District 9 vs. the stagnation of SF cinema
At any rate, commenter "Bacopa" suggested I check out District 9, which I had heard of but not seen. I did, searching for clips on YouTube, and was startled by what I saw. District 9 is from South Africa, a country not usually associated with making science-fiction movies at all; and its production cost of about $30 million, while far from cheap, was spartan by the standards of big Hollywood productions. But while it's a story of unwelcome aliens on Earth, it very much breaks with conventional movie portrayals of aliens -- and with conventional ideas of what science-fiction movies are supposed to look like.
Synopsis, as best I can gather: A giant alien spaceship materializes in the sky over Johannesburg. The creatures on board are not invaders but passengers, and their ship reached Earth (a planet unknown to their species) due to some kind of malfunction; they don't know how to fix it or get home, and are understandably frightened and bewildered. The South African government, suddenly faced with this large population of useless and ugly creatures, sets aside an area of Johannesburg ("District 9") as a sort of ghetto for them -- they also hope to exploit the aliens' technology for military purposes, which would explain why they don't just unload the problem on some richer country. Years pass and tensions rise between the aliens, disparagingly known as "prawns", and neighboring humans. Eventually the authorities decide to relocate the "prawns" from District 9 to a new area outside the city, but the creatures resist eviction; also, a few have been making plans to return to their ship (still hovering over Johannesburg, since no one knows how to remove it) after acquiring the necessary knowledge and supplies to operate it, to contact their distant home planet and eventually bring their whole population back home.
A couple of scenes for flavor -- first, serving an eviction notice:
Here, a "prawn" father sadly explains to his small child that, though they are being forced out of District 9, they still can't go back to the home planet (the rest of this video is an assembly of fight scenes -- the film does have plenty of action):
Imagery of a despised and marginalized population being abused and degraded by the dominant race is emphasized -- such themes inevitably loom large in the South African consciousness -- but the humans in the film seem to have quite forgotten that the lowly "prawns" come from a civilization which must be more advanced than our own, since it can produce interstellar spaceships (even if their navigation stinks), and thus more powerful too. In the end, one of them succeeds in flying the ship away, promising to return in three years with a fleet to bring his people home; one wonders if this fleet, when it arrives, might also punish humanity for its treatment of the refugees.
I'll be picking up the DVD soon. District 9 was a strong commercial hit, appealing an audience older than that which goes to most SF films; I'm somewhat embarrassed that I missed it when it originally came out in 2009. So it's possible to succeed by doing something original, but it seems Hollywood was too busy scouring comic-book remainder bins for obscure superheroes to notice. South Africa gave us this. Maybe the next big original SF hit will come from Brazil or Iran or.....?