Before I discuss the film, I wanted to mention a few of the trailers I saw. Zombieland looks like it could be a fun film. After a rash of slasher flicks and torture porn, it was refreshing to see a film poke fun at the genre and seeming to do so in a smart way. And it took a moment to recognize Abigail Breslin. She's growing up on screen fast! Legion has an intriguing cast, but I also know from experience that doesn't mean it's a good film. And I have to admit, seeing the Avatar trailer on a big screen and in HD does make a difference. I still wasn't blown away. Nor am I eagerly awaiting the film's release. The problem still remains, whereas District 9 did an amazing job of putting CGI creations in our world seamlessly, with Avatar I feel very aware I am watching a world created on computers.
District 9 looks to be the surprise success of the summer and it deserves to be. It's not a perfect film, but it's ability to provoke thought amidst alien encounters and explosions makes it a standout in a sea of brainless, even insulting, Hollywood sci-fi/action summer blockbusters. While Star Trek was exceedingly well made summer escapism, it didn't make me contemplate what it is to be human or why we too often treat anyone different than ourselves as less than ourselves.
Set in South Africa, the film draws heavy parallels to the country's history of apartheid. The aliens, whose real name we never learned, are referred to as "Prawns", a derogatory name given to them because of their prawn-like appearance. Discovered dying of illness and starvation aboard their ship hovering above Johannesburg, the aliens are "saved" and placed in a camp that quickly degenerates into a slum, District 9. After twenty years of living in squalor, the citizens of Johannesburg decided they have had enough of dealing with a growing population of aliens and growing crime rate. A plan is hatched to uproot all million plus aliens and relocate them far outside the city to a lovely new compound....of tents.
It's clear little effort has been made in over two decades to get to know the race of aliens. Reminiscent of a ridiculous tradition passed down through the centuries, the aliens aren't recognized by their names, but are assigned human names, though they are treated as less than human. It is one of the aliens, Christopher, who comes closest to filling the role of hero and brings into sharp focus humanities failings. We're told by one so-called expert on the aliens (much of the film is presented as a documentary) that the aliens were found close to death because they were nothing more than mindless workers; their masters having perished soon before or soon after the ship arrived and they were thus unable to take care of themselves. Yet, it is made clear that Christoper is highly intelligent. When he's confronted with eviction from his 'home', we discover he can read English, knows his rights, and what is legal and what isn't under the (human) law. More importantly, he's spent twenty years working on a way to get back to the ship hovering above the city and return home and has finally amassed enough bio fluid needed to power a small ship he's managed to keep hidden. And all this accumulated knowledge he's passed on to his young son.
Christopher doesn't just elicit our sympathy; it is he who we connect with and not his human oppressors. We feel the love he has for his son as well as his fears for son's survival. (I spent a good deal of the film worrying something horrible would happen to the boy. Besides stringent population control, there may have been other reasons no other children were seen.) We share his horror as he discovers the remains of his fellow aliens in a lab, subjected to experimentation and dissection. And when he makes a promise to a human, we believe he'll keep it because we want to believe the best of him as we want to believe the best in ourselves.
The human he makes the promise to is Wikus Van der Merwe, a corporate middleman and flunky who learns the hard way the sacrifices to be made in the name of profit. After accidentally spraying himself with alien bio fluid accumulated by Christopher and confiscated in a search, he begins to transform into one of the aliens. When the company learns this can be used to their advantage (all the high tech alien weaponry confiscated over the years is useless without an alien, specifically their DNA, to operate them), the company treats Wikus as they would any piece of equipment; they prepare to strip him for parts, harvesting blood, marrow, organs, and limbs.
Wikus manages to escape the company's grasp and a manhunt begins. He eventually seeks refuge in the only place he can, District 9. Once there, he teams up with Christopher to retrieve the bio fluid that means salvation for both - the ship is not only Christopher's means to return home, but he tells Wikus he can receive treatment aboard the ship that will restore him to his former self.
I did feel the film began to loose focus at this point. When Christopher announces it will be three years before he can reverse the change in Wikus, Wikus, in a desperate move of self-preservation, knocks Christopher unconscious and steals the small ship, with Christopher's son onboard, to make his way to the mother ship. It's unclear how he could begin to heal himself with no knowledge of the alien's science or technology, but I can believe the idea of losing oneself proved greater than rational thought. Quickly, the ship is shot down and all hope seems lost to Wikus's self-serving actions. But whether the better part of himself or alien DNA drove him, he ultimately performs one selfless act, providing an opportunity for Christopher and his son to escape.
Amidst the smaller, more personal moments between Wikus and Christopher are full scale assaults by the company's private military as they track down their prized asset, exploding bodies thanks to alien weaponry, and counter attacks by a Nigerian gang living in and doing business in District 9 with their own reasons for wanting Wikus (it involves a rather cliched and ignorant interpretation of voodoo) . In other words, stuff you typically see in summer blockbusters and at least some of it I felt was unnecessary.
And one question I had throughout the film was how such a large group of aliens, many of whom had weapons more powerful than the humans, could be moved quickly and without an extreme, violent reaction to a new location? The question is never answered, but we learn at the end of the film that the relocation happened and the population had grown to over two million.
'Daybreak' I had not watched since March. I worried that my largely positive feelings about the finale may not still be there. I worried I hadn't watched with a critical enough eye the first time around. I worried all the negative reviews and posts I had read would alter my opinion. I worried I would love the show just a little bit less. It turns out I worried for nothing. I liked it more.
Maybe it's that time has passed and absence makes the heart grow fonder. Or maybe I like being contrary. ;) In truth, I think reading all the backlash helped me to focus more on the finale and Season 4.5 as a whole. Not to look to contradict those who didn't like it because, yes, there are legitimate criticisms to be made, but to find answers to lingering questions I had. None of this is to say there aren't flaws. I can watch the finale a hundred time and the damn pigeon will never make sense. And I may have fast forwarded through some of Adama's scenes. But in the end, I asked myself how it could have ended differently and.....I've got nothing.
I have more in-depth thoughts to share. It's a matter of taking pages of notes and dividing them up into easy to digest posts rather than, "OMG, when is this going to end?!" Right now I'm thinking there will be a general thoughts about the finale post, a Kara post (yes, you read that right), and a 'Why Lee Adama is AWESOME and He Was Happy, Dammit!" post.