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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

not my review of ‘District 9,’ but…

I won’t review District 9 till closer to the release date, but I can’t not say something right now. I saw the film tonight, and as I tweeted immediately after:

maryannjohanson literally has chills from how absolutely fucking genius DISTRICT 9 is

I feel the same way I felt almost 20 years ago, the first time I saw Until the End of the World, back in 1991. Not the two films are anything much alike, but back then, I felt like I’d just seen the first movie of the 21st century. Tonight, I felt like I was seeing the future of science fiction. Filmmakers are gonna be imitating the look and feel of District 9 for years to come, and few of them are gonna get it right.

Remember this summer of 2009. Between District 9 and Torchwood: Children of Earth, we are looking at the surfacing of a new kind of science fiction that is fierce and dark, and not in the least bit slick and not in the least bit fantastical, for all the imagination that SF involves. And it’s not a future that Hollywood has much to do with, either: it’s about new voices and different perspectives than we’ve seen and heard before.



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  • Lisa

    District 9 looks great Alive in Joburg was a great taster

  • Totally a rip off of Alien Nation.

  • i remember seeing Until the End of the World, and it was briliant, but can’t really see the influence on 21st century movies, most of which remain as banal as the late 20th century movies, if not more so. i think sometimes brilliant works stand on their own and don’t have as much influence on the future of art as we think, or wish, they would.

  • Good to see you jumping on the semantic “not a review” review bandwagon to get around those pesky embargoes — if everybody else is doing it, why not you? :)

    That being said, Torchwood: Children of Earth and District 9 are neither the heralds of nor the only recent examples of a new era of “fierce and dark” science fiction… I’m not even sure what you’re comparing it to except maybe the new Star Trek (which was also kinda fierce, despite it’s slickness). Go back 3 or 4 decades and you’ll see examples of this sort of storytelling: Alien, Blade Runner, Silent Running, 12 Monkeys, Pitch Black, Firefly, Sunshine, Dark Knight, Battlestar Galactica, Star Wars… no reason to make a list, I guess. You get the point.

    Can’t wait for District 9, but I have no illusions that it’ll be anything I haven’t seen before. And I mean that in the best possible way.

    Children of Earth, on the other hand, isn’t even the best of the recent examples of this “new” dark sci fi you’re talking about. Moon, Virtuality… I should stop before i just list every badass sci fi movie or tv show of the last 50 years.

  • MaryAnn

    Totally a rip off of Alien Nation.

    No, it isn’t.

    Good to see you jumping on the semantic “not a review” review bandwagon to get around those pesky embargoes — if everybody else is doing it, why not you? :)

    I haven’t been told there’s an embargo. Not every film is embargoed. Neill Blomkamp did ask, only half joking, at the screening last night that we not to spread all the spoilerish details about the story all over the Web, but then I never do that anyway.

    i remember seeing Until the End of the World, and it was briliant, but can’t really see the influence on 21st century movies,

    Well, I didn’t have a time machine in 1991. I didn’t know if or how UTEOTW might influence movies. I only knew that it felt like something I’d never seen before, something fresh and new (while also, clearly, acknowledging and referencing many films that preceded it). That’s how I feel about D9.

    Go back 3 or 4 decades and you’ll see examples of this sort of storytelling:

    It’s not just about the story but the way the story is told. You may disagree with me when you finally see the film, but this feels very, very fresh to me. And yes, I’ve seen and love all the movies you name. Even *Moon* — which is fantastic, and I must write my review soon — does not feel like D9.

  • bracyman

    Go back 3 or 4 decades and you’ll see examples of this sort of storytelling: Alien, Blade Runner, Silent Running, 12 Monkeys, Pitch Black, Firefly, Sunshine, Dark Knight, Battlestar Galactica, Star Wars

    I’m with you on Alien, Blade Runner and Star Wars, but Firefly? Sunshine? Dark Knight was *last year*! If anything, the list you provided indicates that there’s been a recent trend of sci-fi movies catching up with sci-fi books, in terms of maturity and story-telling. Good sci-fi has always been about challenging the status quo; if MaryAnn is right, that attitude may be extending to include how a story can be told.

    I’m all about listing paragons of sci-fi films (does that include Pitch Black?), but at least get the decades right.

  • MaryAnn (Thu Jul 30 09, 11:42AM):

    It’s not just about the story but the way the story is told. You may disagree with me when you finally see the film, but this feels very, very fresh to me. And yes, I’ve seen and love all the movies you name. Even *Moon* — which is fantastic, and I must write my review soon — does not feel like D9.

    This is wonderful news… god. I’m trying not to get my hopes up too high for D9!! I already have a poster up on my wall. :)

    I’m with you on Alien, Blade Runner and Star Wars, but Firefly? Sunshine? Dark Knight was *last year*! If anything, the list you provided indicates that there’s been a recent trend of sci-fi movies catching up with sci-fi books, in terms of maturity and story-telling. Good sci-fi has always been about challenging the status quo; if MaryAnn is right, that attitude may be extending to include how a story can be told.

