This is not a review of the film “District 9.”
Although I did indeed see it on Thursday night as a precursor to an hour-and-a-half long intimate evening with Peter Jackson, I’ve been asked not to write a formal review of the film yet. So instead, what I’ll offer up is a preview of the movie, some background on it, and a general reaction.
Neil Blomkamp was originally brought to Peter Jackson’s attention by Mary Parent while she was working at Universal, and the idea was for Neil to direct “Halo” while Peter would produce it. Solid plan, until the co-financed film between Universal and Fox imploded, and suddenly Peter Jackson was left with a protoge but no movie for him to make.
Thankfully, Blomkamp’s solution was to return to South Africa to make a small SF indie film based on some of his earlier short films. And the result is, in my opinion, an instant classic, a movie that had the same effect on me as the first time I saw Paul Verhoeven’s “Robocop” in 1987.
Keep in mind… today, “Robocop” is respected and loved and acknowledged as one of the great SF films of the ’80s. But before it came out, it looked like a joke. I was working at a theater at the time, and we made fun of that poster relentlessly. “PART MAN… PART MACHINE… ALL COP!” Oh, please. I went to a pre-release employee’s screening just to make fun of the film… and then lost my mind. I ended up taking a good dozen people or so back to see it over the next few weeks, amazed by the film, and time after time, people flipped out for it.
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“District 9” is political and hilarious and gory as hell, sad and savage and visually dazzling. It is, in short, exactly what great science-fiction should be… it is a film of ideas, first and foremost, and since Blomkamp grew up in South Africa, I’m sure you can guess what sort of real-world ideas the movie might engage. The thing is… if you want to tune out all the social commentary, you’re left with a truly incredible sf movie. But because Neil’s own experience is so much a part of this film and the world he’s created, the result is sort of devastating.
And the most remarkable thing about it is that “District 9” is a $30 million film that looks as consistently good as anything we’ve seen presented in Hall H this year. There’s a potent reality to the aliens in the movie that works so effectively that 20 minutes in, I stopped thinking about the special effects at all. They simply work.
And if you’re one of those people who coughs and mentions “Alien Nation” every time this film comes out, drop it. I can see the superficial resemblance, but that’s exactly what it is. Superficial. “District 9” has more in common with Gavin Hood’s “Tsotsi” than it does with “Alien Nation.” There’s an anger to the film that is genuinely impressive, and even when Blomkamp’s loving the gore and ladeling it on, there are powerful moments of social obervation in the film that can’t just be shaken off.
After seeing the movie, I joined a group of journalists at a hotel a few blocks away, where we sat down with Peter Jackson for an evening to talk about “District 9,” “The Lovely Bones,” “The Hobbit,” and more. Part of the evening involved watching a four-minute preview of “The Lovely Bones,” based on the novel by Alice Sebold. It looks technically dazzling, and there are some harrowing moments in the clips package. I still have no idea what to think of the film. I am looking forward to seeing Peter in “Heavenly Creatures” mode plus… well… heaven. The film looks gorgeous and strange and sad, and I’m more excited now than i’ve been since that project was announced.
Talking about “The Hobbit,” Peter shot down every single casting rumor you’ve heard. Since there is no script yet and there’s no greenlight, Peter emphasized that we’re a long way off from hearing any casting at all. Makes sense to me, and frankly, I didn’t go last night to ask him questions about all the films he might or might not make. This is Comic-Con. I want to know about “Tintin,” maybe, but more than that, I like hearing about the film he’s actually here to promote, the one that was shot on the RED Digital camera.
You’ll hear more about “District 9” here on HitFix in the weeks ahead. Suffice it to say, I walked into Comic-Con unconvinced and I will leave Comic-Con evangelical. “District 9” is going to hit you hard, and it’s going to laugh while it does it.
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