In 1990, an alien ship the size of a small town parked directly over Johannesburg, Africa. The inhabitants, a worker class of insectoid aliens from a planet unknown, are stranded on Earth with no way back. The world leaders figure out a way to facilitate our new visitors by housing them in a government camp named District 9. After 20 years of militarization and overcrowding, District 9 is rendered a slum full of 1. 8 million “Prawns” – the derogatory slang used to describe them because of their crustacean features – who without leadership, have slowly devolved into an aggressive pack of scavengers. After pressure from the human inhabitants of Johannesburg who fear for their well-being, the privately owned Multi-National United are called in to relocate the 1.8 million aliens from their current slum to a tent city located outside of Johannesburg. That’s where District 9 picks up, as we follow Wikus van der Merwe, a company lackey and super-nerd, whose new promotion has him overseeing the operation of “legally” evicting the aliens from their current home. But during one such eviction Wikus becomes subjected to an alien artifact, the effects of which have him being hunted down by the company he works for and opening his eyes to the true motives behind MNU.
Believe the hype on this one, people. This is worth your money. Michael Bay and Stephen Sommers can take their 100+ million dollar, summer turds and kiss my ass. After a Halo movie adaption deal fell through rendering fanboys rock-hard to wet-noodle in .2 seconds, Lord of the Ring’s director Peter Jackson and South African director Neill Blomkamp still wanted to collaborate on a film. They decided on a full-length adaptation of Blomkamp’s 2005 short Alive in Joburg that detailed the plight of aliens being oppressed in Johannesburg. Blomkamp takes the $30 million budget and with the help of Jackson’s WETA studios, make sweet, sweet love to it doing what a couple of this summer’s big-budget counterparts could not, and create some of the best merging of CGI with live action in one of the best films of the year.
District 9 is a bleak film, humans being shown to be made up of a large group of self-serving individuals whose only concerns are for their own, individual self-interests. If there is a way to exploit the aliens in District 9, you can be sure someone is doing it. From the shady activities of big corporations oppressing them for their own, sinister gain to the Nigerian warlords who live among them using the aliens love of canned cat food to barter for alien weapons that are (currently) unusable by humans. The film does not show humans in a particularly favorable light. This made more sobering in the fact that none of it stretched the realm of possibilities. Even Wikus, the man we follow throughout this film, is completely unlikable for 3/4th of the movie. He is just as guilty of the crimes committed against the aliens as anyone and remains apathetic to the alien race throughout the majority of the film’s runtime, only helping when it serves his best interest.
Be warned that District 9 earns its R rating. Along with the nihilistic current that pulls this film along, there is a good bit of gore mostly from a particular alien weapon that cause bodies, both human and prawn, to explode. If you can imagine a Ziploc bag full of chum being shot with a shotgun, then you get the idea. It is an amazing effect that is used quite liberally in the film, especially in the last act, without ever losing its devastating impact and is complete with the gore splashing the lens of the camera. The language is realistically harsh, the word “fuck” being uttered more times than an episode of The Sopranos. But even with all the things old Morbid loves to see in his moves, District 9 goes even further by *gasp* having a good, thought-provoking story that is not spoon-fed to the audience. There are a lot of secrets in District 9, and that doesn’t just apply to the area the prawns live in.
Any history or background on the aliens and their arrival to Earth is done at the beginning of the film via video footage and documentary style interviews. The rest of the film is mostly shot by a cameraman following Wikus and his team, surveillance cameras, or in a cinéma vérité style that made you feel as if you were in the scene at the time it was happening as a lone cameraman that stayed behind unnoticed by the people you are filming. I had no issues whatsoever with this form of filming and did not find it all jarring when the film made the transitions between them. This means that certain subjects are not explored in depth (why are they here? Where are their leaders? Why do they love cat food?) but enough info given to have you fill in the blanks for yourself coming to conclusions or theories different from the person sitting next to you, but neither one being any less correct. The movie does not answer all the questions you will have and will leave many unanswered. I LOVED that Blomkamp went this route and would kiss him full on the mouth for doing so. It will be interesting to see if any of these questions are answered in a sequel that Blomkamp stated he would be happy to make.
With only one minor nitpick involving a backstory involving voodoo, there wasn’t one damn thing I didn’t love about this movie. The dark nature of the film really benefited some of the more tense scenes as you just did not know where Blomkamp was going to go and he had shown that he had no issues letting bad things happen to the perceived bad guys, as well as the good. When the final act was well underway, the excitement and thrill permeated from the screen and had the audience I was with, including myself, raising our hands in the air as District 9 plummeted down its action-stuffed slope. You often hear movies undeservedly get labeled “edge of your seat” – go check out District 9 and see a movie that term accurately applies. Besides, when the last time you saw someone killed by a pig cannon?
Ok, enough gushing. Go see this and see how successfully balancing the right amount of sci-fi with social and political commentary, helps create what will undoubtedly be a classic in the genre.
Here is the orginal short, Alive in Joburg for those interested:
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