First off, full disclosure: The title of this post is both sensational and ridiculous. I have yet to see either Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen or District 9, so my opinions in this piece are based solely on my own personal taste, the trailers released for these two films, and my reaction to the materials previously produced by the two directors; mainly being Transformers 1 and Alive in Joburg. Having said all that, let’s get to it.
You might be saying to yourself â€œWhat do Transformers 2 and District 9 possibly have in common that they’re worth comparing?â€ Well, seeing as District 9 will more than likely be crushed under the box office weight of Transformers 2, I do think they’re related; even if it’s in a Darwinian food-chain sort of way. Both are summer blockbusters dealing with aliens landing on Earth and subsequently being forced to co-exist with humans. Both utilize special effects to tell their stories. Both come from visually driven directors with backgrounds in commercials and music videos. Good enough? Didn’t think so. Either way, my reasons why District 9 will be better than Transformers 2:
1. Subversive yet Accessible
First things first; I’m not one to write off blockbuster films for the sake of them being blockbusters. I like to have fun in the theatres as much as the next guy. But hey, isn’t it great when a movie can be both fun AND smart?? Definitely. If it’s anything like Alive in Joburg (which I think it’s safe to assume it will be) District 9 should give us an interesting combination of cool FX, visceral action and interesting ideas. As for Transformers; based off of the first film and the Rise of the Fallen trailer, I’d say we’re looking at cool FX, confusing action and dumb ideas. I’ll take D9 to win.
2. Special FX
Let me explain here. SFX aren’t simply the art of making something look as realistic as possible. There should be some attempt to strive to create new and inspiring images, not just creating a tech demo for your company. Some examples? The tumbling dinosaurs in King Kong, or the creation of Sandman in Spider-Man 3. Both sequences probably aren’t the best example of superior FX from a technical standpoint, but I think they’re good examples of the use of computer technology to create interesting or even inspiring images. I’ll give Transformers the win for compositing and photo realistic graphics, but the images certainly aren’t inspired. Blomkamp’s short films alone feature more unique and interesting visuals. However, in the end, this is all personal opinion and I’m sure most people will simply argue that the effects in King Kong were shit. Oh well.
3. Social Commentary: Night of the Living Dead Style
Social commentary can at times be heavy handed and clumsy, but every now and again you get a filmmaker that comes along and successfully builds a story around an allegory and ends up striking a nerve. We all remember the ending of George A. Romero’s ‘Night of the Living Dead’, and the subsequent ‘consumerism’ message buried just below the surface of Dawn of the Dead. The Alien films managed to take on ‘corporate greed’ with some great success. District 9 looks to be following down a similar path. As so eloquently put by EyeGod, a commentor on our site:
â€œIt’s my hope that this film isn’t purely allegory, but that it deals with the important issues metaphorically, with a primary emphasis on entertaining. Needless to say I’m extremely excited about what this means for the South African film industryâ€¦â€
While I’m not really expecting any heavy social commentary from Transformers, the film seems to manage to do the exact opposite. It embraces everything the previously mentioned films attempted to attack; a giant commercial for toys, cars and the military.
How often is it that we actually get a summer blockbuster that isn’t a sequel or a remake? Pretty fucking rare, right? This alone gives District 9 points. And don’t worry, I’m not forgetting that district 9 is inspired by Neill Blomkamp’s short film ‘Alive in Joburg’. I just don’t think it really matters. Sure the story might be one we’ve heard before, but the approach is definitely fresh.
I’ve always thought the marriage of the cinema verite documentary style and horror worked extremely well. The Blair Witch Project, [REC] and Cloverfield are all great examples of using technique to directly influence storytelling. I think District 9 will bring this to a whole new level, incorporating seemingly real interviews manipulated to fit the story in a Borat sort of fashion. Science fiction fits quite well with this format.
5. Fresh, Young Talent
I can’t recall such a clearly talented first-time filmmaker getting so much unwarranted resistance stemming from a film that doesn’t even exist. You’d think with all of the people complaining about the lack of quality behind films based on video games, fans would be openly embracing the opportunity to allow a fresh, young filmmaker get his hands on a franchise. But no, the temptation to have an opportunity to complain about something and collect some google hits overrides any interest in supporting a new voice in the film industry. Here’s a great example:
“Remember Halo? When that nobody hack effects artist Neill Blomkamp was Jackson’s pick for director? The lemmings were all saying Blomkamp was awesome, but we had our doubts. Side note: If Blomkamp is that great of an potential director, why has he still not yet had a Hollywood gig since he is not busy on Halo?? Hmmâ€¦?” — Rodney, The Movie Blog
That came from a post about a Dune remake. Blomkamp is even slammed in regards to completely unrelated projects! Amazing. Thing thing is, I don’t care if Blomkamp hasn’t stepped foot on a feature film set (a fact I can’t corroborate), he has proven that behind the lens, he’s clearly got talent. His short film and commercial work is both inspired and original, which is something that can’t be said for some of the most experienced Hollywood directors working today. I’d much rather see Neill Blomkamp helm a franchise like Halo, which fits perfectly with his sensibilities and experience in FX. But If you think a director with 9 feature films under his belt is automatically a better choice due to his experience, I ask this; what if that director was Brian Robbins? Nothing is black and white.