By Tom Macy
August 20, 2009
The big story this week is District 9. With a no-name director and star in Neill Blomkamp and Sharlto Copley, D9 scored $37 million in its opening frame to enter itself in the break-out hit of the summer contest, just when The Hangover was starting to cork champagne. In terms of sheer numbers, The Hangover has the edge. There's no way District 9 makes it up to $250 million, or even $150 million. But whereas the success of The Hangover has some precedent - well-made comedies not intended to be major tentpoles have turned in big profits before, from Wedding Crashers to The 40 Year-Old Virgin - District 9 feels just a little more special.
With themes deeply rooted in current events (a rarity for summer cinema. When was the last time you saw a spaceship, superhero or planet-destroying national disaster in the news?), District 9 still manages to be a true action film. In the movie trend speculation game, when I play the role of the eternal optimist, I predict that District 9 could be a game changer.
Like The Bourne Identity before it, D9 proved that American audiences are not just mindless zombies trudging to the cineplex to see whichever film, regardless of its expected (poor) quality, had the most aggressively expensive marketing campaign. Though weekends like March 2-4 2007 - when Zodiac, one of the most memorable films of that year, opened to $13 million and Wild Hogs, one of the most pathetic attempts at (multiple) career resurrection ever conceived, won the frame with just under $40 million - seem to make strong arguments to the contrary, District 9 has shown that there is still a place for intelligent, complex narratives made for mass consumption.
There are several storylines that will be examined now that this mold-breaking break-out (heh-heh, too many breaks) has taken the industry by storm. One of the favorites will be Blomkamp's rise to the helm. Hand picked to head up a videogame-to-film adaptation of the super high-profile Halo, the project bottomed out after five months due to a bulging budget and the studio's hesitation toward the untested Blomkamp. But out of the Halo ashes arose an opportunity to expand his intriguingly ambiguous six-minute short film Alive in Joburg. He proceeded to turn it into a strikingly originally conceived film that inexplicably walks a precarious line between commentary on civil intolerance and good ‘ol summer fun. And by the way, it only cost $30 million! Previously a director of commercials as well as being a visual effects 3D animator for Smallville, among other things, Blomkamp's story of success is the stuff misguided acting students' dreams are made of. Here, here.
But while the real story may be the discovery of a new talent in Blomkamp and a semi-new format for blockbusters, what got me really excited was the name above all the marquees - Peter Jackson.
It's amazing that this Christmas will be eight years since Fellowship of the Ring was released. It's amazing to think that at one time we existed in a world without Balrogs and over-zealous Howard Shore scores. I never read Tolkien's novels – I'm a movie guy, okay? – but I think that enhanced my experience of the Rings films. An 18-year-old when Fellowship was released, I went in completely unprepared for what was in store, seeing it only because it was a big-budget holiday release. Like I said, I'm a movie guy. Five minutes in, my world was changed forever. The sheer jaw-dropping scope of the prologue alone was practically incomprehensible to me. I had never seen anything like it. As the movie progressed, every shot, set, and sequence was so impressive I assumed I had seen "the money shot" several times over. I honestly thought the movie was going end in about an hour and a half in at Rivendell after the Liv Tyler horse chase with the Nazgul, and I was totally okay with that.