My affair with scifi is going through a rough patch
August 19, 2009 12:00 PM   Subscribe

My visceral dislike of the movie District 9 combined with years of other sub par science fiction movies has pretty much killed any desire to see more films of the genre. Help me rekindle the flame. (Minor District 9spoilers inside)

I was interested in seeing the movie anyway, but the reviews are what really got me excited about seeing it because the film was lauded with variations of "smart"and "original". While the premise was interesting, I thought the plot was a series of ridiculous situations framed by groan worthy clichés and populated by silly and/or stock characters. This movie felt like another in a long series of disappointing scifi movies, where potentially interesting ideas are underdeveloped and the plot devolves into uninspired action sequences (Ok, I did geek out a bit on the title character being in the battle suit).

I know this sounds silly, but the movie left me fairly shaken as to viability of putting SF on the big screen. Seriously, I'm like "I'm DONE, this genre has wasted enough of time and money, there are plenty of other movies to watch that can speak not only to intelligence but maturity!" If I'm getting the most enjoyment out of films that aren't SF, then why waste time and money on SF? This is really bothering me, having grown up watching and enjoying the genre so I'm a bit lost as to where to go from here. Friends who are fans of SF haven't been able to offer much in the way of solutions, so hopefully Mefi can bring the goods.

Here's few specific questions:

1. If you enjoyed District 9, can you explain why in a few sentences (hey, I could be missing something)? It just struck me as silly that an advanced race couldn't handle being stuck on a planet and let themselves be bossed around by humans. Everything went down hill from there.

2. Are my perceptions off or are SF movies really that bad in general, to the point that anything that even tries to be intelligent becomes "great" just for trying as opposed to being actually good? Is there any data to back up this point of view, any official studies, not just web surveys?

3. What movies would you recommend for "good" science fiction, and please don't limit yourself to American made films (which I suspect may be part of the problem)? Some of my favorites are (in no particular order) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Road Warrior, Empire Strikes Back, Contact, and Signs. I'm not saying these movies are 100% perfect or the same type of movies, but they exemplify what I look for, strong characters and plot that force a re-examination of being human (both good and bad) by placing people in extraordinary settings.
posted by Brandon Blatcher to Media & Arts (82 answers total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
 
Primer.
posted by fatllama at 12:02 PM on August 19, 2009 [9 favorites]


The Quiet Earth.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 12:11 PM on August 19, 2009


Could you mention some of the things you didn't like? I mean, I've recently been pretty happy with a lot of big-screen SF, specifically Moon, Children of Men, and (most of) Sunshine, but then again I'd also give D9 a solid B. (I pretty much figured that Something had Gone Wrong on the aliens' ship, or maybe they were desperate refugees to begin with - nobody special, just a bunch of folks, whose ship broke down and didn't have the ability to repair it, any more than I could repair my car.)
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:13 PM on August 19, 2009


2001: A Space Odyssey
posted by gyusan at 12:17 PM on August 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


I loved District 9, and one of the things I loved the most was that the particular group of the "advanced" race who were deposited on Earth were generally the least advanced members of the species.

I found that idea to be shockingly original since most SF takes it for granted that any alien creatures that modern day humans encounter will be brilliant. But the vast majority of the beings found in District 9 hadn't a clue as to how to pilot their own ship, and were completely lost without capable, intelligent leaders.

I really enjoyed finally seeing an alien encounter with the worker drones.
posted by abkadefgee at 12:17 PM on August 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Serenity
posted by ejazen at 12:18 PM on August 19, 2009


Tarkovsky's Stalker and Solaris.
posted by ecurtz at 12:22 PM on August 19, 2009 [6 favorites]


3. Yeah, Primer. And The Fountain.

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Abre los Ojos (and to a much lesser extent, Vanilla Sky)
The City of Lost Children
Brazil
Big Fish was better than I thought it was going to be.

These recommendations are definitely riffing off the list of movies under 3. and probably don't fit well with District 9.
posted by carsonb at 12:23 PM on August 19, 2009


I enjoyed District 9. With regards to #1, you may have missed the dialogue where they refer to the the prawns as being the Workers of the race, incapable of advanced thinking and subject to following orders. We are to assume, I believe, that the one smart prawn is NOT a worker and will return in 3 years with his ship in the sequel (I imagine to be called District 10) and so on. If the premise struck you as silly, maybe it's because you didn't have all the information. Maybe someone was texting during that scene or a baby cried. Who knows.

I also enjoyed the consistency in which it was shot. Gritty, dirty, and without ridiculously unrealistic lighting. As for the characters, I agree with you that the only one that seemed 3d was the main human who was infected. The rest fell a little flat, but I am interested to see what they do with the main prawn's character.
posted by lazaruslong at 12:24 PM on August 19, 2009


I'm right with you--in addition to your complaints, I felt like it took all of the worst possible outcomes of contact theory (violence, oppression, poverty, isolation) instead of any of the good possibilities (education, involvement). I mean, we just learned to speak their language but didn't ask to see their ship or offer to help fix it? Their only technology we were interested in was weaponry? We didn't want to learn how they kept their giant ship floating even when it didn't run?

you may have missed the dialogue where they refer to the the prawns as being the Workers of the race, incapable of advanced thinking and subject to following orders.

I didn't miss this bit of dialogue but I discounted it immediately--it seemed like the type of thing that character would say offhand without any proof to back it up, and of course because there were at least two exceptions [Christopher Jones and his child] that was just more evidence that he was wrong about it.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 12:31 PM on August 19, 2009


2. Here's Kevin Smith talking about his experience writing Superman Lives, touching on big SF productions and how they get to suck.
posted by carsonb at 12:31 PM on August 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm not saying these movies are 100% perfect or the same type of movies, but they exemplify what I look for, strong characters and plot that force a re-examination of being human (both good and bad) by placing people in extraordinary settings

I'd recommend Gattaca, it's definitely more of a character study and examination of what makes us human than the usual Hollywood sci fi explosion-fest. Also, you might enjoy the other films suggested in this post on the blue.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:38 PM on August 19, 2009


Gattaca
posted by milkrate at 12:38 PM on August 19, 2009


I can't touch on the first 2 questions, but here are my suggestions:

A.I.
The Abyss
K-Pax

But then again, I wouldn't blame you for just watching Contact again and again and again. I love that movie.
posted by specialagentwebb at 12:38 PM on August 19, 2009


re: #1, I read an interview with the director where I believe he flat-out said that the prawns were essentially "queen-less" drones, thus receiving no instructions from anyone who could get them to live up to their advanced potential (I think this may have been the A/V club interview?). Christopher may have been a drone who somehow made the leap to be able to think for himself & problem-solve effectively.

That being said, I wasn't super keen on District 9 either -- I wouldn't even really call it sci-fi so much as a war/fighting-oriented movie with some aliens in it, & that's what really disappointed me.
posted by oh really at 12:40 PM on August 19, 2009


Did you see the recent Moon? It was really really really really really really good. Really! I love all of the movies you listed, so if that's any indication, it will be right up your alley, too.

