Last night, I finally got around to seeing District 9. After following the viral marketing campaign for almost a year and reading just about every review written about the film, I entered the theater with unrealistically high expectations. Fortunately, the movie met and exceeded those expectations in every way. The writing and directing were almost flawless. It was as if I'd fallen into the story. There was no fourth wall. There was no desperate creation of the suspension of disbelief. It was just an organic heart-wrenching story that happened to include a lot of really awesome special effects.
The questions that it demanded of the audience were extremely personal. In addition to challenging our Hollywood-cultivated ideas of first contact, the film addressed apartheid without the easy answer of "Of course apartheid is bad." We all know apartheid is bad, but it's rare for a film to examine why people felt apartheid was necessary, and to provide an unflinching look at the ugly truths of human nature that explain why one group of people would so conscientiously de-humanize another. These are extremely uncomfortable subjects, but people need to be reminded that kindness, patience and understanding are not easy or even necessary natural virtues to cultivate. They are probably the most challenging ideas that we have to face within ourselves as human beings.
If you couldn't care less about anything I was just saying, go see District 9 anyway. The aliens are beautifully designed and the fight scenes are gritty and tense (spoiler: a lot of people straight-up explode). It's a summer action movie that has something for everyone. And though it's clearly science fiction, it's a film that transcends genre. I don't feel like calling District 9 a science fiction film is appropriate, the same way I don't think of Deadwood as just a western and I don't think of Dexter as just a procedural.
I still can't believe they made this film for a mere $30 million dollars and with no bankable stars. I was reading an article recently about how booking major celebrities for a film no longer guarantees a huge box office performance, and how more and more producers are focusing on lower-budgeted quality films with creative and inexpensive marketing campaigns. They may not make as much money in the box office, but they're certainly more profitable. We could be on the edge of a very interesting shift in movie making. Let's hope that means paying fewer stars $20 million just to show up for filming, and instead focusing on developing unique and creative films that don't need a $150 million budget to tell a beautiful and interesting story.