Neil Blomkamp, Will You Marry Me?

I’m not sure why I avoid reading io9. I think it’s because I’m so frequently disappointed by science fiction media properties. But I keep winding up there anyway, in no small part because Judd Karlman sends me a link to the site daily, and it’s always something interesting.

Well, he didn’t send me this interview with Neill Blomkamp, the director of District 9 and several really excellent SF shorts. So there, Judd.

In it, Neill talks about the double-edged sword of large budgets.

In a recent interview with the L.A. Times, Blomkamp made it quite clear that he wants nothing to do with $100 million budgets and major studio releases. The reason for this, he explains, is that he wants to be able to tell his own stories in his own way, and that just isn’t possible when such massive amounts of money are involved.

But that’s just the beginning of the good stuff.

If you look at the most meaningful science fiction, it didn’t come from watching other films. We seem to be in a place now where filmmakers make films based on other films because that’s where the stimuli and influence comes from. But go back and look at something like [Joe Haldeman‘s 1974 novel] “The Forever War” – that is very much rooted in his experience in Vietnam, that’s where the stimulation comes from.

He even addresses my problems with District 9.

Neill Blomkamp, will you make me Mrs. Blomkamp?

0 thoughts on “Neil Blomkamp, Will You Marry Me?”

  1. You see what I mean? It’s a total dearth of culture in that place. They will buy us, then sell us our own corpses to eat.

    Anyway, read the article. If it makes you feel better, it’s really an overview of the interview itself.

  2. I avoid io9 because it is, like Wikipedia and TVTropes, one of the many circles of Internet Hell in which I often lose my way… and several hours of my life that would be better spent doing something… better.

    But, having just watched D9 again, I will probably read this over-inter-around-and-through-view with Mr. Blomkamp.

  3. Hi, guys! I’m glad you’re meeting, if only internetally!

    My problem with it was that, in order to get across 5% of a story about race and dehumanization, it had to resort to SF action movie in the end.

    But, to quote Neill Blomkamp (my Canadian boyfriend),

    For the most part, “District 9” is absolute popcorn. It’s absolute fluff compared to how serious those real-life topics are. The topics in the film are on my mind all the time and they’re very interesting to me. The bottom line is “District 9” touches on 1% of those topics in terms of how severe they could be portrayed, and I knew that when I made it.

    He’s saying that he’s making the movie as hard-hitting as he feels he can make it, and it’s only 20% as hard-hitting as I felt it was. His shorts are really powerful, and I can see he’s got some serious stuff to say. I trust that he’ll be able to say it harder and harder as he’s able to gain more and more audience. His low-budget pledge gives me heart in the matter, in fact.

    The fact that Wikus is a self-serving shit with no sense of the scope of the events he’s part of and no empathy for anyone, at all, says some good stuff. He’s not a hero at all. We follow him around, but don’t like him. His self-serving nature is put to use by Christopher, who’s obviously smarter, more driven, kinder, and probably better looking by local standards.

  4. See, I totally agree that Wikus was a self centered shit. I don’t know that Christopher was any less self centered, though. I think they were both regular Joes, who cared about their friends and families, and wanted the best they could get from their circumstances. That was what I got out of it, anyway. The action movie stuff was what showed that they were able to overcome their respective selfishness and put themselves on the line for one another, even at risk of losing what they were each fighting for. I loved the way the action ramped up, and to me it felt like a natural extension of the plot, not forced at all. The story was definitely about racial relations, apartheid, dehumanization, etc; but it was also about people bridging that gap by sharing hardship.

    That’s just my 2c, obviously.

  5. Christopher is doing something for all of Praunhood. Sure, he’s saving his family first, but we have indication (though it’s not wholly clear) that he’s of some sort of hero/leader/initiative-taker class among them. That could all be a lie — we don’t see him come back, of course — but it’s what he, his friend, and his kid talk about.

    Wikus is conveniently getting married to a woman who’s gaining him social position. It seems like he loves her, yeah, but he’s not concerned about her wellbeing at all. He just wants her. She’s what he’s selfish *about*. Not to mention his newfound social status.

  6. Hi Robert, glad to meet you if only over the internets as well. Anyway hope the stuff you’ve heard about me is positive.;)

    Thanks for the answer Josh.

    I personally love D9 and have no problem saying it’s one of the best Sci-Fi movies I’ve ever seen. Also, if anyone rents or sees the DVD, I highly recommend watching the Director’s commentary after first watching the movie. It was really quite illuminating and refreshingly honest(for example he details some of what he sees as the flaws in the movie; i.e. the well-trained mercenaries who are among the most experienced soldiers on the planet who all of a sudden can’t hit the broad side of a barn while Wikus, who’s never fired a gun before can’t miss).

