Sunday, 11 October 2009

Evil corporates

Judging from this weekend's films, anti-corporatism is still in vogue, and still makes for enjoyable cinema (which may say more about me than Hollywood).

First up was State of Play, a remake of an excellent TV series we saw a couple of years ago. Somewhat surprisingly, the film largely mirrors the original, albeit with a few nips and tucks. The core story is retained, though some of the plotting is rather fast, and we don't get to know some of the characters quite so well. This does tend to move things along a little too quickly for the viewer to try to guess ahead, surely one of the pleasures of the genre, but it was still an enjoyable film. The story's central messages about the corrupting influence of the bottom line and the creeping corporatisation of military services are retained, and still timely, although as with the TV series, get overshadowed as the narrative twists its way to the finish line.

Much more interesting, and viscerally enjoyable, was District 9, an ostensibly science fiction film about alien visitors to Earth who have overstayed their welcome. Told as a mixture of conventional cinematic narrative and through interspersed documentary footage and interviews, the film follows Wikus, an administrator tasked by Multinational United (MNU) to evict the aliens from their Johannesburg (and eponymous) slum. However, while serving eviction notices to the brutalised aliens, Wikus is accidentally exposed to an alien technology and begins to undergo a genetic transformation that gradually turns him into an alien. This transformation is of great interest to MNU, who have long been searching for a means to successfully operate alien weaponry, and Wikus quickly becomes an expendable resource for the corporation's biotechnology department. Escaping from MNU, Wikus becomes a hunted fugative, and while desperate to return to normal life and his loving wife, he gradually becomes aware of the true plight of the aliens. Ultimately, he selflessly helps one alien and his son to escape to, and activate, the mothership that has hovered unresponsively over the city for 20 years.

While the film is solidly enjoyable as a science fiction romp, particularly when Wikus begins to use alien technology to fight back against MNU, its real themes run very close to the surface. In this respect, setting the film in post-Apartheid South Africa is something of a master-stroke, one that harmonises perfectly with the anti-racist subtext (practically the sur-text). The film did strike me as channelling the spirits of Robocop and Alien Nation, but by marrying the best themes from both (together with the rather enjoyable violence of the former) more than stands on its own two feet. And, as ever, it's hard not to like a film which ends hopefully.

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