Monday, February 22, 2010

Why "District 9" deserves to win; an argument

A continuing series about this year's Best Picture race (probably not nearly as excessive as that one I did on Avatar)

Science fiction has always had a social conscience, and been socially conscious. By the very definition of its words, it emerges out of our world. It takes the "science" and gives it "fiction." Reality and illusion. Truth and dream. Isn't this just the cinema itself? A place, a refuge, from the world, a representative illusion wherein we're asked to confront or elude the questions we can't dare ask ourselves in the light, but rather seek to the shadows to let larger than life images engulf us?

Neill Blomkamp's "District 9" is a miracle movie in every sense of the word. Peter Jackson pumped cash and mentorship into the South African visionary, giving him the space and the guidance to take his veiled look at that country's struggle with apartheid into the violent. He emerged with a full-cylindered tank of a film, one that lumbers with immense forward momentum through an array of pieces that feel of a remarkable whole. "District 9" may be one of the best sci-fi movies of the past several years, and that's partly because it's one of the smartest.

The racial divide of South African apartheid is recast as white bureaucrats struggling to suppress aliens who have been relegated to the slums, a race of species just trying to repair their spaceship with no help from a government too concerned with their potential threat to engage them on a humane level. In the center of this story is Sharlto Copley, an emerging actor willing to submerge himself in a complex role - partly through stunningly complex makeup and visual effects - that help display thoroughly the duality of man. In a way, District 9 has a plot pretty similar to Avatar: its politics of racial divide, of cultural unity, of war over peace, are vaguely similar, but District 9 has the guts to roll in the mud.

Whereas James Cameron gets 500 million to make the biggest space epic of all time, Blomkamp used 30 million (a paltry amount by any effects-driven standard), went into slums, strove for a verite pseudo-documentary approach, and created a world and a situation that required a solution. That "District 9" becomes less of a political meditation and more of an action film in its final act shouldn't be viewed as detriment - it's one of the sharpest, most well-oiled actioners in the past two years, with plenty of suspense and skill to burn. Its editing is precise and the camera knows exactly how to spin into the action. Its soundscape is diverse and creative, and the makeup and creature effects are purely spectacular.

"District 9" strives to create a reality, but it's not a comfortable reality. It's a movie that makes you squirm, puts you in the middle of a confrontation, and though its morality is fairly simple, it takes a chapter in South African history and tries to get inside the issue in a creative way. This is what science fiction - GOOD science fiction - has always been about: dealing with the world in creative ways, taking reality to a logical extreme in order to illuminate a deeper truth.

For Your Consideration - District 9.

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