I enjoyed District 9, but my criticisms of it were pretty close to peanut_mcgillicuty's. I could have bought the "stupid worker" part of the premise if there was a more sensible power structure for the aliens--and one prawn capable of flying the space craft or reading an eviction notice does not a sensible power structure make. But then, I'm a sucker for aliens, so I suspended my disbelief.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:41 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Some good science fiction movies:

Quiet Earth +1
Strange Days
Last Night (Canadian, may be hard to find)
Brazil +1
Pitch Black Actiony, contains Diesel
A Scanner Darkly Flawed, but not, IMO, fatally
City of Lost Children +1
Twelve Monkeys
eXistenz
The Iron Giant
The Night of The Comet May belong on the list below, but great effort for low budget 80's scifi

Some "good" scifi movies:

Mars Attacks!
The Fifth Element I'm a sucker for Luc Besson, and the art is marvelous
Dark City Not a mistake: pure ninties cheese.
Starship Troopers With the understanding that PMH is playing this as straight, straight as only a bent man can be.
Heavy Metal
Delicatessen More Besson
Lifeforce Vampires... from space!


And because I cannot resist:
Yor, Hunter From the Future! part 1; part 2, the only feature film with a quintuple genocide that I know of. Suffer through the corny intro on link 1, it gets much better about a minute in. On the other hand, if you can't tolerate 1 minute of awfulness, than this probably isn't for you. Win!
posted by bonehead at 12:43 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


(Oh, and I read the same interview that oh really read--wish I could remember where--and it didn't help matters much, since the director seems to conflate "colony" with "hive mind" and since the idea that Christopher John suddenly evolves the ability to think doesn't really explain how he got to/found that spoiler-riffic thing beneath his shack. But, like I said, aliens! woo!)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:45 PM on August 19, 2009


I believe this is the interview in question.
posted by studentbaker at 12:48 PM on August 19, 2009


So the aliens in District 9 bothered you because they were being held hostage by human beings? I think there are some pretty good answers given above. And I'd also point out that some human beings are armed with nuclear weapons, which would realistically be a major threat for any kind of space-ship.

You mention Signs as a favorite SciFi movie of yours, but I would just point out that signs was a story about aliens who are ALLERGIC TO WATER invading Earth.

Yes, that Earth.

Maybe your standards are unevenly applied.

-
posted by General Tonic at 12:51 PM on August 19, 2009 [21 favorites]


Are my perceptions off or are SF movies really that bad in general, to the point that anything that even tries to be intelligent becomes "great" just for trying as opposed to being actually good?

I think the thing that you're actually seeing is that most SF that reviewers think is "smart SF" has little in common with SF that SF fans think is "smart SF." Reviewers are, in my estimation, quick to proclaim SF "smart" if it has some obvious social message like OMG THIS IS LIKE APARTHEID. SF fans would often rightly view this as old hat and then start complaining about the characters. Or there are other ways where SF that seems smart to film critics will seem trite to SF fans.

More broadly, filmed SF will generally not be smart. It will either be clearly and directly an action movie with zap guns and shit, or it will be the sort of pseudo-smart that I just mentioned.

I'd recommend:

Moon
Solaris (Tarkovsky)
Solaris (Soderbergh)
Blade Runner
Gattaca (this is a far more subtle movie than it gets credit for)
Contact (the alien clearly and distinctly tells Jodie Foster that he is not her father)
The Arrival

Maybe

Cowboy Bebop
Neon Genesis Evangelion
Planetes (never finished this)

and yes

Zardoz, if you can get past the hippy-dippy nonsense -- there's a good tale about posthumans who don't really understand the singularity they went through in there. But holy shit is there a lot of hippy-dippy nonsense.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:52 PM on August 19, 2009 [5 favorites]


I thought the beginning of District 9 was exceptional, and believed it was going to continue as a film whose purpose, in part, would be to acclimate the audience towards "humanizing" the aliens, which would certainly have been a plot that force[s] a re-examination of being human (both good and bad) by placing people in extraordinary settings. Then, however, we were introduced to the three aliens intended to look cute, with their big, expressive eyes (one of whom being, of course, a child prodigy), and that, if I recall correctly, are the only ones wearing fucking clothing. After that, it was easy to see that the film would spiral into some absurd action fest, somehow, with no discernible allegory about humankind.

At this point, I think part of the issue with scifi films is the necessity for special effects leading to the often taken temptation to sacrifice a strong story for mere titillation with futuristic weaponry, shiny spaceships, and intricate otherworldly creatures. Right now, scifi is going through a rough patch.

Anyway, decent scifi films (in my opinion):
Primer
Brazil
The Manchurian Candidate
Solaris (definitely the original, but the remake is pretty good in its own right)
The Abyss
City of Lost Children
Delicatessen
Total Recall
Dark City
Time Bandits
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 12:56 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


While stipulating that Signs is full of the bad craziness (though not as much as The Village), it's not significantly more stupid than The War of the Worlds as made by Spielberg. Biosafety was a novel idea in Well's day, but it's naively horrible 100 years later. It's like making a movie which depends on night being dark, or wating for a letter to arrive.
posted by bonehead at 1:00 PM on August 19, 2009


My answers to your questions:
1. I enjoyed D9. It was well filmed, with largely no-name actors, on a low budget, but had an interesting take on first contact, cool guns and a rad mech-warrior. Yes there were problems, but it's mainly documentary style made the open-endedness seem in line with it's rather narrow point of view (Wickus'). It was worth ten bucks and 2 hrs of my time.
2. Sci-fi is difficult for film, because sci-fi usually requires world building which is out of proportion to the amount of time that can be spent telling the story, so most good sci-fi movies tend to be on familiar ground, which can dilute the impact by relying so heavily on tropes that appeal to a mass audience. Romantic comedies are easily fit into a 90 minute screenplay, but try reading a trilogy of 600pg books about when harry met sally. hard data on such a subjective topic seems difficult, but how many sci-fi flicks garner awards noms?
3. Many good films have been suggested. i might add Being John Malkovich since you liked Eternal Sunshine, Dune for the audacity of allowing David Lynch to tackle Frank Herbert and Battle Star Galactica, the new series, which was given the time to adequately flesh out its world.
posted by OHenryPacey at 1:11 PM on August 19, 2009 [4 favorites]


I'm surprised nobody has mentioned "The Day the Earth Stood Still" as a classic of the science fiction genre. Of course I mean the original 1951 version with Michael Rennie, not the truly horrible, mind numbing, puke inducing Keanu Reeves sequel. That version is worth buying only for the original version on DVD which comes with it, then immediately throw the remake version in the trash.


It's a great story in its own right and should (IMO) be on everyone's s-f viewing list.
posted by 543DoublePlay at 1:12 PM on August 19, 2009


nthing Moon. Go see it. Now. Right now.

People will tell you that you can see it on the small screen and it'll be just fine, but that is a lie, because it'll rob several key shots of their emotional wallop. In fact, I loved Moon so much that I get all stroppy whenever people talk about how District 9 is the best sci-fi of the year, not because I've seen the movie and think poorly of it (I haven't), but because I love Moon so much that I have a hard time emotionally accepting how any sci fi released this year could be better than it.
posted by joyceanmachine at 1:13 PM on August 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Huh. I really liked it for a couple of reasons. But I'd specifically like to address this comment you made:

It just struck me as silly that an advanced race couldn't handle being stuck on a planet and let themselves be bossed around by humans.

Did you know that District 9 and the events of Distric 9 (being viewed as other, terrible treatment, mass eviction and relocation) are all references to District 6 and apartheid in South Africa? It was only from 1968-1982 that those people were relocated. If humans are willing to treat a bunch of other humans that way, I have no hope for what would happen to a peaceful alien species that landed on our planet. So, I guess the movie opened my eyes to more of the events of apartheid and made me think about what our future holds in regards to the treatment of our own species.

