Hey Hollywood — stop playing with toys!
I’ve rented three sci-fi movies in the last few months: District 9, Monsters and Transformers: Revenge of the Batteries. Guess which ones I liked and which one I thought was even more idiotic than I expected it to be.
District 9 — Great use of that documentary/security camera feel. The whole film should have been done that way. The weak parts were when it used conventional static camera shots to flesh out parts of the storyline. Those parts made me wonder if they were demanded by studio execs who worried people wouldn’t be able to think the story through.
District 9 also did what sci-fi is supposed to do — use the future to talk about the present. (Because really, isn’t that what Alien and Blade Runner are? Anxieties about the time in which they were filmed, projected into the future.) We don’t really need to discuss the “messages” of this film, do we? Let’s just say it was actively engaged with the geopolitics of the current era, and not an escapist fantasy about the future, and leave it at that.
Monsters — Just watched it last night. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting more than a sci-fi thriller or horror flick, based on the marketing. It looked like another Cloverfield. Instead, it was as thoughtful and as politically engaged as District 9. The film is set mostly in Mexico, parts of which have become an “infected zone” after a spacecraft brings back some alien hitchhikers and crashes there. The aliens start off small and then grow into large tentacley beasts that try to migrate into America. The Americans build a wall to stop them and launch a war on the alien immigrants…. get it? It’s full of nods to the war on drugs, illegal immigration, the role of the media, even the subprime crisis (if you look at a destroyed neighbourhood the right way). Interestingly, the closer the characters get to America, the worse things become.
Monsters is more subtle than District 9 — it’s largely an emotional film rather than a political action film. There are some stunningly beautiful shots, and a lot of moments that just celebrate humanity and community. Communion, even. The ending, well, let’s just say the film ends on an emotional note rather than a plot point. It could have been overwrought and anti-climatic, but it works perfectly.
Transformers — a film about toys. And maybe cars. The cars could be toys though, so I’m not sure they deserve a separate category. The film is also about…. no, that’s it. Toys.
It saddens me that this film gets a blockbuster release, while District 9 and Monsters have to be “discovered” and championed by celebrities, just to get medium-sized releases. And only then when their marketing campaigns try to present them as films they aren’t — bug hunt shoot ’em ups or horror flicks. But I guess that’s what sells.
I don’t know who I’m really upset with more — the Hollywood studios or the film audiences.