Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Not Quite E.T.

By Alec Horowitz

Three stars

A good science fiction writer always leaves his reader wondering who’s the villain and who’s the good guy. All the best science fiction novels leave the reader asking this question. With science fiction movies, it’s often a little clearer. In the classic alien, film E.T., for example, the human who took him in were the good guys, and the government who wanted to take him away were clearly the bad guys. In the classic science fiction film, “Aliens” obviously we want the humans to survive the wrath of those slimy creatures who infected their ship. In that made for TV movie, “Decoys” I watched on the Sci-Fi channel a few years ago, I know the aliens where dressed up as sexy co-eds who seduces boys and kills them where clearly the bad guys. I cheered for the aliens to win. I mean, come on, these where some stupid college students. Yes, it was campy fun but perhas I should get the film at hand. The point is there’s a long tradition of aliens in film. In the movie, “District 9”, it’s obvious the humans are the abusive one overreacting over the aliens who have landed.

In “District 9”, the aliens land in an African city and the population is confused, and fearing danger, they confine the aliens to camps. Insert irony of this taking place in an African city. The government than decides to cut back on their budget and outsource the camps to a private company.

They have Wilkus van de Merwe (Sahrlto Copley), a company employee, put in charge of the camps. He is a one of those guys who is more happy just working in a office and doing what the company tells him to without thinking about he’s doing to others. He lives in a middle class house with a pretty wife. He walks around the camps with aliens, of which don’t look cute and usually are the villains the cheer against; expect in this one, we are cheering for them. They live in shacks and are addicted to cat food, at the mercy of the gangs who hold the food over their heads. It’s not a good situation.

Now, Wilkus really doesn’t care about the aliens until he is infected and starts to slowly become one. His life goes to heck, and he is stuck running. The aliens in this film are interesting, as they don’t speak out language and we are being asked to feel sorry for aliens who don’t really come off as cute. The visuals are ugly on purpose, and so are the aliens. Their shacks are gray and ghastly, made out of the trash the humans have left behind. When watching the film, and some of the exterior shots of the entire landscapes, I was reminded of the landscapes of classic science fiction films like “Blade Runner”, “Aliens” and “The Terminator”. I was glad to see visuals that where dark and look. I was glad to see visuals that looked dystopian and gray in their style. Though, don’t expect too many big special effects like the films I just mentioned.

While the aliens and the space ship are obviousbly done with CGI, the film more of a feel of the independent, and not of a big budge science fiction adventure. That works with a film like this because this film is written with more a feel of exploring an issue of race relations and our general fear of the unknown than of space ships flying straight at the audience. This isn’t a happy go lucky alien adventure. This is a dark and distributing piece of science fiction that deserves to be scene and talked about. Unfortunately, though, and quite baffling, this film seems to run out of steam in the third act, and becomes baffling in a subplot thrown in about Wilkus running around in a Transformers type suit shooting up the place. No matter, though, the end of the film isn’t wrapped up in a tight bow. Usually, I would say expect a squeal. Though, the filmmakers obviously want you to leave the theater not really pondering about special effects or squeals. This all being said though, I love a good alien story and a good alien story always leaves the audience pondering: who's the real villian? Who's the real alien? Us or them?

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