Artw linked to this article in the previous District 9 thread and it explains some of the issues.

That whole thread is pretty great, actually. Especially the explanation about Wikus being the name of stupid people in jokes in South Africa.
posted by Mouse Army at 1:16 PM on August 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


How is it that no one has mentioned Blade Runner yet????
posted by OHenryPacey at 1:16 PM on August 19, 2009


Lathe of Heaven (the 1980 version), please don't watch the 2002 remake (yuck).
posted by octothorpe at 1:21 PM on August 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


This thread is pretty remarkable in showing how different the tastes of sci-fi fans are... I loved District 9.

I also loved the first three movies you like, but I'd rate Contact as mediocre and Signs as give-me-my-nine-dollars-back horrible.

That said, here are recommendations not yet mentioned:

Six-String Samurai
Save the Green Planet
The Host
Banilieu 13
Alien & Aliens
Total Recall (really!)
Terminator 1,2,3 (but NOT the new one)

And seconding:

The Fifth Element (possibly the greatest movie of all time)
Gattaca
Serenity (watch the Firefly TV series first!!)
A Scanner Darkly
Blade Runner
Solaris
12 Monkeys
Dark City
Mars Attacks!
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 1:27 PM on August 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Event 16 is a phenomenal (albeit relatively low budget) time travel movie from New Zealand. I liked it better than Primer (which was also very good)

+1 for Quiet Earth. It is one of the best movies of all time (and also from New Zealand, now that I think about it).

The tv show Firefly and the movie sequel Serenity are both excellent, though the show is distinctly better than the movie.
posted by thekiltedwonder at 1:45 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


But the vast majority of the beings found in District 9 hadn't a clue as to how to pilot their own ship, and were completely lost without capable, intelligent leaders.

Sure, but that's akin to an aircraft carrier crashing on deserted island and no one on board being able to defend or care for themselves. That's either very silly or very alien and without any explanation or hint from the movie, it sounds like the former.

I felt like it took all of the worst possible outcomes of contact theory (violence, oppression, poverty, isolation) instead of any of the good possibilities (education, involvement).

Exactly! Was there no one on the planet who thought anything other than "We hates them" ?

I read an interview with the director where I believe he flat-out said that the prawns were essentially "queen-less" drones, thus receiving no instructions from anyone who could get them to live up to their advanced potential (I think this may have been the A/V club interview?).

Yeah, I read that interview, though it was a stupid reason. If they have backup systems on their ship (which seems natural), maybe they should a backup queen or two? Some sort of ruling class? Maybe mention it in the movie? Seriously no human ever asked the aliens "Why can't you guys do anything" and got a decent answer?

Since the idea that Christopher John suddenly evolves the ability to think doesn't really explain how he got to/found that spoiler-riffic thing beneath his shack.

To be fair, the director said it took Christopher John about 20 years to figure out and adjust to not having a queen.

You mention Signs as a favorite SciFi movie of yours, but I would just point out that signs was a story about aliens who are ALLERGIC TO WATER invading Earth.

Signs wasn't perfect, but that bit was at the end, after they had already established a strong frame work for the characters, plot and themes, so I'm willing to let that admittedly stupid detail go.

I think the thing that you're actually seeing is that most SF that reviewers think is "smart SF" has little in common with SF that SF fans think is "smart SF."

THIS. Thank you, ROU_Xenophobe, for articulating what the real problem. Scifi movies are still fairly immature, in general, compared to books, which have covered a wider variety of themes and covered them in more nuanced ways. Films are harder and more expensive to make than writing a book, so it's not surprising that the films are "dumbed down" in order to reach the widest audience and make the largest profit.

Did you know that District 9 and the events of Distric 9 (being viewed as other, terrible treatment, mass eviction and relocation) are all references to District 6 and apartheid in South Africa?

Yeah and that seemed astonishingly shallow and lazy thinking since it was the finale plot as opposed to a jumping off point of exploring those themes.

The Fifth Element (possibly the greatest movie of all time)

Amen!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:48 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Thanks, Brandon Blatcher, for bringing this all up and saving me a few bucks on District 9. I'd caught much of the hype, suspected that it would be disappointing in much the way you've described it, and now the discussion in this thread has confirmed this. Doesn't sound like it's AWFUL, just annoying in its copping out to thrills and violence and thus failing to live up to its potential ... as do so many movies ... in all genres. And books for that matter, too.

Is Sci-Fi a particularly cursed genre in terms of quality (ie: "anything that even tries to be intelligent becomes "great" just for trying as opposed to being actually good?)? Probably. And I suspect the main villains in it all are 14-year-old boys. Knowing a few, I can assure you that they will:

A. see pretty much every sci-fi film they possibly can
B. only really embrace the ones where things get blown up real good etc.

So pity the poor film studio type. Do you pander to the simplistic demands of your target audience ... or do you reach for quality (with no particular guarantee that you'll succeed)?

Not that quality sci-fi doesn't occasionally get produced (lots of good examples already mentioned in this thread), it's just that when it does, it tends to be the exception that proves the rule.

Finally, let me add A Boy And His Dog (if you can find it) and The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension to the "must see list".
posted by philip-random at 1:48 PM on August 19, 2009


I did not like District 9 very much, so I agree with you. the premise is cool. when I realized it was going for sort of a goofy tone, I started hoping it would be as likable as The Host. but eventually it just turned into Independence Day, which is a movie that is kind of entertaining but I would not pay $10 to see it because it's full of cliches and just in general has a bunch of nonsense happening all the time, just like 75% of this movie.

I caught part of an interview with the director and he talked about purposefully toning down the cerebral parts because he wanted to be allowed to direct more than one movie, which sounds fair to me. I have not lost all hope but I think books are better than movies anyway, so I am not that concerned about it.

Is 5th Element really that good? I think I'll watch it again.
posted by Post-it Goat at 1:55 PM on August 19, 2009


There's no such thing as "an advanced race." There are smart humans and lots of dumb humans who, given cheap and ready access to addictive substances (like these aliens' cat food) will piss life away and end up living in shit. I see humans- you know, from this "advanced race"- smoking crack and taking dumps in the alley outside my bedroom window. One of the utter victories of this movie is to imagine that not every single member of this "race" would be either a characterless drone nor would every member be intellectually brilliant.

Most of the aliens couldn't pilot the ship. Many, many were BORN on earth. Many of them got sucked into the catfood "drugs." Just like people. If that's not good and creative speculative fiction I don't know what is and you can have the whole genre. This was a superb film regardless of genre.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 1:55 PM on August 19, 2009 [9 favorites]


Then, however, we were introduced to the three aliens intended to look cute, with their big, expressive eyes (one of whom being, of course, a child prodigy), and that, if I recall correctly, are the only ones wearing fucking clothing.

THANK YOU! As soon as I saw that I gave up.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 2:04 PM on August 19, 2009


I thought District 9 sucked. But I didn't know about district 6, so that would have helped my experience (but reading Brandon Blatcher above, and maybe I still would have thought it sucked). However, all of the stuff its defenders are saying you can get out of it - well possibly, but it's hard to do that over the massive amounts of gunfire. I love violence when there's a point to it, but much of this was just shoot-em-up. Children of Men sucked for that reason too. I want sci-fi, not the intro to Saving Private Ryan.

