Aliens... yawn... Aliens make time travel look like like an exciting science fiction trope. There was, of course, a time when extraterrestrial life was cutting edge. Back in the days of Giordano Bruno and the fledgling heliocentrism movement. By the late 19th / early 20th century, they were the shit. „A Trip to the Moon“, the first sci-fi film ever made, had aliens in it. Good times those, people actually believed there might be alien life in this solar system. Maybe Jupiter, maybe Mars? From there on – via Foo Fighters and Nazi flying saucers, Lovecraft’s cosmic horror – aliens had their heyday. Come the sixties, and that heyday is over. What remains is a mined out, camped up cultural milestone; by the time the so-called annals of pop culture get there, the party is long over.
Sure, aliens still get a reboot every five years or so, in accordance with l’esprit du temps, and sometimes to good effect! Sexy, black, penis-shaped killer aliens – why not, man! A creepy old timer with glowing fingertips, surely a child-molester – somewhat less enticing. And then there’s the nineties, with what must have seamed like the ultimate incarnation. Suspiciously missing from the ever more complex mythos of the X-Files, at least in their traditional, physical form, were the aliens themselves. What we’re left with is an incorporeal presence, one of paranoia. And not only towards the machine of state, mind you, that other machine as well. Take a good hard look at this lifeless universe: Voyager leaves our solar system, inhospitable giant balls of gas in it’s wake, The Mars Rover relays us series of desolate stone curvatures. Belief in a sentient life form out there, somewhere in the known universe, let alone our own solar system, is the providence of the naive and the wacky. Wake up, man, every planet we reach is dead.
An entire decade follows suit. The 21st has been a decidedly alien-less century, thus far.
Thus far indeed, hombre, because here comes „District 9“, in a flash of an ion cannon, impact lasers firmly clenched in both mandibles. It is only fitting that the faces of these bad-ass new aliens should appear pixellated, as if they were on COPS or something. This time around, they are very much corporeal, almost obscene. Imagine the shock of that much discussed scene from otherwise forgettable „Signs“, where an alien walks into someone’s home recording. Imagine an entire movie based around that, with the ghetto factor turned up to 11. Chitinous plated, bug-eyed aliens, huddled around a garbage can fire, hooded sweatshirts and all. These are alien refugees, the very concept of an alien, fleeing from the collapsed political climate of it’s home world - 20th century science fiction.
In order to blend in, they’re going to need a veneer of racial parable. A socio-critical angle, if you will, which, in „District 9“ remains decidedly stylistic. You will not get preached about apartheid just because the aliens happen to be stranded over Johannesburg. What you will get, is an awesome gun. Or 40 awesome guns and an expensive book’s worth of concept art, as „District 9“ is one the best designed movies in recent memory.
It is only after all the layers of mysticism are stripped back from these crustacean monsters, that they become interesting again. And the „prawns“ of „District 9“ are captivating indeed. What the film achieves, through raw security cam footage, mock documentary style segments, and some more traditional action scenes – all mixed up with little regard for consistency – is the words „alien weaponry“ sounding as sexy as they should. Science fiction fans will shriek in excitement as an alien language appears in rasters on salvaged old robot's-head monitors, somewhere in an illegal underground bunker. Pronounced in clicking sounds, the same crustacean language appears to be modelled after the click syllables of Earth’s most ancient hunter’s tribes. Not accidentally, seeing as these tribes are as black as the night. Not much unlike the film’s aliens. While instead of Will Smith, the human protagonist is a white dutch corporation functionary called – I kid you not – Wikus van der Merwe. The performance is stellar, beyond anything you’d expect from an action film. I call for immediate superstardom for one Sharlto Copley.
What is not a rarity, though, is the (go see it, now! I’m, warning you! I mean it, stop reading this and see it now!) one-dimensional mercenary bad guys. And while they do give „District 9“ one of it’s best scenes, that other worn out science fiction trope – the evil corporation – has undergone little development. 9/10