District 9 is worthy of becoming the sleeper sci-fi
hit of the summer. It may resemble aspects of previous films
but for a change it's not a prequel, sequel, remake or reboot.
Why, in that sense, it may even be considered refreshing.
For a movie made on a small budget of $30 million, consisting
of no-name actors and an even lesser-known South African-born
director, that's quite an accomplishment. The film starts
out in a documentary style fashion and then lays out an
imaginative story set in a unique landscape.
For over two decades, an enormous spaceship has mysteriously
made its home hovering over Johannesburg, South Africa.
The residents became accustomed to living in the shadow
of this behemoth, yet there were questions looming. How
and why did this ship arrive on Earth? It's unclear how
it lost gas and parked itself above this particular city
back in 1982. It didn't take long, though, for the government
to jimmy their way in. There they found a hurt, hungry,
and destitute alien species in need of a home -- a familiar
state for many refugees who make their way to another civilization
but quite an unfamiliar sight for us humans.
Initially, a well-intentioned alien integration effort was
attempted but that didn't last long. The aliens soon experienced
human prejudice, poverty and the apartheid policies of the
time which were already segregating non-whites.
working class locals, the aliens have become not just an
unpredictable threat but quite a financial drain as well.
A portion of their tax-paying dollars are spent providing
for District 9, the shantytown ghetto the aliens have been
assigned to reside in.
of their mental and technological advances, they are labeled
"Prawns" due to their offensive, crustacean-like
appearance. While they can understand our language and can
walk as we do, they resemble a cockroach/shrimp hybrid that
is quite disgusting. This and their love for cat food doesn't
make for good alien PR, much less help in amicable inter-species
Over time, as the human complaints rise, the restlessness
and anger of the aliens come to a boil as well. Something
had to be done. That's where private-interest corporation
Multi- National United (MNU) are brought in to try to sell
the aliens on relocating to District 10, a "better
location", otherwise known as concentration camps.
see pencil-pushing bureaucrat Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto
Copley), married to the boss' daughter (Vanessa Hayword),
assigned as the supervising field agent of this forced eviction.
Wikus comes across as an almost likable company guy, happy
to follow through with his mission regardless of whose life
it costs. Surrounded by the MNU military police and cameramen,
he exudes an expected air of prejudice and arrogance. We
see a layer of fear and apprehension underneath his facade
that is inevitably revealed in a most harrowing way.
Through a careless mishap, Wikus is thrust into a life-changing
transformation that sends him on the run, becoming Joburg's
most wanted man. Not to give too much away, but it soon
becomes quite clear that everyone wants a piece of him,
literally. From the MNU military leader Koobus (David James)
and the weapon-hungry corporate heads, to the Nigerian smugglers
that call District 9 home, it seems he has no one to turn
to except those which he sought to evict.
forms an awkward alliance out of necessity with an alien
named Christopher Johnson (Jason Cope) and his son, Little
CJ, in hopes of self-preservation. Not only does this relationship
form the heart of the movie, it also catapults the film
into an adrenalized and excited climax.
This is the gritty R-rated world that writer and director
Neill Blomkamp has established and immersed us in. It should
be noted that some scenes, while essential in conveying
the appropriate drama, are not always easy to stomach. There's
no getting around the handheld camerawork that some viewers
can't stand, and the dramatic gore and vivid action scenes
may be a bit much as the humans and aliens mistreat each
other in a variety of ways.
point does any of this feel gratuitous or indulgent. In
combining the timeless themes of segregation, prejudice,
and xenophobia with the sci-fi genre, Blomkamp has no choice
but to portray how it might actually all go down in his
At 29 years-old, Blomkamp has made an intelligent, stylized
directorial debut with the help of producer Peter Jackson
and co-writer Terri Tatchell. This not only makes him one
to watch in the future but it should also instill hope in
a genre that has lately relied on CGI and bombastic explosions
over style, substance and characterization.
CGI here is flawless and serves the story well. Even in
the bleached-out daylight, the aliens we see walk around
feel like actual beings that were placed in these tin-shacked
slums. Add to that the character of the smug Wikus and we
are given someone to follow in a world we already invested
in. We want to know what becomes of him even if he's not
all that likable; we can relate to his desperation.
credit must be given to another first-timer, actor Sharlto
Copley, who displays a wide range of talent, digging deep
where needed, and at times, quite funny. It would be no
surprise to see Copley and Blomkamp work together again
in the future.
Smart films of this genre are sadly something rare in this
world of short-attention span viewers. A film like Duncan
Jones' (another debut) recent Moon is an exception
that comes to mind.
how enthralling a film like this is, it seldom reaches the
masses it deserves. The film already has great buzz with
the studios' creative viral-marketing, and the contagious
praise from the San Diego Comicon but it will still take
continued word-of-mouth to succeed. Far from the typical
alien invasion we often see, this is an action-packed story
with an engaging, emotional awareness amid all the Prawn-human