For me, one of the best science fiction movies is the Andromeda Strain. That puts the science part in it - it is a great look at the scientific method. I love Carpenter's "The Thing" also. Science fiction films where the characters are faced with a problem and must figure out a solution. There's lots of space to think and it leaves you to try to figure out what is wrong. Both those films get their violence in there too, but it punctuates the film as opposed to just running all over, down, and through it.
posted by cashman at 2:12 PM on August 19, 2009


Honest query:

It didn't seem obvious from the trailers that the absolute best you could hope for, cerebralosity-wise, was hit-you-over-the-head allegory at the level of the RACISM IS BAD M'KAY episode of ST:TOS?

If the profit margins work out so studios are better off making 10 movies like this instead of Transformers 3, it will have done its duty
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:30 PM on August 19, 2009


It didn't seem obvious from the trailers that the absolute best you could hope for, cerebralosity-wise, was hit-you-over-the-head allegory at the level of the RACISM IS BAD M'KAY episode of ST:TOS?

Sure and I was familiar with District 6 and South Africa. But the reviews lavishing praise (smart! original! groundbreaking!) and a few friends doing likewise caused me to expect more.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:42 PM on August 19, 2009


Sure, but that's akin to an aircraft carrier crashing on deserted island and no one on board being able to defend or care for themselves. That's either very silly or very alien and without any explanation or hint from the movie, it sounds like the former.

You're bringing a lot of pre-conceived notions to the table, and I think it's clouding your view. You're saying it's difficult to imagine that the aliens couldn't understand their own tech, and the reason provided (a drone insect culture) is implausible.

Yet, there are several examples of human cultures so "alien" to our modern viewpoint that we have a hard time reconciling them.

* Why did the Inca allow their entire empire to be crumbled in a single day by a relatively small gang of Spaniards?
* Why did Easter Islanders cut down all their trees?
* Why didn't the Chinese explore North America?
* Why didn't African tribes domesticate zebras, buffalo and elephants as beasts of burden?
* And just what the fuck is up with a cargo cult?

At one point in the film, someone says the alien culture doesn't understand the notion of property rights. The list of human cultures with different property rights standards is as numerous as there are human cultures.

In the end, you have to suspend a little bit more disbelief to arrive where (I think) the writer/director is going, and that's a place where the aliens are through-the-funhouse-mirror stand-ins for oppressed South African blacks.

If only we didn't mindlessly tramp down on the aliens, maybe we'd discover that there are more of them like Christopher Johnson (with the intials C.J. ... hmm ... or maybe J.C.?) who can unlock the secrets of the alien tech, which undoubtedly could offer us humans more than wicked cool guns.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:50 PM on August 19, 2009 [8 favorites]


Then, however, we were introduced to the three aliens ... that, if I recall correctly, are the only ones wearing fucking clothing.

You're not recalling correctly. There were many wearing items of clothing throughout the film, although I believe our three "main" aliens were wearing distinctive items with bright colors (e.g. yellow stripes, a red vest, etc), which I think was a nod toward allowing the audience to easily recognize them.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:57 PM on August 19, 2009 [6 favorites]


I had a lot of problems with District 9, especially the crazy plasma-fest, head-sploding second half, but there were definitely some interesting angles in it, and I'm not sorry I went to see it. I think much of this ends up just being a matter of taste: the only one of your "good" movies I like is Eternal Sunshine, and I don't even really think of that as Sci Fi, exactly. Contact and Signs are eye rolling stuff, and Empire is cute nostalgia-worthy fun, to me. (I've never seen Road Warrior).

I really liked Primer, and thought Moon was somewhat overrated (lotsa question marks in the plot line there, too, though there were some interesting ideas & the main performance was laudible). Did you like the Matrix? Twelve Monkeys? Do you count stuff like the Science of Sleep or Donnie Darko?
posted by mdn at 2:57 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


The Man Who Fell to Earth.
posted by Devils Rancher at 3:07 PM on August 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Moon Moon Moon Moon Moon.

Seriously. D9 is not remotely the best SF film of the year. I liked parts of it but had giant reservations, on the whole.

Moon, on the other hand, is probably one of my top five favorite movies EVER. Yes I really liked it that much.

See it. It might well reignite your enjoyment of the genre.
posted by pts at 3:44 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


1. If you enjoyed District 9, can you explain why in a few sentences (hey, I could be missing something)? It just struck me as silly that an advanced race couldn't handle being stuck on a planet and let themselves be bossed around by humans. Everything went down hill from there.

If you can't buy into the premise, then you're not going to like the rest of the movie. The premise for D9 may be "silly", and I can see why you'd say that, but it makes perfect sense to me, given the initial set of circumstances, and is actually a lot more realistic than super-capable "advanced" alien refugees would have been. It's not surprising that refugees might not have a capable leader, for instance, and might not have their shit together in any appreciable way. Who knows what could have happened to them while they were stuck in that ship for a month, much less fleeing through space?

I mean, nobody goes up to people dragging themselves out of Darfur or Hurricane Katrina and expects to be able to snap their fingers and Speak To Their Leader On Behalf Of Planet Earth. And those are humans, not aliens. As for the idea that a "drone" culture is unrealistic -- if a ship transporting abused, neglected slaves had run aground on an island in the 1500s, would the slaves have known how to get it sailing again? Maybe, but I doubt you'd call them "silly" if not. Likewise, I thought the movie made it pretty clear that the aliens in that ship were originally more like cargo than citizens.

On top of that, I enjoyed the filmmaker's refusal to overexplain things or to branch too far away from the main character's POV. Nobody knows the reason why the aliens aren't capable, or why they allow themselves to be bossed around... and that's partly because only the aliens themselves know, and they're not capable enough to explain. And the limited-perspective of the film means that, in the end, there's another massive category of things nobody knows about, because only Wickus does. That's a neat perspective, especially within sci-fi, which tends to be over-explainy and big-picturey to a fault.

In short: the entire conceit of the movie is that Nobody Knows Why. Sometimes, things just are the way they are, and that's all you get: D9 is interested in what happens when people like Wickus (and Christopher) have to live their lives under that restriction. The movie is very much about information control (there's a reason for all the documentary-style parts), and the power that information has over individuals and society. I think it works very well on that level, and very well on an emotional/visceral level, but not as well on a plate-of-beans "but how does the ship work?" level.
posted by vorfeed at 4:37 PM on August 19, 2009 [14 favorites]


I mean, nobody goes up to people dragging themselves out of Darfur or Hurricane Katrina and expects to be able to snap their fingers and Speak To Their Leader On Behalf Of Planet Earth. And those are humans, not aliens. As for the idea that a "drone" culture is unrealistic -- if a ship transporting abused, neglected slaves had run aground on an island in the 1500s, would the slaves have known how to get it sailing again?

These are two great analogies that are worth underscoring.

