When I saw the commercials for District 9, I had high hopes. I thought the movie would present and interesting story, perhaps one with my favorite blend of aliens, conspiracy, weird stuff, cool effects, and some scary stuff. I can, unfortunately, sum up my experience in one line: “not as cool as I hoped.” However, the movie is not bad-it just did not live up to its potential.
On the plus side, the acting was competent, the special effects were up to the usual standards of Hollywood, and the story was mostly adequate. However, it did have some flaws that are worth considering.
One is that the movie, which could have broken some new ground, stuck with many tired and worn formulas. First, there are the stock characters. There is the evil corporate fellow who will do anything for a profit, the evil scientists who have no qualms about doing horrible things, and the macho military guy who gets to die horribly in the end. While these are the sort of characters that we get in sci-fi, it would be nice to have a high end film do something a bit different. Second, there are the worn plot elements: the evil corporation that will do anything to get weapons, the macho military guy dying horribly in the end, the sudden and improbable bonding between characters, and so on. These stock elements are adequate for building an adequate film-but not a great (or even good) one.
The movie seems like it might have been intended to say something about race, corporate evil, or other such things. However, it did not get beyond what seems like vague gestures in those directions.
Another problem is the matter of plot holes. Naturally, plot holes are all but inevitable, but there are some that damage the film enough to be worth writing about.
First, the evil corporation is presented as being obsessed with the alien’s weapon technology (which only works for the aliens). Yet, they never do the obvious: getting the aliens to serve as soldiers. Or, if the aliens will not serve willingly, using them as living triggers (as was done with the main character when he was becoming an alien). As a minor point, it seems odd that in 20 years they would not be able to figure out how to use the technology in the weapons-but perhaps the weapons are just that amazing.
Second, giving how amazing the alien technology was and the fact that the aliens are presented as being fairly violent, it is not clear why they did not use their weapons to take what they wanted. The movie does present them as lacking in initiative, but the use of direct violence was presented as being within their capabilities. They also were able to operate their equipment-for example, they “drove” the mech/powered armor to the Nigerians. It is also not clear why the Nigerians were allowed there and why the evil corporation did not grab up every piece of alien technology.
Third, the aliens are presented as having arrived on earth because they are, in short, idiots. However, the main alien character, Christopher Johnson, is quite intelligent and motivated. It seems rather odd that he would just have allowed the ship to drift to earth, given his abilities. Of course, perhaps he was just a baby alien when the ship arrived on earth (although he had the foresight to gather fluid for 20 years).
Fourth, there is the fluid. One key part of the plot is that Johnson has been gathering a fluid from the alien technology that apparently works as a fuel for the command module/small ship. The main human character, Wikus, finds the fluid tube and sprays himself with the fluid (which, in addition to its ability to fuel a space ship also converts humans into aliens). The problem here is that the point is made that the fluid had to be gathered over 20 years, yet there was still enough to power the ship even after Wikus sprayed quite a bit on his face. It seems that the aliens could have left long ago if they had all that extra fuel.
Fifth, a minor point is that Wikus was amazing at operating the alien mech/powered armor. Given that people have difficulty operating something as simple as a bicycle or car without extensive experience, it seemed rather odd that he could not only use it, but also use it like a master of battle. At least in Aliens, Ripley had a plausible reason as to why she would be good with the powered cargo handler. Of course, it could be said that the mech did the real fighting and the operator just sort of indicated what he wanted it to do.
Overall, the film was worth the $4.75 I paid to see it. But, I was hoping for more.