District 9 (2009)

[Rating:4/5]                  

Starring:  Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, Nathalie Boltt, Sylvaine Strike, Vanessa Haywood, Mandla Gaduka, Eugene Khumbanyiwa.
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Director:  Neill Blomkamp
Rating:  R
Running Time:  112 Mins.
Release Date:  August 14, 2009
DVD Release Date:  December 22, 2009
Box Office: $115,646,235
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QED International, WingNut Films, Key Creatives, and TriStar Pictures.

Written By:  Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell, adapted from Neill Blomkamp’s short film, “Alive In Joburg”

“Are you trying to start this thing?  Are you…trying to start this and get away…?” – Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley)


In a day and age when Hollywood greenlights sequels and remakes constantly, it is a bit of a relief that something like “District 9″ can break through and find an audience.  Adapted from director Neill Blomkamp’s 2005 short film, “Alive in Joburg”, “District 9″ dares to take the horrors of South Africa’s 46-year long racial segregation campaign of Apartheid and investigate it in a wholly original manner.

Instead of a majority of black South Africans being the victims of racism, “District 9″ presents an alien race of nearly 2 million strong who are relegated to impoverished surroundings and unyielding prejudice.  Blomkamp’s concept is a rather daring one – one which succeeds in large part because of the unique documentary-style approach that Blomkamp commits to for much of the film.

Anchored by a terrific performance from newcomer Sharlto Copley as Wikus, a naive government official charged with relocating the aliens from their existing camp (“District 9″) to a newer, more state-of-the-art facility (“District 10″), “District 9″ is told after the fact.  The story in the film’s first hour is rolled out in captivating fashion.  Wikus goes out with agents from a government contractor, MNU, to serve eviction notices on the residents of District 9.  We soon see the squalid and deplorable living conditions that the aliens – derogatorily referred to by the moniker “Prawn” – have been resigned to living in.  The camp resembles a slum and as we process the landscape that these aliens have come to call home, we also pick up little details about what life has been like for the last 20 or so years that the aliens have been present on Earth.

Rather interestingly, these aliens are not typical movie aliens.  They are ugly, dirty, beaten down, and suffice to say, a rather depressed group.  The ship they arrived on hovers over the city of Johannesburg, South Africa, and has not moved for more than 20 years.  For this particular race of aliens, it is not enough to be stranded on Earth and isolated in a camp.  Their ship hangs in the sky, seemingly just out of reach.  A not so subtle mocking of the circumstances which led to the captivity they strive to break out of.

Between Wikus’ video logs, the government official interviews, as well as the eviction footage we get to see, we soon learn that the aliens have never been able to learn English.  Yet, the Afrikaners have deciphered the alien’s language, furthering the oppressive constraints in place between human and alien.  Inexplicably, the aliens exhibit a drug-like addiction to cat food and a Nigerian mob has infiltrated District 9.  A weapons-for-cat-food exchange is in full effect, as well as a desire by the Nigerians to become one with the alien.  A sordid underworld of crime and illicit activity has also taken hold in District 9.  Weapons are confiscated, egg sacks are aborted, and tolerance for the “prawn” is non-existent.  Blomkamp places the viewer in the midst of a  powderkeg of tension between human and alien, oppressor and prawn.  Things are ready to break and the tension on screen is quite engrossing.

As evictions continue, Wikus discovers a bizarre tube with alien markings in one of the eviction houses and becomes a bit careless in handling it.  The after effects of Wikus being exposed to the contents of the tube are not only surprising and stunning, but push the film in a distinctive new direction.  What happens when the oppressor becomes the oppressed? Can compassion and understanding only by realized by an oppressor in the most dire of consequences?

Perhaps, in this setting, the questions posed are a bit too ambitious.  However, the screenplay by Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell tries vainly to draw connections that most films would otherwise ignore.  Wikus’ life changes rather dramatically after finding that tube and survival becomes a necessity, even if it means relying on a circumstantial friendship with an alien and his son.

Even though the film disappointingly abandons the documentary approach in its second half to facilitate an extended action sequence, “District 9″ takes a risk and beats the odds by delivering a film that entertains, compels discussion and remains in your thoughts long after it rolls its final credits.

“District 9″ received the following Academy Award nominations for 2009:

  • Best Film Editing
  • Best Picture Of The Year
  • Best Visual Effects
  • Best Adapted Screenplay (Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell)

Should I See It?

YES

For fans of science fiction, “District 9″ delivers the aliens on Earth story in a new and compelling way.

Even if you are not a science fiction fan, “District 9″ is much more than just a genre film and is actually quite a suspenseful and dramatic thriller.

With its success, “District 9″ could potentially be a film that is influential enough to be the blueprint for several ripoffs in the years to come.

NO

For those with a soft stomach for blood and realistic looking disfigurement, be warned as this film doesn’t shy away from some vivid imagery.

Acknowledging the things I enjoyed about the film, I can see several people finding the “documentary” approach and whole premise laughably absurd.

Some viewers may find a likening of the atrocity of Apartheid to a story of aliens trapped on Earth to be insulting and offensive.