The latter point reminds me of Amistad, where slaves do take over the ship, but are unable to effectively pilot it, even though they are shown as understanding at least the basics of using the stars to navigate. The Portuguese ship captain, left alive after the revolt, is able to fool them and continue on course toward North America.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:48 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


1. I liked it because the allegory was well done. I liked the subtle framing--none of the characters was a stand-in for the director/writer, spoon-feeding you the message. I thought the main action sequence went on just a little bit too long, but I liked that there was an extended sequence of fighting, since that was the release for all the tension in the first half, and it really drives home the barbarism of humanity--especially that one shot of Wikus all alone in the wreckage, with everyone else dead, sitting next to this bloody smear where the bad guy used to be, and all of this because people are just dicks to each other for no reason. And I also loved how ugly it was with all the gore and vomit and cat food eating, which was a good visual method of making the point "you are just a sack of meat". Overall the movie reminded me a lot of Brando's speech at the end of Apocalypse Now ("the horror"), but delivered visually instead of verbally. I agree that the plot weaknesses hurt the movie, but I didn't care too much since the plot didn't seem like the main focus.

2. I do think that most SF movies are terrible, and I agree that many are overly praised just for trying to be smart. This was actually the main reason I liked District 9--I thought it actually was clever, instead of just trying to be. One little touch that I thought was particularly clever was when Wikus was trying to buy food at a restaurant, and he angrily demands that they are legally required to serve him. At that point in the film, we've kind of moved from the colonialism stuff into more personal lone-guy-versus-evil-corporation stuff, but that little detail reminds us of the bigger context. (Kind of similar to the bit near the end of Chinatown, where we've just gotten used to thinking of Gittes as a legitimate hero, and then Curley's wife answers the door with a black eye, to remind us of what he really does for a living.) A crappy SF movie thinks it's smart just because it's allegorical; a good SF movie is smart about the actual storytelling mechanics, I would say.

3. My favorite SF movies would probably be Blade Runner, Alien, Planet of the Apes (the original), Star Wars, Brazil.
posted by equalpants at 4:57 PM on August 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


SPOILERS ALL OVER THE PLACE IN MY POST. NO KIDDING. DON'T READ IF YOU WANT TO SEE DISTRICT 9 WITH NO SURPRISES!

**************************

I've just seen District 9 for the second time, this time with my teens, and we all enjoyed it immensely.

BB, I didn't read the Director's interview, and I'm glad I didn't. To me, the salient fact was that the aliens lost control of their ship, and then were stuck inside for three months and became severely malnourished. So they were too weak and sick to fight off the initial humans with their weapons. Which is good, because it kept us from entering into an altercation where we probably would have nuked them. Yes, I see us being that stupid in the face of an imminent threat from an alien race.

But instead, apparently we felt sorry enough for them to care for them as best we could, which wasn't so great. We started giving them cat food, knowing they liked it, and that's when the tide turned--they went into drug-induced rages that ended up in dead humans, train derailings, etc.

And, I don't know what the lifespan of these aliens is, and you don't either, but they were having babies (eggs, larvae, whatever) addicted to catfood--just think what happens to babies born addicted to crack and you can see that the idea of them growing up to be geniuses with each successive, inbred generation seems remote.

So, all this time, maybe we are trying to learn their language, asking them about their ship, their weapons, etc. I bet we were. But look at it from the aliens' point of view: would you now trust us with that information? Why confide in us? Sure, when we were giving them aid and comfort they might have wanted to ask us for help, share their technology, but after addicting their race to drugs and interning them in camps? I'm thinking by the time we learned their language, they were just bright enough to really be suspicious of our motives.

Oh, and I didn't think they were especially cute, and yes other aliens wore clothes. I've just come from the theater, so I can verify that. That's an important point to note, because if they had looked like cuddly kittens, we probably would have done better by them, fed them cheeseburgers or something.

Yes, the movie does end, as so many do these days, with violence and weapons. But throughout the movie we are learning of atrocities perpetrated against the aliens (Remember the medical experiments? The casual abortions with the eggs burning up like popcorn as they all laugh? How the Nigerians were allowed to extort weapons, cannibalize aliens and set up a guerilla regime right inside District 9?).

In the past the only thing, sadly, which has ended atrocities has been an overtaking of the regime committing them. So it's not surprising that this is what has to happen.

And ultimately, the main character transcends his own pettiness and even accepts his deformity (which is how he looked at what happened to him) rather than saying, "Screw you, I want mine." So, to me, that's a triumphant thing.

But he doesn't get that, doesn't accept how badly we have wronged the aliens until he himself is placed in the position where his own privilege has been stripped away. Which, again, I think rings true.

All in all, I think that's a great message to take away from the film. That in spite of all the inhumanity (for lack of a better term), empathy wins in the end.
posted by misha at 5:09 PM on August 19, 2009 [9 favorites]


strong characters and plot that force a re-examination of being human (both good and bad) by placing people in extraordinary settings.

this is what you tell us that you like about SF, and presumably you don't see much of it in district 9.

However, there's a curious thing about the fifth element, one of the most commonly named movies in this thread and one of your favorites too: as much as I love that movie (and I really do), I don't consider it a strong example of science fiction because it relies so heavily on stereotypes and tropes that we instantly recognize, instead of actually being inventive. It saves the film tons of set-up time, which is difficult to budget for in a two-hour movie. I think SF geeks love how it pokes fun at the culture of celebrity, just for one example, but doesn't that require the viewer to have tons of preconceptions? If you already have those preconceptions, then you get the joke, but you can't pretend that it's making you think hard about the meaning of being human, or even touching the limits of your comfort zone. "Love is the fifth element"? How is that anything but trite and cliched?

District 9 challenged many preconceptions and raised a lot of questions about being human in the space of two hours, even while cramming in an action movie to keep you from thinking it's bookish and dull. You don't have to like the movie, but it was a lot smarter than you give it credit for. You find many elements so objectionable that you reject them outright -- but just because it doesn't fit your preconceptions, doesn't mean that it is bad SF.
posted by Chris4d at 6:16 PM on August 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


The Man in the White Suit. A simple, science-fiction concept: what are the repercussions of a fabric that doesn't tear, doesn't stain, and doesn't wear out? (Think of it in terms of the current discussions about digital piracy and the defense of obsolete business models.) An amusing but thought-provoking film.
posted by SPrintF at 7:04 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


if a ship transporting abused, neglected slaves had run aground on an island in the 1500s, would the slaves have known how to get it sailing again?

Maybe, maybe not, but they probably would have had the sense to get off the ship and look for food.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:50 PM on August 19, 2009


I'd personally agree with the objection that the overall state of science fiction in film is not that impressive, though with many already much-mentioned exceptions. I'd recommend the movie review book Harlan Ellison's Watching for both a lot of insightful reviews (though I certainly don't always review with Ellison's typically individualistic view of movies - the reviews are not all of speculative movies) and a good deal of commentary on why the movie industry frequently does such a terrible job with the genre. It's a topic he's written a lot about in general - his essay "Somehow, I Don't Think We're in Kansas Toto," about his experience writing for an original television series The Starlost gets into acidic detail about the kind of willful ignorance, attachment to stale and worn out fictional tropes, and general disinterest in constructing quality science fiction narrative from production executives he dealt with throughout his involvement with the series.

Most of the movies I think are in the top tier are already discussed. I think Minority Report is generally underrated though far from perfect. The fact that there are pretty much no films I haven't seen on the average top 10, 25, 50 or 100 sci-fi movies (and usually a fair number I think are a real stretch for inclusion on any "top" list) - that I don't think I've seen a film mentioned yet in this thread that I haven't seen (I'm sure there are a couple if I combed it more carefully) speaks to how thin the field really is.

