Saturday, August 15, 2009

What I learned from District 9

Ever since I saw Neill Blomkamp's short masterpiece, "Alive In Joburg," I became obsessed with him. I googled the shit out of everything that even remotely sounded like "Blomkamp" and when I found out he was doing the Halo movie, it was a bit like I imagine heroin must feel like. Or your first Krispy Kreme donut. Well we all know how that fell apart and Bloomkamp seemed to disappear off the planet. I was so bummed because I felt like we were missing out on a unique new voice who was totally going to change the way Hollywood made movies. Then the announcement came that he was turning "Alive In Joburg" into a feature film called "District 9" and it was a little bit like I imagine crack must feel like. Or your first animal style double-double. Because these days trailers tell us the entire movie and since this was so low on the summer radar, I knew the marketing team would be forced to show every great shot in the film, I avoided it all. And today, I went into District 9 knowing absolutely nothing about what I was going to see other than that giant ship in the sky and a lot of South Africans.

Even after all that hype, I still walked away amazed. We're looking at the next James Cameron here folks. Sci-fi like this has never been done before. Within two minutes I actually believed this was happening. That aliens had landed on our planet. -- I'm not even going to get into all the unique choices Blomkamp and co-writer Terri Tatchell made. I'd just like to highlight a clever screenwriting move of theirs and how it affected the entire movie. Without it, the movie wouldn't have been the same.

In the film, the very first shot we get of the aliens is in their ship, all huddled up, cowering away from the light, malnourished, sick, and terrified. It's 3 seconds of screentime and yet it sets the tone for how you'll perceive them for the entirety of the film. You feel sorry for them. In other words, you sympathize with these creatures. Without us sympathizing with the aliens, without us wanting their life to be better or wanting them to get back home, the movie doesn't work. So that single shot has a huge impact on us.

This can be applied to any character in any screenplay. Introduce them in a terrible situation and we'll want to root for them. Human nature is that we don't want bad things to happen to people who don't deserve it.

And oh yeah. If you're even remotely interested in sci-fi, go see this movie!