I have been wanting to write about District 9 (IMDB) for days, but have been distracted by other things. I saw District 9 on opening day with high expectations because I have been a fan of Neill Blomkamp for years. I wrote about some of his work back in January 06, but most of the people I discuss the movie with lately have no idea who he is.
First of all, District 9 is an extraordinary work of science fiction. Definitely one of my all-time favorites, and if you care what others think, is getting great reviews from the professionals. This is a story-driven work of compelling political importance, though that aspect is not subtle and the comparisons to South African apartheid are obvious and occasionally overdone. Special effects are flawless, seamless, and understated. Aliens and technology blend into the documentary-style shooting as if they are real. For only $30 million, Blomkamp, along with the brilliant Weta Digital Studio (Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings), have created the most believable science fiction setting I’ve ever seen. The gauntlet has been thrown in the direction of Hollywood, all the way from New Zealand. There are no superheros in this film, and the only selfless characters are an alien named Christopher Johnson (yes, the same exact name as my friend and roommate) and his son. The bumbling, racist, selfish protagonist is painful to watch in the absolute best way. He is stupid, but nothing stupid happens. Let me repeat that. Nothing stupid happens. There is no moment where you think to yourself, “That’s makes no fucking sense at all,” like when you are watching Terminator Salvation or The Dark Knight. This movie is fucking awesome and deserves all the accolades and financial success it is sure to receive.
Now, for the actual purpose of this post. For those of you unfamiliar with Neill Blompamp’s previous body of work. He has done several amazing short films, one of which is obviously the seed of District 9, and another which is a hugely squandered opportunity.
I’ll start with my introduction to Blomkamp’s work. Here is a Citroen commercial he directed, where a Citroen C4 transforms into a robot and dances for a few minutes. This looks like the transformers movie should have. Animation, lighting, camera work, are all flawless, and the robot itself looks as if it is actually made of car parts, not at all like Michael Bay’s flawed vision. Somebody should put this guy at the helm of the next Transformers.
Ok, next is a fantastic short film about alien refugees in Johannesburg called Alive in Joberg. Sound familiar? Well, that’s because it is exactly the same premise as District 9. Obviously the aliens in this short are created with masks and simple animatronics, unlike the beautiful CG of District 9, but they are almost identical. I am glad they ran with this idea.
Tempbot is another amazing short film. This one follows a lonely new-model robot assigned to boring cubicle office jobs to do temp work. Again, we see CG elements seamlessly integrated into documentary-style filming that create an amazing effect. You forget you are looking at CG and become totally emerged in the story. This is exactly true of District 9 as well.
And last, but certainly not least, is Blomkamp’s amazing 3 part short film of Halo. This was done as a promotion for the launch of the XBox 360 game, Halo 3. It is interesting not only because it looks amazing and is filmed beautifully, on what I presume was another tiny budget, but because a Halo film is being kicked around Hollywood and Jackson, Blomkamp, and Weta Digital were kind of screwed out of participating. You can read a summary of the status of the Halo movie here. You’ll understand how tragic that is in a minute. Here is a compilation of all 3 parts in high quality. It is fucking amazing.
So, there’s your introduction to Neill Blomkamp. No, I don’t know how to pronounce his name, and I learned how to spell it writing this post. Now go see District 9. I promise you, it is absolutely brilliant.