District 9

Went to see District 9 yesterday - good stuff. Neill Blomkamp’s one to watch out for - and I suspect James Cameron will be kicking himself come the end of the year. 14 years and $300 million to make Avatar, and Blomkamp’s snuck in with a truly epochal sci-fi movie that only cost $30 million to produce. Not that you’d know it from looking at the screen; the visuals are very impressive. Check out some of Blomkamp’s previous short film work (including Alive in Joburg, the film that inspired District 9) here.

But what does it all mean for the film industry? Once a film like District 9 blazes a trail, Hollywood moves quickly to emulate its success. In the short term, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a couple of big studio pictures trying to emulate District 9’s aesthetic - wobbly hand-held cameras and steadicam, snippets of faux-documentary footage, grotty-looking real-world locations, and so forth. CGI has clearly advanced to the point where it’s possible to drop blockbuster-quality effects into a mid-budget film, so we can probably expect to see a few more issues-based sci-fi flicks with small budgets and no star names above the title.
In the longer term, perhaps the suits will draw some lessons from how the film was created - especially if District 9 does end up out-performing Avatar.
If you haven’t heard the story… Briefly, Peter Jackson was impressed by Blomkamp’s short films and adverts, and poached him with a view to him directing a blockbuster based on Microsoft’s Halo videogame franchise. The deal fell through, and they turned to Blomkamp’s short film Alive in Joburg for inspiration, spinning the basic premise of the short into a mid-budget feature. I wouldn’t be too surprised if the studios look to take a similar approach, sniffing around ad showreels and YouTube in the hope of finding another Blomkamp.
Short film-makers will doubtless be hoping that they do; I wonder if we’ll see more film-makers producing shorts that are written with a view to being expanded to feature-length, in the event that they find a patron.