Culture Clashes of a 3rd Kind

This will be the first in a series of multiple posts that were delayed in getting uploaded on time due to some unwanted gremlins.

First up is an interview with District 9's Clinton Shorter, a Canadian composer whose career should become very interesting, now that the little sci-fi/drama he scored for director Neill Blomkamp is tops at the box office.

Shorter’s pre-blockbuster career includes scoring several films for Carl Bessai (including the director’s latest, Cole, which will screen at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival in September), as well many TV movies and TV series.

Accompanying the interview is a review of District 9, as well references to Alive in Joburg, the 2005 short film that Shorter scored for the director, and is the basis for District 9. (Both Joburg and Blomkamp’s other short, Yellow, are viewable on Youtube.)

One reason District 9 is getting so much critical buzz is the way Blomkamp blends multiple genres into his film, but certainly one aspect was comes through so powerfully by the end is the relationship between a deeply flawed human and two aliens – a father and son.

The co-existence of humans and aliens got major attention when writer/director/producer Kenneth Johnson took the concept of the wonky feature film Alien Nation (1988) and turned it into a 1989-1990 TV series. Instead of a singular ship carrying sick aliens parking themselves above one city, Nation had multiple ships arriving around the planet.

The kicker? The crafts held a mix of a few overloards and millions of prisoners, and much in the way humans brand the aliens a racial slur (“prawns”) in District 9, the aliens in Nation were “slags” who lived in scummy areas of the local cities.

The novel twist to Nation was rather than having aliens trapped in a slum for twenty years after a brief attempt at integration, the newcomers were given civic rights and allowed to fully integrate into human society, which in later series episodes included dating and foreplay; the latter was given a much more discrete touch than the dirtier image conjured by District 9 humans when ‘sex with an alien’ is used to turn people against native runaway Wikus, and help the police catch their prize before he attempts to aid the aliens.

In District 9, the human character is a bureaucrat with friends that pretty much shun him in the end; in Nation, it’s a fusion of mini-dramas dealing with culture clashes, and a buddy cop formula (typical for the eighties), since alien George Francisco is paired with human Matthew Sikes, and no matter how nice George is, the humans hate his guts.

The series, unlike the feature film, had humour, and was decidedly more genial in tone, except when Johnson had the stories address accessible issues like racism, religious freedom, and cultural adjustments (typically as experienced by George’s family) – which were in tune with Johnson’s other well-known production, V (1983).

That mini-series (billed as one of NBC’s most expensive endeavors) initially dealt with benevolent aliens being unmasked as avaricious cow herders (a great expansion of the “To Serve Man” episode of the original Twilight Zone series), and the rebel humans turning into French resistance fighters against a Nazi-ish regime – parallels Johnson never hid in the teleplay iconography and tone.

V eventually devolved via V: The Final Battle (1984), a sequel mini-series (what the hell were they thinking with that Star Child crap?) and short-lived TV series soon after (no money, familiar L.A. locations, and painful banality), whereas Nation was cancelled before it could further evolve, although Fox did something really, really smart: it let Johnson make a series of TV movies that were largely quite strong. Those teleplays hyper-focused on specific plots attached to darker subjects, as well as wrapping up unions and relationships left in limbo when the network ax came down in 1990.

One could make a sequel, cable movies, or serial TV series to District 9 – everything is left open – but the film is another intriguing attempt to address the integration of aliens and humans in the present day. V turned the event into a grand deception that had humans fighting back, whereas Alien Nation took it far further than District 9, and made the aliens stand-ins for the integration of a generic ethnic group trying to take advantage of rights given by the government, but denied to them by the locals because of a distaste for their physical and cultural differences.

So if you’re left hanging after District 9 and need another contemporary alien fix, try the aforementioned – they deserve a second chance – or wait until November 3rd when a new V series debuts on ABC.



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