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The Elevated Subplot: Another Perspective on District 9

Written by: Tony Lazlo, CC2K Staff Writer

ImageDespite its considerable virtues, I had one major problem with Neill Blomkamp's District 9: It belonged in The Animatrix. Let me explain:

Please be aware that spoilers follow. Read on:

In case you don't remember, The Animatrix was an anthology of nine animated shorts that explored different nooks and crannies of the Wachowski siblings' Matrix universe. The tales ranged widely in tone, from the sweeping and relatively straight-laced Final Flight of the Osiris to the far more abstract and challenging World Record.

All of the volumes in The Animatrix worked well as shorts, but none of them had enough meat on their bones to work as a full-length feature, except maybe Final Flight, which recounted an important mission by one of the human resistance's ships and was referred to by name in the second movie.

By contrast, World Record showcased one extraordinary citizen of the Matrix: a world-class athlete who got a glimpse outside the cyber-prison during a track meet. (I mention this volume becaue I loved how it showed a different way to fight back. Most of the Matrix soldiers found their way into the resistance becasue of their exceptional intellects. The hero of World Record managed to see the cascade of green code by simply being great in the Trojan War-hero sense of the word. In fact, let's pause to rewatch this classic cartoon.)

Back to District 9: Blomkamp's impressive science-fiction movie combines perfectly executed special effects with great world-building and a lot of fascinating details hidden in the deep programming of his script. I found it disappointing as a whole, though, because I felt like the movie's A-story was lurking just off-camera while Blomkamp obsessed over a subplot that would have been better suited as an short film included in the DVD's special features.

That may sound harsh, but consider what's missing: Blomkamp imagines a first-contact scenario with aliens that goes off the rails right from the start. The aliens arrive in a standard-issue terrifying flying saucer and armed with spectacular weapons, but they lack both the energy source and the initiative to attack, survive or negotiate in any meaningful way with humans.

Moreover, during the movie's opening sequence, we hear one talking head speculate that the prawns are the worker class of a hive mind species that lost its queen. Let me stress: That's a great idea, but unfortunately, Blomkamp neglects to explore it and instead decides to focus on a relationship between an alien inventor (named Christopher Johnson) and his son. The movie’s human lead (South African Sharlto Copley in a solid major feature debut) helps Johnson retrieve a key piece of alien technology and escape earth in the aforementioned giant, terrifying flying saucer.

Don’t get me wrong – it all makes for a thumping good series of action scenes, but that’s all this movie can offer, ultimately. Instead of an exploration of how a rudderless hive-mind species would adapt to a world without a queen, we get a standard father-son relationship that could appear in virtually any other movie.

So if we accept that the current incarnation of District 9 would work better as a short film, what would my version of the movie look like? First, the narrative would linger a little bit longer on first contact and show how humanity goes from elation to disillusionment to disgust after meeting its first alien race. Second, the movie would justify Johnson’s paternal relationship with his son by exploring how a single cog in a hive-mind machine could come to care for its young directly. Third, the movie might just take a look up inside that ship. Is it an ark? A deep-space vessel?

Personally, I think it was a Dumpster. I think that an elite caste on the alien homeworld flushed the prawns down the toilet, and they landed on earth.

Think I’m crazy? I invite correction in the forums.