I saw District 9 yesterday. This gory bore won an 88% rating at the Tomatometer? As well as rave reviews from intelligent, well-educated people across the age spectrum? Once again, as with Star Wars, I find myself wondering if I’m in a parallel universe.
After a gritty documentary-style start with an interesting premise, the film abandons all pretense of depth or subtlety and becomes a derivative, unrelenting splatterfest. Toss Alien Nation, The Fly and Enemy Mine in a bowl, add a splash of Cry, The Beloved Country and Starship Troopers, mix a bit of E. T. and Close Encounters — not forgetting Kafka’s Metamorphosis with some Robocop dressing and a pinch of Chaplin via Wall-e… and you get an idea of what a jumble of recycled clichés District 9 is.
Coherence, scientific or any other kind, is non-existent. The aliens are insectoid and seem to have castes differing in mental capacity, yet all appear to be male (since they reproduce by laying eggs, either females or hermaphrodites would be prominently represented or they would have a queen; and if the latter, the humans could have stopped their reproduction cycle by killing her). They have bio-weapons that humans cannot use — yet the aliens can’t use them either until the mutating human’s genetic signature begins to match the weapons’ trigger setting. Their ship has remained stubbornly dead for twenty years, but activates instantly when the plot demands it. The black fluid one of them creates is good for everything, from powering ships to altering DNA. Two individuals with totally different physiologies become buddies. There’s also the obligatory precocious tot (addressed, with numbing predictability, as “son” by “his father”). The upper-caste aliens have completely human motives and responses. All the humans except one are single-note stereotypes. And the quasi-sympathetic anti-hero undergoes a Lamarckian change that’s as bogus as the uplifting life-lesson that accompanies it.
The cruelties of segregation, the plight of refugees, our treatment of Others — those are burning subjects. So is the question of how we would interact with sentient aliens. None of them gets real treatment here. Instead, the film manipulates its viewers into feeling virtuous by being superficially “daring”. District 9 is neither science fiction nor social commentary; it’s violence porn — or, as producer Peter Jackson himself called it on io9, splatstick.