How District 9 Changed Science Fiction

Ah, District 9, you beautiful bastard. You took us all by surprise. Before you, science fiction had fallen into kind of a rut, with the best ones, our Children of Men, our Sunshine, flopping at the box office and becoming cult hits after the fact. As it turned out, all we needed was the remnants of a planned Halo movie to create what is easily one of the best science fiction films of the 21st century.

I’ll admit first that I was intensely skeptical of this bad boy. I was skeptical of a guy who had never actually made a movie before, who was suddenly tossed a thirty million dollar sci-fi flick by Peter Jackson. I was skeptical of how anything could possibly be added to the lexicon that makes up our alien movie. As it turned out, Neill Blomkamp had an idea.

See, the aliens here weren’t just aliens, they were also illegal South African immigrants. They were almost immediately detained, and the world quickly turned against them. Sounds familiar, right? It was apartheid all over again, and this time, it wasn’t by race or religion, but by species. That in itself was brilliant. Star Wars had explored this, but only in a very minute level by having Emperor Palpatine have a prejudice against aliens. But by having alien illegal immigrants be the entire point, that was new.

So what separates this one from the aforementioned Children of Men and Sunshine? Both were deeply original and highly thrilling films. Both are the best works of their respective directors. Both utilized unusual choices for actors. Hell, Sunshine even had Chris Evans pre-Captain America, back when everyone assumed he was just another douchebag actor, comparable to confirmed shitty actors like Chace Crawford or pretty much any male actor on the CW that isn’t in Supernatural.

Note: I’ve never watched Supernatural, but I’m not about to mess with that fanbase. I will give that show the benefit of the doubt. I can’t do the same for My Little Pony. It’s…it’s not that great, bronies. I’ve tried watching it.

Getting back to awesome movies, those two didn’t do so good at the box office despite getting excellent reviews around the board. Both are highly regarded cult films.

District 9 became the first movie of its type, the political sci-fi thriller, to actually get people’s attention. Let’s face it, outside of film geeks, nobody knows what Children of Men or Sunshine or Moon.  But yell out “FOOKIN PRAWN” in an exaggerated South African accent, and people will immediately know the movie. Everyone knows this movie, and it’s not often that something so good gets an audience.

Seen above: Murdock from the A-Team and a Foken Prawn.

Plus the acting is impeccable. Can Sharlto Copley, he of the Foken Prawns, do any wrong? The guy was a first time actor with no prior experience, for crying out loud! He practically carried an entire film by himself. It’s impressive when Tom Hanks can do that. It’s astounding when an unproven talent does the same. It’s a shame that Copley hasn’t had much to do recently, but he’s in a whole glut of movies in 2013, including Europa Report, Blomkamp’s own Elysium, and the remake of Oldboy, which is now a Spike Lee joint. Next year, he’s apparently in the next fairy tale remix, this time one about Sleeping Beauty, in Angelina Jolie’s Maleficent. And he’s going to be in Blomkamp’s third film, the sci-fi comedy Chappie.

How about those visual effects, huh? Has anyone beaten the mothership or the detail on each of the Foken Prawns? How they made those look next to real, I don’t know. Hell, I’m not even sure why James Cameron was boasting so much. Avatar was such a piece of crap. It’s tons worse than Man of Steel!

Note: I’ve made my “insult the newest Superman movie” joke of the article. Now we can continue. Also, James Cameron should spend the rest of his life diving beneath the ocean. It’s where he belongs. With the Titanic. And a nude Kate Winslet posing like a French girl.

The world-building is also incredibly well-defined, and very realistic. It may be disturbing when alien prostitution is depicted, or when Nigerian warlords start eating alien flesh because of their ridiculous religious beliefs, or when a flamethrower systematically kills a nest of Foken Prawns while Wikus laughs at the whole thing. But all of these things are incredibly accurate reactions that we would have. We’d torture and kill the bastards. ET phone 911.

And we’d torture anyone against our own policies, like when Wikus is captured by his own father-in-law and tortured into using alien weaponry. That would also happen. Let’s face it, human beings would do something brainless, and attack. It’ll be less gung-ho “WELCOME TO EARF” Independence Day, more Mars Attacks! 

“BWAA BWAA BWAA BWAA BWAA”
Translation: “Remember when Tim Burton made good movies? Neither do we!”

But frankly, it hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows. The current glut of science fiction films since District 9 have been pretty awful, for the most part. We’ve got our occasional decent one, like Looper. But more often than not, we either get ones that plagiarizes other movies (Oblivion) or ones that just suck.

Plot twist: Will Smith was dead the whole time.

Ironically, the best of these new ones has to be Elysium by default. It’s apparently not as good, but still loads better than the previously mentioned films. And that’s a damn shame. If a first-timer could make something so awesome, how come established directors like the guy who made that crappy Tron movie or the guy who made The Last Airbender suck…oh right. M. Night, you little prick. And whatever Tron director guy’s name is, he’s useless.

Fanboys, we need more movies like District 9. It’s not a perfect film, and it has a twist ending that’s a little out of left field. Plus the camera’s pretty wonky on occasion and it’s a wee bit too convoluted for its own good. But it’s still miles above the crap we’ve been shoveled recently. 2013 hasn’t been a great year for movies. I’ve only seen two movies in theaters this year, for crying out loud. Both involved superheroes. One of them didn’t include any shirtless X-Men. And I only liked one of them.

So let us remember District 9, the last hope of original blockbusters everywhere. We need more Neill Blomkamps and less Zack Snyders. More Alfonso Cuarons and less M. Night Shyamalans.  Guillermo Del Toro can stay.

And may 2014 be a better year for movies, Foken Prawns be praised.

 

 

Author
Palmer Rubin is a filmmaker. But he's also a journalist, and while he's making his movies, he's also writing about pop culture and stuff on everyone's favorite website. He's a lucky boy, he is.