District 9 (2009)


By now you’ve probably heard all the hype about the Peter Jackson produced scifi epic, from director, Neil Blomkamp that many are predicting will be the sleeper hit of the summer. It’s combination of blockbuster action and plot driven story, chased with a heaping dose of exploding carnage have made it one of the most talked about films of the past few months.

Twenty years ago, a spacecraft stopped mid air over the town of Johanasburg in South Africa. Its alien passengers, sick and malnourished, were taken to Earth in an attempt to help them. But soon the base where they were kept transformed itself into a slum where the aliens live in a world of crime and poverty as second rate citizens. Wikus Van der Merwe, a mild mannered pencil pusher who works for a company hellbent on harnessing the alien weaponry for their own use, has been assigned to evict them and have the creatures transported to a camp away from the town. After a rather amusing accident alters Wikus’s life, he must rely on the help of the alien Christopher (love how they give them human names) and his young son to evade capture and death by the hands of his own company. Now the big question is, will this movie live up to the high expectations that have been set for it?

The only answer I can think of is yes and no, depending on where your personal expectations are set. Is the film a complete masterpiece as some may have you believe? Not quite. It’s difficult to assess any film as a masterpiece because, no matter what, they all have their faults, District 9 included. The biggest being that the beginning set up is very heavy handed when it comes to the issues of racism, segregation, and discrimination. One can tell from the trailer that those are some of the underlying matters that will be explored, but I felt that it walked a fine line of presenting them and hitting you over the head with it.

The first fifteen to twenty minutes are arranged like a news broadcast/documentary which was a great way to introduce the main character and the world in which District 9 takes place. My complaint, however, is that it’s filled with some redundant information and had me a little impatient to get on with the task at hand. And now that I’ve hopefully dropped your excitement for the movie down a peg, let me tell you why District 9 hardcore rocked my fucking face off.

It’s hard for me to sit back and just watch a film. The entire time I’m thinking about how they completed that effect, how they achieved that angle, all the different motivations for the various color and light, the way the movie might differ than it‘s screenplay counterpart, etc…, you name it I’ve analyzed it. I started doing the exact same things when District 9 began, but then something wondrous happened. I became completely engrossed with what was on the screen and forgot everything I knew about analytical film theory. It’s a rare commodity these days to come by a legitimately good science fiction thriller, let alone one with a breath of originality. There’s just something about the movie that makes you feel like you’re watching something special…a movie that’s not going to just fade away into obscurity.

Blomkamp and his director of photography work well in giving the movie that in your face grittiness along the lines of Children of Men. This makes for a smooth transition when the film goes from docu-style opening to the main storyline. The aliens aren’t hidden in the shadows or contrast lighting, instead they’re in full on broad daylight which really aided to the reality based feel the filmmakers were trying to achieve. Which also goes to show how phenomenal the effects work for the creatures was that they could be shown in this light. Straight out of the WETA effects house, the “prawns” (as they’re called in the film) are a crowning achievement. It seems that the most difficult thing to accomplish with CGI creatures is how to show emotion with the eyes. WETA succeeded with Jackson’s King Kong, and continues where they left off here. Christopher isn’t just a creature, he’s a fully fleshed out character.

Sharlto Copley as Wikus practically performed in a one man show. His interaction with all the human characters is pretty limited so he spends the majority of the running time with Christopher and turns in quite an impressive performance for playing off of nothing. His evolution from the naïve man in a cubicle to the enraged bad ass mother fucker is gradual and believable, as is the friendship that develops between him and the alien. The end of the movie, while I feel was fitting, is where I think the film will split American audience reactions (because, let’s face it, mainstream America like their endings wrapped up like a Christmas present.). It’s not necessarily happy nor sad, and far from cut and dry, but it works.

It’s hard to place a specific label on a movie like District 9. Part science fiction , action thriller, part war film, part splatter fest, and part dramatic character study with appropriately placed comedic moments. Somehow it all melds together perfectly to create an entertaining popcorn movie with (shock of all shockers) an actual brain. Film snobs may be disappointed to find the third act abandoning the social commentary and turning into a full on action and blood spectacle, but fuck em…it kicked ass.

Despite and over explanatory beginning and some heavy handed messages, this is a well crafted thriller mixed with a little bit of everything. If you like your science fiction with originality and intelligence, don’t miss out on District 9.
Despite and over explanatory beginning and some heavy handed messages, this is a well crafted thriller mixed with a little bit of everything. If you like your science fiction with originality and intelligence, don’t miss out on District 9.