Superman: The Complete
Animated Series (1990s)
District 9 (2009)
Looking for a last-minute Christmas gift for a boy in the 8-14 age range — or a kid like me who never grew up? Look no further than the recent eight-disc box set of Superman: The Complete Animated Series, offering all 56 episodes from the 1990s’ series.
Starring Tim Daly as the Man of Steel and Dana Delaney as Lois Lane, the well-written series offers a faithful, non-ironic interpretation of the biggest and best Boy Scout of them all, from his Kryptonian origins to showdowns with Lex Luthor, Metallo and Brainiac, culminating in a shattering encounter with the alien mastermind Darkseid.
Mostly eschewing the angst and moody atmosphere of the earlier “Batman” series, “Superman” doesn’t quite reach the creative heights of the Caped Crusader’s adventures (or the “Justice League” series that followed), either visually or dramatically.
But Clark’s relationships with Ma and Pa Kent as well as Lois and Jimmy make for more interesting dynamics than Batman’s lonerism — and while Batman is unquestionably smarter and has a cooler image, corn-fed flyover-country Clark is arguably a more interesting person.
New on DVD shelves as the year ends are two similarly titled dystopian sci-fi fantasy films, each from a first-time feature director reworking his own short film.
Neil Blomkamp’s District 9 dramatizes C.S. Lewis’ bleak prediction about human mistreatment of extraterrestrials (see “Religion and Rocketry”) with such wrenching brutality that its strong moral message can only be recommended for those with similarly strong stomachs (see content advisory).
A caustic and gory but sharply made sci-fi fable with a pungent South African flavor, District 9 imagines a spaceship full of disoriented crustacean-like aliens not quite crash-landing over downtown Johannesburg, where their eventual fate is similar to many powerless refugee populations: They are rounded up into a detention camp that eventually becomes an enforced ghetto.
In an insightful analysis, Father Robert Barron of Word on Fire Ministries writes that District 9 reflects the biblical subversion of the master/slave dynamic and the biblical theme of solidarity with the stranger and alien. District 9 deserves cautious but thoughtful engagement.
Less abrasive but also less successful and ultimately disappointing, Shane Acker’s 9 (not to be confused with the musical Nine now in theaters!) imagines a ruined, postapocalyptic world populated by tiny animated cloth dolls pursued by predatory robots.
The imagery is evocative, but it’s the only thing that works. Characters, premise, plot, conflict, dialogue, theme — nothing gels. And Acker does himself no favors with rote antidogmatism and negative clerical imagery. Better luck next time, maybe.
Content advisory: Superman: Animated violence and menace, occasional mildly suggestive lines. Some episodes might be too intense for very sensitive youngsters. District 9: Much explicit gruesome and gory sci-fi violence; extreme obscene language and occasional profanity; a few crude sexual references. Viewer discretion strongly advised. 9: Sci-fi violence, menace and scary scenes; quasi-religious, antidogmatic themes.