Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Oscar Watch 2010 - the alien contenders

Since the Oscars are quickly approaching, and I've only reviewed one of the ten Best Picture nominees, I figured I ought to get a move on. In order to speed the process up a bit, today I'll be taking a look at the two alien movie noms - District 9 and Avatar. Even though these movies both feature aliens, they had significantly different budgets and production methods.

Avatar, of course, took years upon years for Cameron to manufacture the technology needed to pull off his vision. A 3D spectacular in a completely new, beautiful world, Avatar succeeds in completely blowing away viewer's minds technically. It truly is an adventure from start to finish, from the amazing 3D technology to the introduction of Pandora, a stunning planet that didn't exist until Cameron willed it to. The story itself is kind of lacking, with a semi-played out love story driving the story forward, but the spectacular views distract enough to keep viewers interested for the hefty 162 minute run time.

It's definitely a must see, especially if you're a special effects junkie. Or even if you're not, it is a spectacle of a film. Here's an example of how advanced it is: Upon seeing the movie, my grandma kept talking to my brother about how many hours it must have taken to put on their (the Na'vi) makeup every day. She didn't realize that the aliens were not real people. That's how realistic this new technology was. But I mean, confusing people over the age of 75 isn't really proving much.

To sum it up - Avatar is something that everyone should experience at some time or another (in its 3D form, for sure), but I don't think it should necessarily take home the Best Picture trophy. It should fare well in the technical categories, though.

On the complete other end of the spectrum, District 9 was a comparatively low budget sci-fi directed by Neil Blomkamp. It differs from Avatar not only in money spent, but also in realism. While Avatar takes us to an entirely new world, District 9 brings alien life to our present world, specifically in South Africa. The film is shot in a style similar to a documentary, making the whole thing feel oddly real.

The plot is infinitely more layered and interesting than Avatar's paralyzed human meets Na'vi princess love story. We start the movie by being introduced to a South Africa that contains slums inhabited by aliens, derogatorily referred to as Prawns. Without giving too much away about the intricate and interesting plot...

Eh, I don't really want to give anything away. Because part of the fun of this film is the ride it takes you on, with unexpected twists and turns all the way until the end of the movie. And while both of these movies have underlying political messages (Avatar called out the human race for destroying the earth, while District 9 focuses more on racism and oppression), District 9 seems to make its political statement more overtly. While Avatar kind of makes it's point in a tongue in cheek manner (calling the mineral the humans want to get from Pandora "Unobtainium"), District 9 is more blunt and serious in its references towards racism. It truly makes you think.

An unexpected surprise that keeps you on the edge of your seat, District 9 certainly will not come away with the grand Oscar prize, but it will make audiences come away thinking about its themes as well as its engaging story.

Overall, this year's alien movies get a combined 4 out of 5 on the Marci scale. Both should be checked out if you're into aliens. Or even if you're not.