    I’m all about listing paragons of sci-fi films (does that include Pitch Black?), but at least get the decades right.

    Well, I meant that throughout the past 3 or 4 decades there have been these types of films, including the past 10 years. The point was, it’s not new. However, I am not so entrenched in my ways that I’m not willing to be blown away. The comparison to Torchwood kinda dampens the expectations a little, not because it was bad, but it definitely wasn’t new.

    We’ll see in 2 weeks.

  • bracyman

    My misunderstanding, apologies. You’re right, there always have been these stories available. Actually, once I started looking at the list, there’s significantly more movies and TV in the last 10 that treat sci-fi as something other than a reason to have sex with green skinned women than in the previous 20.

    Those of us who got use to sorting through the dross to find the few gems of movies are probably more relieved to see something like Torchwood done right, when it could have so easily been done wrong. Not that we don’t have to deal with the steps back, but the genre we love the most has taken huge steps forward. Or maybe grown up with us. I’m continually surprised to see the stories of my childhood treated with respect, and I’m guessing that MaryAnn who has to wade through more dreck than I care to guess has similar reactions. Can you imagine something like G.I. Joe being anything but a B-movie embarrassment 10 years ago?

    Or maybe I’m too quick to jump to the defense of any imagined slight of the woman who introduced me to Threshold.

  • @MAJ: “Well, I didn’t have a time machine in 1991. I didn’t know if or how UTEOTW might influence movies. I only knew that it felt like something I’d never seen before, something fresh and new (while also, clearly, acknowledging and referencing many films that preceded it).”

    so, i wonder, having reviewed an average of 200 something movies for the past 11 or 12 years, *have* you seen an influence of UTEOTW at all on current film-making or films? i don’t have quite the critical eye (for movies) that you have, and may very well have missed a good deal of the threads and styles that may be showing that influence.

  • allochthon

    Oh, I’m so glad you liked it, MAJ! I was hoping the hype wasn’t overdone. We have such similar tastes in movies that I’m much relieved.

  • Or maybe I’m too quick to jump to the defense of any imagined slight of the woman who introduced me to Threshold.

    Probably, a little. She holds her own just fine. :)

    One of the best things about this site, and MaryAnn, is how she allows us to disagree with her, and defends her opinions just as vigorously as we do ours. Add in the fact that most of us agree with her more often than not, and you’ve got a fun way to spend an afternoon when you do find something to call her out on. That’s how I see it anyway.

  • Laheyla

    I’m not sure that Children of Earth represents any sort of new direction in Science Fiction. Dark, fierce sci-fi is nothing new. As someone above states, you only need to go back a few years, pre-Independence Day, and you find loads of hopeless darkness and despair. Soylent Green is people, baby. And Silent Running made no difference at all to the last of the rainforests. I would actually say that I find this sort of presentation boring and unoriginal. Everyone goes on and on about the happy ending as cliche…but we do struggle to find it in science fiction. Most of the stories go for high body count, gritty “realism” and hopelessness.

    Farscape has the best attempt at an uplifting finish…and D’Argo dies for that shot of “realism.” Even the new Star Trek movie, which I adored, lost the sense of a hopeful future that the original stories embodied. It goes with the cowboy ending, even Spock gets a shot of testosterone, but it loses the idea that humanity can do better than we’ve done so far. It sort of diminishes our heroes to make them so fatalistic and flawed. There is certainly a place for dark, fierce sci-fi that leaves us all feeling hopeless…but it’s nothing new to the genre.

  • laheyla

    Of course, maybe I should read all of the comments…before commenting. :sheepish grin: As a hardcore scifi fan, I’m always getting bristly about this issue, generally presented as dark is somehow more “real” and “original.” But, that said, I am happy that District 9 is looking groundbreaking. I definitely enjoy a bit of dark, fierce scifi and this did appear to be that sort of thing. I fully expect the people to be worse than the aliens.

    BTW, which recent films are you thinking we are making a departure from with District 9? Wall-E? Because Dark Knight, for example, was grim.

  • Laheyla (Thu Jul 30 09, 8:43PM):

    It sort of diminishes our heroes to make them so fatalistic and flawed.

    I disagree. Instead of diminishing them, it humanizes them, which (to me) makes them even more heroic.

  • Accounting Ninja

    I disagree. Instead of diminishing them, it humanizes them, which (to me) makes them even more heroic.

    I’ve always preferred neither too righteously virtuous nor deliberately anti-hero. My favorite heroes are just regular people to whom terrible crap happens. Like Ellen Ripley for example. Just a working stiff thrust into a nightmare and she has to summon up all her strength to survive. She’s not dark or edgy, but neither is she unflappably brave and virtuous. (Of course, she IS brave, but it’s a courage born of deperation and a fierce drive to survive).

  • JoshDM
    Totally a rip off of Alien Nation.

    No, it isn’t.

    You KNOW I know it isn’t. You should already know it from how many times in the past I’ve posted the link to A-in-J here.

  • JoshDM

    Especially because we BOTH know it’s just a rip-off of V.

    :)

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