2 posts categorized "outer-space"


Apocalypse now; and how

While it can be construed as an allegory to Apartheid and South Africa's Soweto uprising of 1976, "District 9" is primarily a creature feature yarn.  A dressed-up "B-movie," if you will.

And a pretty compelling one.

Director/co-writer Neill Blomkamp, a first-time feature filmmaker born in South Africa, goes beyond the usual alien vs. human standoff.  One-on-one collaboration, brought to pass by plot twists, lurks at the root of this action-packed tale of Earthling violence toward non-violent visitors from outer-space.

You won't recognize any of the actors, but the producer is a marquee name.  Blomkamp was hand-picked by producer Peter Jackson ("The Lord of the Rings" trilogy) to do another film.  When "Halo," the big-screen version of the video game, fell through, Jackson commissioned Blomkamp's alien visitation thriller.

You get a little bit of everything with "District 9."  It's part standard sci-fi thriller, part alternate history (Is that even possible?  Isn't history either history or not?) and part mockumentary.  There's also more than a little shaky-cam "reality" reminiscent of last year's "Cloverfield" and "28 Days Later" (2002) tossed in for good (if you like cinematic redundancy) measure.

The mockumentary angle takes center stage in the opening act.  Visitors from another planet have parked their mother ship over Johannesburg, South Africa and hovered for 28 years.  After a few years, humans, tired of waiting for either invasion or a close encounter, finally boarded the ship. 
They "rescued" the emaciated space travelers and placed them in a shantytown encampment dubbed District 9.

When the insect-looking aliens began mingling a little too closely with the locals, the government hired a private security firm, Multi-National United (MNU), to evict them and move them further from the populace.

In documentary style, Blomkamp shows one of the field operatives, Wikus van der Merwe (newcomer Sharlto Copley), preparing to vacate his desk for field duty to lead the eviction forces. 
A bureaucrat given the leadership role by his scumbag father-in-law, Wikus speaks into the camera with the company line of relocating the aliens to a better place.

Things get very ugly in shantytown.  Without giving too much of the plot away, let's just say that our mousy bureaucrat lets the wrong vile of alien bile spray in his face.

From this aisle seat, "District 9" truly fascinates only in its attempt to form a human-alien alliance.  Copley, the director's old pal who produced Blomkamp's short film (also about aliens in Johannesburg), adequately, if not magnificently, orchestrates one man's transformation into something very different than what he was at the beginning.

Jackson is correct about his young protégé, however.  Blomkamp shows promise both as filmmaker and screenwriter (along with Terri Tatchell).  The aliens, mostly computer-generated and not at all "E.T." cuddly, turn out to act more human-like than most of the Earthlings.

I'm looking forward to Blomkamp's follow-up effort.  Once the smoke and mirrors of special-effects, aliens and a jerky hand-held camera are out of the way, we'll know more about what this promising filmmaker who has spent his adult life in Canada can really do.


Once, maybe more in a blue 'Moon'

For some time now, I've had this germ of an idea for a sci-fi movie.  A family is driving home, entering their neighborhood, when they see an SUV in front of them that looks just like theirs.

Same model.  Same color, same school stickers on the back window.

When the family pulls up alongside to take a look, they're flabbergasted to see that inside the other SUV is another set of them.

That's all I've got so far.  I said it was a germ of an idea.

I thought about that quite a bit watching "Moon," a thinking man's outer-space sci-fi drama starring Sam Rockwell.

Rockwell, a very good character actor last seen as one of  David Frost's investigators in "Frost/Nixon," portrays a blue-collar mining station caretaker ending a three-year contract with Lunar Industries on the far side of the moon.

Mechanical drones do the heavy work.  Sam Bell (Rockwell) occasionally ventures out to harvest cannisters of Helium-3, the new clean source of energy for Earth.

Sam works and lives alone on the Sarang moon base, where he's mostly confined to stark quarters.  When he's not whittling wood into a miniature model of his small hometown, he's looking forward to reuniting with his wife Tess and 3-year-old daughter Eve.  A technical glitch prevents the desperately lonely lunar worker to speak to them directly, however.

Instead, Sam receives recorded video messages from his wife periodically, and he can record messages for her.  Sam's only companion, if we can call it that, is Gerty, the station's computer (voiced by Kevin Spacey).

It's obvious early on that "Moon" director/co-writer Duncan Jones isn't just an average fan of sci-fi.  Jones clearly respects the vintage tales that spilled philosophy right along with the outer-space drama. 
The isolation aspect made me think right away of "Silent Running," the 1972 sci-fi drama starring Bruce Dern as a lone astronaut tending Earth's last nature reserve in space.  And, of course, the lonely man/vocal computer element reminds one of "2001:  A Space Odyssey," Stanley Kubrick's 1968 classic.

This is the first feature film for Jones, a former wild-cam operator for director Tony Scott, and screenwriter Nathan Parker.  They manage to make "Moon" their own.  They've got a modest budget to work with (in the $5 million range).  Even so, the lunar locale looks authentic, and Jones layers computer graphics over model sets to keep the cost within range.

That makes it all that more important for Rockwell (edgy acting dynamite in David Gordon Green's "Snow Angels") to command our attention in what, for all practical purposes, is a one-man play much of the time.
The good news is that Rockwell pulls it off.

Strange things begin to happen to Sam in the final days of his contract.  This is not the kind of film where too much of the plot needs to be disclosed.  The personal note at the beginning of this review should serve as a hint, however.

"Moon," well-acted by Rockwell , provides excellent homage to the sci-fi gems with something to say.  You know, the ones like "Silent Running," "2001" and "Blade Runner" that filled screens before morphing hardware ("Transformers 2," etc.) took over.