It is a weird genre though. Invariably in a discussion like this I see people like stuff I like and in the same breath like stuff I hated (and vice versa): I wonder if there is a somewhat larger than average idiosyncratic factor in what an individual finds palatable in terms of suspending one's disbelief (and maybe a correlating willingness to forgive technical failures of craft if the central speculations seem sufficiently compelling).
posted by nanojath at 8:36 PM on August 19, 2009


I really liked district nine.
I didn't like that the human characters from the big bad corporation were so one dimensional, I thought that was the films big flaw. but I loved the feeling of chaos and apathy. The sense that something huge and profound had happened and people were already bored by it all.
I really like that you didn't really understand what had happened, when a film can sustain the sense that something has happened, but you can't quite grasp it, i quite enjoy the feeling of trying to futilely trying to piece it together.
This is however a very different sensation to watching a film which needs something to have happened, but which the writers couldn't think of what it should be, so they fudge it with vagueness.
I took the film to be really about treatment of refugees, with one eye on the the thousands of Zimbabweans currently in south africa

I enjoyed that the film took me convincingly into another place. I felt many of the other films listed had wonderful set ups, but then devolve into a car chase. With district nine, the sense of peering into another world worked for me right to the end
posted by compound eye at 8:49 PM on August 19, 2009


Maybe, maybe not, but they probably would have had the sense to get off the ship and look for food

There's a book examining who survives disasters and why that came out maybe a year ago, called The Unthinkable by Amanda Ripley. One of the factoids she notes is that people frequently sit and wait for instructions (e.g., staying in their seats after a plane crash), frozen because they don't know what to do, rather than doing the obvious sensible thing that would ensure their safety. Which isn't to say you're necessarily wrong, just that people (and presumably alien races, if they're anything like us) do inexplicable, counter-productive things. And sometimes tragedy, sometimes hilarity ensues.

I saw District 9 this evening, and was greatly entertained. I found all the "think of your boy!!!" stuff toward the end a little over the top, but the initial premise didn't bother me.
posted by Meg_Murry at 8:58 PM on August 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Maybe, maybe not, but they probably would have had the sense to get off the ship and look for food.

OK, now what if our imaginary slave ship were hovering 1000 feet off the ground? And some jackass took off with the only hovering lifeboat?

At some point, with literally every sci-fi or fantasy story, you have to be willing to suspend some disbelief. Some more than others.

I mean, I don't think your average Kansas tornado is capable of picking up a house, a dog and a teenage girl without smashing all three to itty bitty pieces ... but I sure do like the music and dancing.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:00 PM on August 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


Maybe, maybe not, but they probably would have had the sense to get off the ship and look for food.

That's a very Earth-mammal kind of "sense", though. Alien hive-mind crustaceans may not be that self-organizing. Besides, how were they supposed to "get off the ship" when they were miles above the ground in a sealed tin can?

Frankly, I doubt humans could have rescued themselves in the same situation (no leaders, a million desperate refugees packed together in tight quarters, with weapons but no food, miles above the ground with no obvious way to escape... that doesn't sound like an "everybody calmly think this over, and we'll get through this" situation to me.) Humans are self-organizing, and it would still be asking a bit much.

It seems to me that you're making all sorts of assumptions which may or may not be valid. C'mon, be fair -- pretty much the first rule of sci-fi is that "common sense" doesn't necessarily have to apply to alien bugs!
posted by vorfeed at 9:09 PM on August 19, 2009




and yes other aliens wore clothes

I seem to be the only person in the world who noticed that one of the first aliens you see at the start of the MNU eviction raid is wearing a pink bra. Oh good, no, I'm not.

[And surprised no one's linked this from last August: What films are there which truly sustain the sense of wonder, conceptual imagination and depth of possibility that the best written SF does? We always seem to reinvent the wheel with these questions.]

Anyway, District 9 is mostly just a series of extended thrills in a scifi setting over the course of three days, with a fairly solid emotional core that really lingers after that wonderful final image, but to me that's a pretty damn good package. It really did *feel* different, like a sharp, brisk short story tucked at the end of that anthology which grabs you and doesn't let go. Like vorfeed, I adored the refusal to over-explain things or to move away from the main character's POV, even at the end. That, plus the fact that it also included far better-edited action/fx scenes than in any other recent action movie (i.e., not just pounding you over the head with deliberately confusing quick cuts and noise) puts it over the top. Ranking it below a manipulative shlockfest like Signs is kinda mind-bogglingly bizarre to me, but hey, that's ok.

Honestly, though, I'm regretting my "best scifi this year by far" comment in the other thread, since I also liked Moon, mainly for Sam Rockwell's amazing performance, and thoroughly agree that most science fiction films are dumb, disappointing messes. But come on, Moon was also one of the most obviously predictable movies I've seen in years, and as lots of geeks pointed out online it's also pretty damn stupid once you start applying the same plot logic folks are trying to apply here.
posted by mediareport at 10:22 PM on August 19, 2009


Now, recommendations: cashman's dead-right about The Andromeda Strain, esp. if you like technology lovingly portrayed, don't mind the early 70s and can handle a relatively slow pace for the first hour. Surprisingly good little film. Same goes for the visually stunning, overlooked Sunshine. And strong second for carsonb on The Fountain; it's a strange one, but gorgeous odd poetic scifi flicks don't come down the pike very often. Nathan Raban raved about it in his Year of Flops:

The Fountain gains a strange cumulative power en route to a mind-bending climax I couldn't begin to describe, both because I don't want to ruin it for you and because I don't entirely understand it myself. It's less a film than a grief-choked state of mind, a dreamy meditation on love and loss and death and rebirth and the great grand circle of life. It's an immersive experience that left me feeling both drained and exhilarated.

Beyond sublime imagery and haunting themes, The Fountain is driven by a powerful sense of wonder and awe, two qualities in short supply in studio filmmaking these days. It's a glorious aberration that doesn't look or feel like anything that's come before, including Aronofsky's previous two features. Considering The Fountain's themes it seems poetically apt that the film died a quick death at the domestic box-office yet seems destined for cult immortality all the same.


Finally, there's Cory McAbee's low-budget bizarrefest The American Astronaut. Don't miss it if most scifi movies bore you.
posted by mediareport at 10:25 PM on August 19, 2009


I re-watched Dark City (now available in new Director's Cut flavor), and I still wasn't crazy about it, but at the very least you might appreciate the style of it. Primer is worth seeing once, although you'll no doubt have to watch it again for it to make more sense, which I still need to do. I loved Minority Report, which is more sci-fi action/thriller.

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is a wonderful throwback/tribute to retro sci-fi. The shallow story may leave you wanting, but I think it's just a lot of fun. Same goes for The Rocketeer, even if it's more adventure than sci-fi.

As for actual retro sci-fi, I nth the original Day the Earth Stood Still, perhaps along with the less heavy The Thing and Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

And I absolutely nth Iron Giant. That's just a fantastic movie all around, as long as one hasn't grown too cynical in their adulthood.. Bring a hankie. And I may as well recommend Wall-E, and maybe The Incredibles. I hear nothing but good things about Moon, but I myself will have to wait until it's on DVD, and considering its limited release, it hopefully won't be much longer.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 12:11 AM on August 20, 2009


I just want to add that Douglas Adams wrote almost that same precise concept of aliens who crash without any knowledge of anything (useful) in Life, The Universe, and Everything. He added to it in Mostly Harmless with aliens who uploaded their memories into the onboard ship computer and in the crash lost all their memories.
Of course he did so with astonishing humor, wit and literary finesse.
posted by parabola01 at 5:35 AM on August 20, 2009


Moon is a good movie but I would not classify it as a science fiction movie. I think it is more a psychological/conspiracy thriller that just happens to be set on the far side of the moon - when in fact it could have been set in any isolated location (bottom of the ocean, top of a mountain, Arkansas).
posted by 543DoublePlay at 5:39 AM on August 20, 2009


You're not alone in disliking this movie. I thought it was horrible. The whole movie was one big cliche full of obvious references and shitty dialog. And the dramatic orchestra music during the gun fight in the lab, give me a break. It's only redeeming point is that it's a relatively low budget "sci-fi" movie with no name actors. Hopefully its success gets funding into more creative hands.

