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MP3: District 9 (2009)
Review Rating:   Very Good
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August, 2009

Tracks / Album Length:

12 / (29:45)


Composer: Clinton Shorter

Special Notes:

Downloadable MP3 album via iTunes and
Comments :    

Although the album presents the film score out of order, it’s a more gentle intro into the bleak world of District 9 (2009), where aliens are kept locked up in a slum, and humans can’t wait to see the unwanted creatures dumped in a distant camp and be forgotten by all except elite governmental and corporate military divisions.

Clinton Shorter’s score is essentially about multiple struggles – of a father and son trying to return home to their alien planet after being treated like scum on Earth, of a human bureaucrat who learns what it’s like to lose his humanity and face the brutal forces he once headed, and of the conflicts that fester when two cultures don’t really like each other and lack the will to co-exist.

Shorter’s music matches the film’s central focus on character scenes, and the music is often subliminal because the character conflicts and mockumentary framing devices are so compelling – it’s literally a case where the music doesn’t have to fight for audience attention nor help it understand the film’s stylistic shifts because of the director’s deliberately intense directorial style.

For action fans, the reward lies in the tense cues with thickening African percussion (“I Want That Arm,” and the thunderous “Wikus Is Still Running”) as well as emotionally wrenching vocals that simply mirror the misery of a messy alien-human conflict in Johannesburg.

“She Calls” is a fine example of the score’s brief pauses, which in this case covers the lead character’s phone conversation with his wife as he’s hiding in the alien slum. Partly atonal and ambient, the cue’s brevity is also illustrative of Shorter’s sense of economy: while action cues are extensive and lengthy, most tracks never meander and bleed into other scenes because there’s a great deal of trust director Neill Blomkamp has for audiences – something also evident in Shorter’s score.

(The overall score, even on album, is admittedly brief, though, and one wishes Shorter could’ve crafted a longer version that gives the listener a deeper exposure to the misery in District 9.)

When the music shifts towards introspection, such as the vocal lament that starts off the furious “Exosuit,” it’s free-form: the music, like the editing, snatches a moment in time purely to humanize characters during the chaos of a mortal struggle, which in this case has human Wikus strapped into a special armored suit which he uses to initially save himself, and then perform his singular act of goodness.

Shorter’s grasp of rhythm and bass (particularly in “Harvesting Material”) recalls James Newton Howard’s early work, with fat percussion hits, and weighty synth pulses and beats. District 9 also shows off Shorter’s skill in crafting an evolutionary score – moving from synths and solo vocals to a larger orchestral design, but without the mindless bombast and monotony typical of contemporary action films. Shorter’s synthetic strings are also very evocative of the thick electronic chords in Tangerine Dream’s best eighties work (Shy People in particular), and it’s a soothing sound that’s expertly blended with solo vocals to create unresolved sadness, as in the album’s final cue, “Pawnkus.”

District 9 is about a sad state of affairs that happens to include aliens, and the film score will remain a highpoint of the sci-fi genre because of its potent focus on human emotions, and Shorter’s success in staying far away from tired genre clichés.

To read an interview with Clinton Shorter, click HERE.


© 2009 Mark R. Hasan

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