District 9 (2009)
Release Date: August 14th, 2009 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Neill Blomkamp Actors: Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, Nathalie Boltt, Sylvaine Strike, John Sumner
ssentially retooling the “Halo” movie that never was and adapting his short film “Alive in Joburg,” director Neill Blomkamp, with producer Peter Jackson, has crafted one of the most creative and exciting science-fiction adventures in the last decade. Almost seamlessly blending aliens into a slightly futuristic society, “District 9” utilizes a “live” footage approach similar to 2008’s “Cloverfield” and merges it with documentary style editing to reveal an effectively realistic vision, which feels all the more authentic due to its underlying comparisons and parallels to past and current South African struggles. Not to mention, it has a prophetic accuracy to what a real alien encounter might likely evolve into. Subtexts and foreshadowing aside, “District 9” is an absolutely riveting actioner, laced with solid special effects and a stunning self-reflection on what it means to be human.
It has been twenty years since the massive alien spaceship “crash-landed” above the city of Johannesburg and the millions of insect-like alien inhabitants were hoarded into the rescue camp turned slums of District 9. The aliens are drones with hive mind mentality and have been unable to create a hierarchy of leadership to aid in their tragedy. Global conglomerate Multi-National United’s (MNU) Alien Affairs division was created as a diplomatic bridge to the alien culture, but as conditions inside the fenced-off community rapidly worsened and the violence and criminal activity escalated, a mass exodus to a new location outside Johannesburg appeared to be the only solution.
Cocky but oblivious MNU employee Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley) is chosen to head the colossal task of the District 9 eviction. Expectedly, he encounters heavy hostility and hatred from the reluctant aliens. When Wikus is accidentally infected by an alien device and begins to undergo alarming physical changes, he discovers MNU’s true objective, and the now condemned fugitive must join forces with an unlikely ally to wage war against an enemy of nearly limitless power.
“District 9” represents the dawn of a new subgenre: the science-fiction documentary. It started with films like “Cloverfield” and “Children of Men,” but it is nearly perfected with this alien extravaganza. Grounding extreme sci-fi themes with pseudo-documentary filmmaking techniques and as much realism as possible to suspend disbelief almost entirely, “District 9” admirably feels entirely plausible (except perhaps for the interspecies prostitution). With expert attention to details, an expansive mythos, and the idea that humans are evil (which requires little persuading), the film substitutes a familiar global situation with isolated monsters, all backed with dramatic emotional conflict. There’s almost no need for explaining – the aliens look monstrous but serve the role of any refugee camp survivors or apartheid, with a lack of food and equality, pitiable segregation, poor living conditions, children running rampant, and general disorganization. It’s especially effective for American audiences, since Johannesburg is already foreign.
Derogatory terms, racism, and ignorance naturally lead to exploitation – in this case, the evil MNU corporation is both the second largest weapons manufacturer and in charge of alien interactions. No wonder the “prawns” are easier to sympathize with. But the initial hostility, prejudices, and betrayal turn to chances at redemption, escape, and ultimately revenge. These prove to be highly action-packed themes, complete with CG-heavy alien warfare technology, massive firepower, and “Transformer”-like combat. “My men have done this a hundred times before,” claims the ruthless mercenary colonel. Clearly, they haven’t before encountered such destructive and bloodthirsty extraterrestrial weaponry. Although an eventual movie based on the popular video game “Halo” would still be fascinating to see, “District 9” thoroughly quenches the thirst for hard-hitting science-fiction adventure.
– The Massie Twins