I usually don’t fall victim to pop culture hype. I’ve remained immune to reality TV, “talent” (and I use the word loosely) shows, and most of the big blockbusters. But whoever is responsible for marketing DISTRICT 9 should be given a big, fat raise. Excellent commercials that showed just enough to spark my interest and the attendant buzz (which I usually ignore) reeled me in.
Even armed with great reviews and word of mouth, aliens quarantined in a shantytown in South Africa made me a bit leery. By the end of the film, two friends in my viewing party had missed most of it because of motion sickness due to the handheld camera cinematography while I sat there blown away. I’m usually as quiet as a corpse when I see a film in the theater, but even I was unable to contain my enthusiasm and occasionally let forth with a well-placed “Whoa!”
Completely original, DISTRICT 9 is unlike any film I’ve ever seen and it thankfully doesn’t waste one frame on excess material. Tightly shot and edited, every element of the film–from Neill Blomkamp’s unobtrusive direction and Sharlto Copley’s star-making performance to the first-class special effects and seamless integration of “documentary” and narrative threads–knows its place: to serve the story.
So what does that mean for Clinton Shorter‘s score? The music serves as one more superb piece of the puzzle, providing the action-oriented aural landscape that increases the tension in the film. But don’t be surprised if you leave the theater barely cognizant of a score at all.
Blomkamp wanted the music to have as much of an African sound as possible, and the heavy drums and wailing vocal line lending an ethnic feel to the score without it sounding heavy-handed.
Shorter was encouraged to continually strive for “dark, dark, dark” in the music and dark it is. The score is absent of any readily discernible melody. But Shorter succeeds in meshing together the drums, other percussion, elongated four-note motifs, and rhythmic cells to create a sound that, while not entirely original, succeeds in making your blood race.
The quiet musical moments are rare, but they are there. Tracks like “She Calls” and “Back to D9” make their mark if for no other reason than they provide respite from the pounding drums.
Clocking in at under 30 minutes, the music certainly doesn’t wear out its welcome in the film. I was listening for it, and I still got so wrapped up in the story that I was unaware of the music throughout most of the film. So I’m grateful that Sony released the score and that retailers have priced it so cheaply.
Shorter was forced to mask the more traditional elements of the score, and therein may lie the problem for the score as a stand-alone listening experience. Still, there is plenty here to please action score fans and I have no doubt that DISTRICT 9 will deservedly bring Shorter more high-profile projects.