his own race of people who have been getting shat on by the human race for years?

So Wickus throws a hissy fit and the Alien feels his pain but he is going to leave anyway. So the only option Mr. Wickus Isa Dickus has is to consent, Its not like Wickus has a choice, he doesn't know how to fly the spaceship, and even if he did he couldn't figure out how to use the tools in the mother ship to cure him from his transformation. But that's not what he does. No, our fearless leader decides to hit the alien in the back with a 2x4 leaving him incapacitated. Then he tries to fly away in the spaceship himself only to promptly crash it after about 30 seconds (the most realistic thing to happen in the whole movie).

Yes, at the end Wickleberry comes around and after some mutual heroics he lets the Alien go unmolested. But he makes this transformation only after he has thrown out all of the good will he has built up with the Alien (and the audience) and he flip flops so suddenly it is jarring and feels insincere.

It is too bad that the trolls who wrote this egg don't properly understand the concept of a character arc.

Its not necessary for all stories to have a classic arc where a character grows, but in a formulaic Sci-fi where lots of characters are aliens or cartoony villains it helps to have a charismatic character the audience relates to.

Which leads me to the next thing that sucks about this movie: Deus Ex Machina

Way back in the day, when theatrical story telling was but a wee little babe, people used the Deus Ex Machina to wrap up their stories. It literally means "god from the machine" in latin. What would happen in their ancient tales is that a god would come down and resolve all of the conflict so everything could end amicably for the protagonists. In today's world of story telling it is used by writers who have written themselves into a corner and have no other way to get their protagonists out of an otherwise inescapable situation.

District 9 uses the deus ex machina like it would be illegal to use it the next day. I saw the movie about six months ago and I can't recall every detail but off the top of my head I remember FOUR moments in the movie that fit this description.

1. The scene where Wickus escapes the operating room.

I didn't have a huge problem with this one. It was the first in the movie (I can usually stand one or two in action/sci-fi films), and it was only about 40 minutes in so he had to escape somehow. It was a little lazy but it did establish him as having enhanced strength thanks to the alien arm (though they don't use this at any other point in the film...hmm).

2. The scene where Wickus and the Alien escape the lab with the bomb.

This one was red flagged by my brother. In the midst of bodies exploding like fireworks on the Fourth of July Wickus' Alien buddy just happens to see all of the necessary materials lying around to make an alien bomb so they can escape an otherwise hopeless situation. How convenient. This wouldn't be so bad, if the writers or director took the time to show them working out the problem and putting together the bomb. But no, they simply say "We can't escape!" then immediately they are like, "Oh we'll build a bomb... we escaped!" LAZY.

3. The scene where Wickus hits the Alien with the 2x4.

While this doesn't solve any problems it certainly comes out of nowhere and makes absolutely no sense. The thing that I really hate about this moment (other than what was said before about Wickus) is that it serves no purpose to the story whatsoever. The ending is exactly the same as it would have been had this never happened (save for a few less exploding bodies). As far as I can tell this moment in the movie solely exists to make it twenty minutes longer so they can jam in one or two more action sequences. Why!?

4. Finally, the scene where Wickus hops in his little robot and kills the thugs.

It is a common tale in this movie by the time this happens: Wickus is about to die, he has no hope of escape. Completely doomed. Oh wait, that Gundam just turned on at the exact time Wickus was going to be killed, and it killed all of the thugs. Great! That was easy. It wasn't even like anyone had to do anything or even think about it, like a god just intervened and saved Wickus' ass... again.

"What's that Mr. MacLean? I'm sorry I can't hear you over all the Oscars. Suck it."

So yeah. I don't like this movie. When I first saw it I didn't feel this strongly about it. It was more of just an unsettled feeling like I wasn't sure what happened but I knew it wasn't awesome. Then the more I thought about it, the more I realized how much of a let down it really was.

There are other minor things I didn't like about it, Peter Jackson hype for example. Seriously, you take the LOTR trilogy off this guy's resume and suddenly it looks a lot less impressive (King Kong, Lovely Bones, The Frighteners).

The special effects aren't very good. Which wouldn't have mattered had they cared even a little bit about making a good story. But now, I can't even recommend people renting it because the effects will look even worse on a small screen.

I know I'm in the strong minority when it comes to this movie, and I've accepted that some people are just going to like it. But that doesn't mean I have to, and I maintain that given the chance, I can turn anyone against this film. Just give me the chance. Please!

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