The Moon...and Africa

I had a bit of a sci-fientific weekend, which I was not a expecting. I had planned for the last week to see District 9, a semi-dystopic/apocalyptic what-if about humans on earth learning to co-exist with stranded aliens who want nothing more than to return to their home planet. While the concept held a lot of promise, the execution proved to be less than stellar; especially in comparison to the other movie that I saw this weekend, Moon.

The back-story of District 9, which is told in a sort of documentary style, goes like this: a mysterious alien ship arrives within the stratosphere of Johannesburg, where it hovers for three months with no indication of its purpose or intent. The African Government finally decides to intervene and bust open the ship, revealing an entire race of starving aliens who are taken off the ship and placed in slums to reside temporarily where they come to be referred to by unhappy locals as the pejorative "prawns." The aliens inexplicable love of cat food is exploited by merchants who sell them vittles in exchange for lots of cash and weapons from the ship. Somehow they also manage to pimp out human female prostitutes to the aliens as well. Whatever. I was willing to overlook silly details such as this given the premise of the film. At first.

District 9 is centered on Wikus, a field operative of a fictional agency called the MNU (Multi-National United), which aims to confiscate as many alien weapons and technology as possible for military use, which it turns out, only the aliens have the ability to use. Wikus is sent into the alien ghetto to round up as many “prawns” as he can for shipment off to concentration camps, and here the film begins to arbitrarily switch between documentary and narrative storytelling.

At first a sympathetic character, Wikus before long succumbs to the xenophobia and hatred of the alien race shared by his fellow South Africans. While raiding one house, occupied by an alien named Christopher Johnson and his son, Wikus finds a cylinder filled with a curious black liquid that sprays all over him. This liquid happens to be an energy source that Chris planned on using to power the ship back up so that he can get his alien brethren home. This fluid turns out to be the deux ex machina (see Quantum Flux) of the film which catalyzes a major plot point in District 9. You see, not only is the liquid some sort of the fuel for the ship, but it also has the ability to fuse human DNA with Alien DNA. This is one of many eye-rolling contrivances in District 9 that is hard to swallow.

Once he begins to transform from man to prawn, Wikus is forcibly withheld by the MNU for testing with the already confiscated weapons. When they find out that Wikus has the ability to operate the alien guns, they plan to keep him indefinitely before he finds an opportunity to escape. He becomes a fugitive being tracked by the MNU, and one big bad mercenary in particular. His infamy is widened by news reports that he is part alien because he had sex with an alien, complete with photographic evidence. Because that makes sense.

Wikus is also wanted by the local African warlords, portrayed as barbaric cannibals, who believe if they eat the aliens, they will inhabit the alien DNA which will in turn give them the ability to use alien weapons. Sigh.

Wikus, now realizing the folly of his prejudiced behavior, eventually teams up with Chris Johnson, and together they break into the MNU labs and steal the precious liquid, which will not only get Chris and his son home, but will also somehow transform Wikus back into a human so that he can return to his wife and children.

And it continues to get sillier from there. I’m all for suspending disbelief, but I haven’t been challenged so aggressively to take a film seriously like this since I watched Haute Tension. Especially for a movie that attempts to be allegorical about race relations on earth, namely Apartheid, it is especially audacious.

At the halfway point, D9 sadly turns into a sort of low-budget version Transformers, albeit with half a brain. Shame on Peter Jackson for putting his name anywhere near this; District 9 makes Lord of the Rings look like a historical tome. Please wait for the DVD.

We had some free time, so afterward we snuck into Moon, which I had heard of, but was not aware of the exact plot. Being a fan of the lead, Sam Rockwell (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind), was the only motivation I needed. The movie centers around an astronaut, also named Sam, on a three year solo-mission to harvest an energy source called Helium 3 from the moon. The movie begins as Sam is reaching the last two weeks of his mission, and his understandably anxious to return to his family. He is kept company only by a robot named GERTY, who I expected to turn evil and try to kill Sam a la HAL 9000; however this is not the case.

The real plot kicks in as Sam goes on a reconnaissance mission to retrieve more Helium 3. A hallucination causes an accident which knocks him unconscious, and he wakes up an unspecified amount of time later with little memory of what happened. He tricks GERTY, who is put under instructions from home base not to let Sam outside, into letting him leave the spacecraft. Sam takes the rover back out on the surface of the moon to try to investigate the site of his accident and makes a startling discovery. To go any further would ruin the experience, and this is a film that I do not want to spoil.

While District 9 sets its sights on making a statement about the connectedness (or lack thereof) of humans, Moon explores what happens when that connection is broken, and questions whether or not that connection even actually exists; it also manages to take a few jabs towards the end at the lengths of corporate greed. Although a little slow in parts, I really enjoyed watching Sam’s story unfold, as Sam himself became increasingly unraveled. Catch it while you can.

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