That said, watch Seconds by John Frakenheimer. It hasn't been mentioned here once and while it has stiff competition from a lot of good sci-fi movies mentioned above, at least it makes you think.
posted by laptolain at 5:50 AM on August 20, 2009


*Its, doh
posted by laptolain at 5:51 AM on August 20, 2009


At some point, with literally every sci-fi or fantasy story, you have to be willing to suspend some disbelief. Some more than others.

Absolutely, but that doesn't mean a writer or director doesn't have to do anything to frame the story.

As others have noted, taste varies widely and one of my questions was looking for more detailed explanations of why a person liked District 9, so thanks to all who answered that. I may not agree and still dislike the movie, but at least a larger perspective was gained.

That's a very Earth-mammal kind of "sense", though. Alien hive-mind crustaceans may not be that self-organizing.

Yeah, the whole "they're aliens, who knows how they'll think" line doesn't work. Sorry, just not buying that out of 1 million or so original aliens they could not find a single one who would help humans gain advanced technology in exchange for something, say, oh I don't know, cat food? Or why the aliens would trade weapons they know how to use in exchange for some cat food instead of just using the weapons to take all of stuff or just learn how to make it themselves.

The general premise was cool, but that doesn't mean the writer and/or director gets to be lazy in how they set up the plot.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:12 AM on August 20, 2009


Seriously, I'm like "I'm DONE, this genre has wasted enough of time and money, there are plenty of other movies to watch that can speak not only to intelligence but maturity!"

I say this as a sci-fi fan since childhood: stop going to movies. Seriously, sci-fi works best in books and sometimes in comic books. Personally I find the short story format perfect for sci-fi. I think the movie format limits what you can do storytelling-wise and the business of making movies limits it further.

There are some interesting exceptions like maybe Bladerunner or Solaris, but these things come out pretty rarely.

FWIW, the older I get the less interested I am in fiction. I read quite of a bit of non-fiction sciency stuff and find it so much more interesting that regular fiction or even sci-fi. Turns out the real world has become so strange that sci-fi is no longer needed.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:30 AM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Gattaca, Blade Runner, Seconds, Solaris and Stalker are all good suggestions, but of these only Gattaca is recent.

Some more recent ones: Existenz, I'm a Cyborg But That's OK, Strange Days, and The Wild Blue Yonder.
posted by beerbajay at 7:31 AM on August 20, 2009


@543DoublePlay:

*****SPOILERS for MOON********

What about the, um, bodies in the containers downstairs?

*****************************
posted by bone machine at 12:01 PM on August 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


I also forgot to mention the best sci-fi movie Ive seen in years: Children of Men.
posted by damn dirty ape at 12:04 PM on August 20, 2009


2nding what bone machine says. If the premise of a movie is absolutely dependent on conjecture about not-currently-possible technology, then it pretty much fits the definition of scifi perfectly.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:05 PM on August 20, 2009


http://www.apple.com/trailers/fox/avatar/index.html

Well that looks like utter crap (Avatar). There goes another hopeful. The scenes look good, the 'living things' look awful.
posted by cashman at 12:43 PM on August 20, 2009


Did you see the recent Moon? It was really really really really really really good. Really!

:)
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:50 PM on August 20, 2009


That, plus the fact that it also included far better-edited action/fx scenes than in any other recent action movie (i.e., not just pounding you over the head with deliberately confusing quick cuts and noise) puts it over the top.

This. Surely there is an argument that movies don't need violence and explosions, but if they're going to have them, they should be directed more like this! YOU COULD ACTUALLY TELL WHAT WAS HAPPENING! This movie had a sense of space and time and movement that was completely understandable in its action scenes that shouldn't be refreshing, but because of many terribly directed scenes, is. I hope the fairly low budget, yet great looking action scenes inspire people and show them they can make a successful movie in this mold rather than in the Transformers 2 mold.
posted by haveanicesummer at 3:40 PM on August 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


Just to chime in (I held off until I saw the movie), I thought the movie was alright, though quite slow in the build-up. It seemed from the previews like we'd be looking at a bigger scale, rather than just the one hybrid and the one alien trying to fight back. In a way, though, that keeps the story in its place: yes, the aliens had horrific (and really snazzy) weapons, but they didn't seem to know when to use them. I believe the film (especially given the "worker class" bit) is trying to portray the aliens as incapable of initiative, which would allow them to be ghettoized.

Continuing on from the "advanced race" nitpick you've got, how many people would be able to take over for the pilot of a 747 if something happened? How many people can really build their own computers? We are, in essence, a species surrounded by technology that only a rarefied percentage of the population truly understands, and when things go wrong, few of us actually know what to do. Now, going back to the 747 analogy, what would we do if, in the same situation, the cockpit fell off the plane?

Lastly, just as a response to "It's a disaster, do something!" One person in a room with smoke coming into the room is likely to get up and leave. Two people? They take longer. The presence of the other person in the room makes us want to see what they're going to do. After a bit, our self-preservation instinct will kick in if they do nothing. However, with each additional person in the room, the delay of the flee instinct gets longer. We'll continue to wait to leave, just because no one else seems to be doing so. And that's humans. With our super-duper brains and culture and society. I believe they were trying to show us that, to a large extent, they weren't doers, they were followers, and, well, so hepped up on cat food that they'd sell weapons to get it, adding to the idea that, without direction, they were unlikely to choose to use weapons to take things. Only when presented with pretty horrific stuff (the lab) or a massive change in their world (the ship working after twenty years) were they actually able to do anything.
posted by Ghidorah at 9:12 AM on August 21, 2009


Don't like District 9 all you want, that's fine, but as several folks have pointed out, many of your main strikes against the story are grounded in baseless assumptions (these particular aliens are from an advanced race that created superior technology and therefore would beat us up and take our lunch money) and there are claims against the movie that are just wrong.
- it's made clear that there are many theories and disagreement about who they are and how they got here
- "they" were studying the heck out of the aliens and their technology, and totally paranoid about being truthful with the aliens - and there are strong hints that the various specialists who are sympathetic to the aliens are also being kept in the dark.

