Sep 2, 2009

District 9 vs Time Traveler's Wife

Over on Rotten Tomatoes, I saw that District 9 had a 89% rating.

Finally! Original Quality Sci-Fi!

Then I saw District 9...

I wanted to like it. I really did. But after exiting the theatre, I had to ask myself "What movie were those critics watching?" The special effects were decent but so were the effects in Transformers or Terminator Salvation. Other than that, it was fun but nothing mind-blowing like the critics pretended it was. Even ignoring some of the criticism targeted toward the horrible depiction of Nigerians and the other biased failings of a film that supposedly presented a commentary on racism and ghettoization, its incredibly easy to pick apart the absolutely horrendous internal logic District 9 offered.

[Caution Spoilers Ahead!] There is no rationale or explanation given for ANY of the following questions or points

  • Why does the ship stops working in the first place?
  • Why does the command module fell from the sky?
  • Why is every alien seemingly a mindless beast except for the Christopher Johnson character and his son?
  • Why does the black goo both powers the command module AND turns Wikus into an alien?
  • Why Wikus's arm changes over night but the transformation magically pauses for the remainder of the film
  • Why wouldn't the aliens collect the black goo before all of the black goo containing parts are scattered around the district?
  • Why don't the humans explore the mother ship further?
  • Why don't the aliens don't simply band together or utilize their highly superior weapons instead of being subjugated by the humans?
  • Where do the excess weapons come if the aliens don't have any access to the mothership and they have no fabrication technology of their own?
  • If the movie is being shot as a documentary, where does all the footage of Wikus come from when he is by himself? Pick a style and stick with it!
And these are only a few of the lazy plot points that stick with me. It doesn't make any more sense than Transformers. Why the superior reviews? It doesn't actually make any commentary on apartheid, racism, or discrimination on more than an after school special level. The acting certainly isn't anything to write home about. I don't get it. The movie is relatively enjoyable as a popcorn flick but it's nothing out of ordinary.

Now I appreciate the fact that this wasn't Transformers 63 or Beanie Babies: The Musical. New ideas are few and far between and new SF ideas are even rarer. Well-budgeted SF new ideas with decent marketing push into the realm of leprechauns and unicorns. For that reason, I'm happy that District 9 did well. Hopefully, it means that we can see more original SF. Possibly even some good original SF. I mean, 89%, Really?

On the other hand, I've also saw The Time Traveler's Wife two weeks ago and I loved it. It currently has a 36% on Rotten Tomatoes, which for reference is 1% lower than the "instant classic" G.I. Joe. The Time Traveler's Wife is based of a book of the same name by Audrey Niffenegger which is probably the best time travel story I've ever read. It's important to realize that it's not science fiction but more of a time travel fantasy akin to Ken Grimwood's Replay. I think this might have turned some people off, especially those viewers going for the Time Travel part of the title. There is no scientific explanation for the main character's time traveling but it's not really relevant. It has a strong romantic storyline which may scare some readers off but the themes of causality, determinism, and chronology are mind-boggling and absolutely brilliant.

As an example, there isn't a singular moment when the two characters meet. An older Henry time travels to meet his wife's younger self and strikes up a friendship with her. Later on in Claire's chronologically unfolding life, she meets the man who has been visiting her for years and who she firmly believes she is destined to marry. The catch is that this twenty-something Henry has never met Claire before in his life. For a SFF fan who enjoys a story that will make you think and make you wonder, this is an outstanding book. For someone who is looking for a hard science fiction story, be warned that there is none to be had and the only explanation given is necessary for one of the important plot devices of the novel.

That being said, I felt like the novel did have some flaws particularly in the angst department. I'm not as keen on the relationship part of the story so when you start getting chapters and chapters with a lot more complaining and fighting rather than excitement and wonder, it starts to grate on my nerves. Especially when the characters start to do things that you feel are outside their characterizations.

I felt like the movie took all of the time travel wonder but improved/streamlined the relationship drama in a way that I connected with more strongly. I might even say that I enjoyed the movie as much as, if not more than the book. From reading the reviews, it seems like a lot of people where thrown by the complex causality loops that are explained more clearly and with more attention in the book. This being the case, I think it might be the coupling of the book and the movie together that worked so well.

I don't think I've ever said this before but I think I've found a book/movie combo that actually work well together rather detracting.

Long story short. See District 9 to support original films but don't be suprised when you don't enjoy it. Read the Time Traveler's Wife. Then see the movie.

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