    As to your criticisms of the movie, while I can see where you’re coming from I think the movie addressed them about as well as could be addressed in a movie for a large, overwhelmingly non-South African audience.

    In many ways, part of the greatness of the movie is that it can illustrates the problems of using allegories to impart messages.

    For starters, it’s very easy to miss messages in allegories.

    The overwhelming majority of non-South Africans saw D9 as a parable about Apartheid and saw the way the Prawns were treated as being Blomkamp’s way of condemning the way Black South Africans were treated and viewed those various clips of Black township residents saying negative things about the Prawns “they must go” “they’re not even from this planet” etc. as being an example of oppressed people reenacting the way they were oppressed on a new group as has happened countless times throughout history. I’m sure more than a few people were reminded of the movies Crash or White Man’s Burden.

    However, while there is quite a bit of apartheid imagery in the movie the Prawn were not supposed to be symbolic representations of Black South Africans under Apartheid. Instead, the Prawn and the way they were treated was largely influenced by the experiences of Zimbabwean refugees flooding into South Africa during the 90s as Mugabe’s Zimbabwe imploded and the attempts of South Africa to deal with the refugees.

    In fact, those clips of the township Blacks calling for the ethnic cleansing of the Prawn weren’t actors, but in fact actual news footage of Soweto residents complaining about Zimbabwean refugees, even the “they’re not from this planet” line. In a piece of tragic irony, following the release of the movie, there was some mass rioting in South Africa involving large mobs of machete-wielding men invading the refugee quarters and attacking and murdering the residents.

    I also doubt too many non-South Africans understood that when the lead merc told Christopher Johnson “I’ve always gone by the slogan ‘one prawn, one bullet” that he was referring to the AZAPO slogan “one settler, one bullet” which was popular chant among young Black South Africans during the 80s and early 90s.

    Also, while this may be sacrilegious to say here, by their nature, making allegories about a subject and dealing with it symbolically often tend to be fairly clunky because they ignore the nuances of the situation and, by the nature of the allegory, the situation and people involved are different. Blomkamp talks about this when discussing the parts of the movie where there clearly is no comparison between the Prawn and Zimbabwean refugees.

    Similarly, the previously mentioned Forever War was very clearly motivated by Joe Haldeman’s experience in the Vietnam War as well as being something of a critique of Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. However, while the book was good it had nowhere near the power of Fields of Fire, Going After Cacciato, or other stories about the Vietnam War.

    Allegories by their nature have an unfortunate tendency reduce extremely complex situations and issues into simplistic charicatures which differ in significant ways from the actual situation to make the allegory flawed. When discussing complex issues nuances are important and by their nature, allegories don’t handle nuance very well.

    Now, am I say that one can’t use allegories to convey messages(something that is by no means limited to Science Fiction, On the Waterfront and High Noon being good examples of allegories) but allegories that are dramatically different from the subjects and situations that inspired them tend to lack the punch that stories more closely related to the situation that inspired them are.

  7. Bowman, that was a really interesting post. I know now why J talks about you so much. (And yeah, it’s all been good; he said we’re a lot alike so that’s by definition good.)

  8. Robert,

    Glad to hear that. I was joking whe I said, I hope you’ve only heard good things. Anyway, hopefully we’ll meet IRL. I’ll have to squeeze Josh a little to ensure it.:)

    BTW. Neil Blomkamp,would be pleased by the discussion on this site. Amongst other things, he thought of Wikus as a “dick” and was hoping people felt as much.

  9. I might be alone in this but for the first half of the movie or so, Wikus kinda reminded me of Bush. Or at least a Bush appointee. Family connections got him the job, he is utterly incompetent, etc.

  10. He more reminded me of Michael Scott from the Office(the UK version not the goofy, more likable US version) both in the way he was reacting to the cameras and playing up how important he was and how important his job was when it was pretty clear that he was pretty low on the totem pole and he was just another middle management drone.

    I don’t think he was nearly powerful or charming enough to be Bush.

  11. I thought the movie went out of its way to make it pretty clear that Wikus really loved his wife. Maybe that was supposed to be his one redeeming quality, I dunno. Christopher was clearly a bright, motivated Prawn, but we don’t really know if it was just that he happened to stumble on the wreckage of the command module, or if he was some kind of engineer beforehand, or what.

    As far as Wikus being a crack shot, I just assumed all the Prawn combat tech had targeting-assistance built into them. The mech certainly did. Man, we were up out of our seats when the cockpit opened and he was just staring at it like a dumbass. “GET IN!! GET IN!!!” and then we all cheered when he came busting out of the shed. The way he swung wildly between extreme cowardice and suicidal bravery kept me guessing what direction he’d go, which made the emotional payoff that much stronger for me.

    Granted, I’m a total sucker for narrative. And underdogs. And making people explode in lots of neat ways.

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