That said I don't know that we have a clear sense of who Chris is or why he and his short-lived companion have skills. There may have been something in an early draft, but there was nothing in US version I saw. Maybe Chris was some sort of political prisoner. Maybe he's unusually bright and resourceful like, for instance, Vivian Thomas. Perhaps all the technology is coded to work for their DNA because it was created by someone else and works somewhat like those pet doors that only open for a pet with a special collar. Perhaps the aliens had a space flu that left all but a few weak, malnourished, stupid, and with amnesia. Don't see how those unknowns matter in the context we have. Sometimes folks (even Prawn folk) show up who are standing head and shoulders above their fellows. And sometimes a motivated goober in a crisis can surprise you.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 12:54 PM on August 22, 2009


many of your main strikes against the story are grounded in baseless assumptions (these particular aliens are from an advanced race that created superior technology and therefore would beat us up and take our lunch money)

Hardly baseless. What was assumed was that the aliens would have a clue on how to open a door and ask for food, that's just basic survival of a species, you dig? If, as a species, you can't be bothered to quiet that gnawing feeling in your stomach (or wherever), ensuring you live long enough to reproduce, you're not going to last long to actually build spaceships. I'm not asking for the world here, just a reasonable explanation as to how species with more advanced technology wound up being shiftless refugees. I'm not saying it's impossible, just that movie never answers the question.

Because if you have aliens who can actually ask for food and maybe reason enough to have their own property or real estate on the planet and don't need to rely on humans so much, then you don't have a movie. Or rather you have a much more interesting movie, but not this one.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:10 PM on August 22, 2009


*** SPOILERS ***

District 9 was unusual (I think) because at the end, the main human character ends up mutated into alien form, pining for his wife, having subordinated his own desires to those of the alien, who has successfully escaped his captors. I'm not seeing how that's a cliché. Especially in a mass-market summer movie. If this were a standard blockbuster wanna-be, Wikus would have held off the MNU guys long enough for Christopher to get himself and his son up to the ship, then they would have beamed Wikus on board, miraculously made him human again, then beamed him back to his house and loving wife, and the aliens would have left forever. Instead Wikus is left to hope that Christopher returns in 3 years. It ends on such a _down_ note, from the human perspective. (Clerks reference intentional.)

Also, the ending was far from definitive. Christopher might come back in 3 years, but what the fuck else might he bring along? Alien ships armed with superior weapons technology? Meanwhile, is it possible that Wikus's wife stays faithful after 3 years? For that matter, will Wikus want to become human again after that long? All these questions can be resolved with a standard Hollywood plot, and if they do make a sequel they probably will be. But it's definitely unusual to leave all these things unresolved, and I appreciated it for that.

I agree with you that there were plenty of clichés in this movie, and I had my own issues with the plot, for instance, Wikus's inability to realize that they could track his cell phone usage. But weighing that against the other stuff, I still enjoyed the movie.

It sounds like you're disappointed with the movie because it doesn't provide context for how the aliens ended up washed up on earth in the first place. I'm with you on that. It seems like they could have spent 5 minutes giving a background of the prawns, which would have been satisfying. But I think you're overlooking some of the unconventional aspects of this movie that lift it above the average sci-fi flick, IMO.
posted by A dead Quaker at 9:02 PM on August 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


It sounds like you're disappointed with the movie because it doesn't provide context for how the aliens ended up washed up on earth in the first place. I'm with you on that. It seems like they could have spent 5 minutes giving a background of the prawns, which would have been satisfying.

Isn't one major theme of the movie that the humans don't care to learn about the "prawns"? The aliens themselves seem to have learned our language - because they respond to questions presented to them, but the humans never seem to answer or don't particularly care even if they do understand.

Because the majority of the film is from Winkus' point of view with some documentary talking heads thrown in there, the truth of why the aliens were stranded is keep obscure for a reason - because it seems like nobody cared to ask. Or, if they did ask, the humans still prefered the aliens get locked up in District 9 because they don't trust them given the way they look, act, eat, etc.

As an allegory for Apartheid and racism in general, it's slightly heavy-handed, but the film is also a criticism of private security contracters, weapons development/trading, animal testing and man's inhumanity to man on several levels.

The lead character is mostly unsympathetic, which is refreshing for the lead in a film - any film - and even as he gets close to be redeemed, he never quite gets there. There's no clear-cut happy ending, but a series of questions, which is how I like films to end - particularly science fiction films.

BB, I'd take your criticism/questions of District 9 more seriously if it weren't the beginning of a tirade about how terrible Science Fiction is and how you feel like you've wasted your money on it too often. I don't think the genre is any worse than most others for good/bad strike rate - although possibly SF is just marketed more heavily, particularly high budget stuff which is often the least promising of the genre.

I think, though, while taste is subjective, SF has the added disadvantage of some people being hardcore about the science in SF and others (like myself) being far more interested in the analogy that is being made. My biggest question in this film is why the black stuff, which Christopher wanted to power the ship, turned Vikus into prawn. It seems like an odd combination of things for one liquid to do. But that's less important to me than the fact the film drew some interesting comparisons with human history in regards to how certain groups treat outsiders, along with other difficult questions about how modern human civilisation can feel so inhuman in regard to other cultures, animal testing, weapons testing, etc, etc.
posted by crossoverman at 2:49 AM on August 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


the aliens would have a clue on how to open a door and ask for food, that's just basic survival of a species

I'd gotten the impression they were locked in, either as slaves or prisoners.
posted by harriet vane at 7:22 AM on August 23, 2009


Brandon Blatcher - I don't want you to like this movie if you don't want to. Far be it from me to take away the joy of not liking something.

And I can think of plenty of things not to like - all the boom pow and things that blowed up real good, for instance. Or, perhaps that we don't have that much information about Wikus and his wife prior to his promotion and therefore not a lot of background on their undying love.

But it does appear from this thread that most people got the message that these aliens are about as useful with their technology as I would be with a Harrier jet. (And that's with all my GTA San Andreas time in the Harrier.) If they open the door - what next? They jump? As vorfeed explained, there are plenty of real-life, human example to illustrate why they might not be ready to get all Klaatu barada nikto on the first people they see.

They are seriously contained in the movie - and have derailed trains and set trucks on fire - so it seems that unless there are lots of powerful weapons being launched by helicopter, they will try to get out of the area and do what they want. There are neighborhoods that are terrible for the people who live there, where you and I probably don't go, and despite all the bad-assery of the alpha males in those neighborhoods, those thugs tend to mostly stay put because, you know, rich people and nice neighborhoods have police protection.

And speaking of advanced races being bossed around, you read all the cat threads here - you know how that goes.

crossoverman - I think Wikus can understand prawn. He tells Chris to slow down several times.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 8:05 PM on August 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think Wikus can understand prawn. He tells Chris to slow down several times.

That seems to be the general consensus. Apparently humans can understand it but can't physically speak it.
posted by crossoverman at 9:57 PM on August 24, 2009


If, as a species, you can't be bothered to quiet that gnawing feeling in your stomach (or wherever), ensuring you live long enough to reproduce, you're not going to last long to actually build spaceships.

My old neighborhood in North Mpls was filled to bursting with humans who, if they washed up on a beach locked in a ship, would shuffle around inside and starve to death, I have no doubt.

Yet, humans would have built that ship. Humans build spaceships. Humans find food. Humans raise food. Humans write poetry and music. Not all humans, of course, but many. The fact that most humans do advanced things does not in any way imply that *all* humans can or will do advanced things.

I'm not asking for the world here, just a reasonable explanation as to how species with more advanced technology wound up being shiftless refugees. I'm not saying it's impossible, just that movie never answers the question.

Right, it never answers the question, but we differ in the idea that it has to. I found it puzzling, but reasonable, that these aliens are unable to get out of this ship for some unknown reason. They are sick and malnourished for who knows what reason. I thought that part of the point of the movie was that the humans didn't care to answer those questions, they just wanted to confine and exploit them.
posted by chazlarson at 9:02 AM on August 26, 2009


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