Thursday, January 7, 2010

Avatar and District 9

There are several similarities between these two films. In both the villains are greedy, callous corporations and their mercenary armies. Both are tales of the meeting between humans and aliens. In both the main character eventually gets to see things from the aliens’ perspective. In both movies the main characters make video diaries. There’s even a similar war robot in both of them, that the operator rides inside of.

There are also big differences. What little humor there is in “Avatar” is feeble, whereas “District 9” is darkly hilarious. Since the plot of “Avatar” is completely predictable and the dialogue is the same macho banter that James Cameron has been recycling for over 25 years, the joy of the movie resides in the amazing planet that the advanced computer graphics have created. You must see it in 3D. When the aliens (the Na’vi) leap up onto their flying reptiles and soar through the vertical world of the forest, I felt a movie going exhilaration that gets harder to access with each passing year. “District 9” has no interest in visual beauty.

I should mention that the Na’vi look like 8 foot tall, blue, fashion models with Bambi eyes. The aliens in “District 9” look like human-sized bipedal crustaceans with short, waving tentacles on their faces, The humans call them “prawns”. The aliens’ interplanetary ship has broken down over Johannesburg and more than a million aliens have been herded into a squalid, refugee camp where Nigerian gangsters prey upon them.

Whereas the hero of “Avatar” is a paraplegic marine veteran who eventually gets to show his courage and intelligence, the hero of “District 9” is a self-satisfied corporate imbecile whose only distinction is that he’s married to the boss’s daughter. Of course, like all heroes, he changes along the way.

“District 9” is a very smart movie with the transgressive power of such genre milestones as “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” and “Re-Animator”. However, those movies’ shock and awe was concentrated in the realms of violence and sex, “District 9” has larger ambitions. It’s dark satire is aimed at the ongoing toxic relationship between the First World and the Third World, but having said that, it’s really entertaining.