Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Sketched List: 7 things filmmakers should be copying from District 9

My apologies to the Prawn nation for any inaccuracies, I freehanded the crap out of this.

Last year, this year, and I'm sure years after, filmmakers are and will be trying to "make the next District 9". That is, make the next big breakout sci-fi alien flick. Monsters, Skyline, and recently Battle: Los Angeles all tried to do this with mixed results at best. What were they doing wrong and what are the aspects of the stupendous District 9 should they be copying? Here are 7 things the movie did right that filmmakers don't get.

7) It wasn't an invasion story

Most every alien story dating back to the 1950's has the same story: They come, they invade, we kick their asses back. This is not the story of District 9. The aliens landed sure, but not to invade and conquer; in fact they don't even say why they came to Earth in the first place. But the real story is about Wikus uncovering the mistreatment of the Prawn species and desperately trying not to turn into one of them and getting one of the smarter Prawns back home. This is a much more interesting and less egotistical story(They're a ridiculously advanced species and they always need to invade for our resources? Really?) In fact, a few of the better alien stories had this 'alien trying to get back home' story arc (See E.T and Paul).

6) It wasn't set in America
Not that I'm anti-America, and of course it makes sense for filmmakers to set it in America to pander to American film audience, but really, why do Aliens always feel the need to invade New York or L.A.? Is the Pizza really that good?(answer: yes) In fact Cracked did an article explaining why, even if there was a good reason to invade the U.S., it would be a poor war strategy to directly invade. In District 9, the aliens touched dirt in some hobunk town in Africa, a completely random spot. If you are going to pick the U.S. of A., at least pick some random town for no particular reason.

5) The main character wasn't a stereotype
Yes, he was a white male who worked in an office. But he wasn't a meathead, or a mysterious loner, or a nerdy kid trying to impress a girl for an entire movie. He was just a regular guy with normal needs and wants. He wasn't ridiculously altruistically good. He didn't come out at the very beginning of the movie citing how he's completely against the mistreatment of Prawns, he was just as racist(Specisist? Alienist?) as everyone else. He was damn near unlikable at times. This made him realistic, interesting, and gave room for a believable story arc in which he eventually turned into a hero.

4) Interesting Aliens
These aren't just humans with cat faces, or your generic run of the mill little gray invaders. These are dirty looking weird shrimp insect creatures that don't even have proper mouths! Oh and they're one of the only alien races to wear clothing for once. And you have to give them props for building robots in their spitting image instead of big lumbering boring mechs.

3) It was a movie that delivered
It had great cgi alien creatures, insane drug lords, spaceships, giant robots shooting missiles and tossing cars, and for those who've played half-life 2, the godamn Gravity Gun. Unlike some other movies where there's just a flash here and there of action and then it's back to the talking and brooding, or a dramatic build up of the alien throughout the movie; they show you the aliens outright, show some toys you'd want to see played with and then they played with them.

2) It had Meat
And no, I'm not talking about catfood. District 9 had a story, it had depth, it had a meaning. It had multiple levels of understanding; how the prawns were treated and what that was a metaphor for, how accepted racism can be, and the degradation of a society. It had a deep story with varied and interesting characters. It wasn't just a rehash of Dances with Pocahontas in Furngully.

1) It was hard to watch
This is tough for film makers to do, but District 9 did it. A distressing movie is hard to watch but it compels us to watch it more. It puts characters we feel for through the meat grinder and blames us for putting them there. The main character is dying and there is no way to save him. Innocent aliens are being oppressed. A child is separated from his father. This wasn't a "fuck yeah blow shit up" feel good movie, this is a movie that made you think and made you hurt, and I defy alien filmmakers to do it again.


  1. Couldn't agree more. I covered a few of these issues back in my original review and every time I see a new alien film (particularly Battle: Los Angeles) I'm disappointed that these films never seem to have learned anything from District 9.


  2. Yeah, it's so weird how little they learn from a successful movie! It's always, "Hey that was pretty successful, let's thrown some shit together so it LOOKS like that, then completely ignore all the good parts!" Oh Hollywood.