‘District 9’ is the sci-fi equivalent of ’28 Days Later.’ It’s a film from an up and coming filmmaker that manages to redefine a tired and
predictable genre. This time the director is Neill Blomkamp and his take on the alien flick is unlike any I can think of.
20 years ago, an alien mothership mysteriously appears above South Africa. After making contact, the humans decide to set up a district
(Guess what number it is…) where the aliens can live. It is separated from humanity, of course.
The film wastes no time in showing its hand as a metaphor for apartheid and racism, as District 9 quickly degrades into a slum; running
rampant with violence, poverty, and even inter-species prostitution.
The aliens even earn their own derogatory title: ‘Prawns.’
‘District 9’ opens with a faux documentary introducing us to 20 years of alien-human relations. This is actually the weakest segment of the
film. It just goes on a bit too long and we can’t help but wonder if it would be a bit more effective if we were seeing it for ourselves without
the commentary, or even if we were simply thrown into the story without any background.
Nevertheless, it does its job, and as the film moves on, it quickly improves and improves a lot. Our main character is Wikus van der Merwe,
a fairly oblivious employee of MNU (Multi-National United), who is assigned to relocate the aliens from District 9 to 10.
As one might guess, things don’t exactly go smoothly, and the film takes a turn towards the Zwick (director Edward Zwick, that is) when the
white man in charge begins to sympathize with the oppressed group.
Wikus is a very good character, and his transformation (both figuratively and literally) throughout the film is truly impressive. Wikus
becomes allies with an alien dubbed Christopher Johnson, who may have found a way to get his people back to their home planet.
Johnson is an impressive creation. With Peter Jackson producing, the film receives very solid effects from the people at Weta. The
animation is superb.
In fact the biggest compliment is how easily we accept the aliens as characters and not just visual effects.
Blomkamp also helps the cause by employing gritty, documentary-style cinematography throughout. This is something we don’t see a lot of
in the usually sharp and slick sci-fi productions. It gives a real world weight to everything we are seeing. And most importantly, it’s never
overdone to the point where we can’t tell what is going on.
For a first time feature film director, Blomkamp also shows a surprisingly strong eye for action sequences. When the alien tech starts
coming to life later in the film, prepare for some very cool stuff. The film utilizes just about every cool sci-fi video game weapon in some
And as the film blasts towards the climax, it definitely shows that it has heart. We feel for Wikus, we feel for the aliens, and we genuinely
hate the people who are trying to take advantage of both. Even if the film employs some fairly clichéd moments here, it still succeeds in
making us truly care about its characters.
‘District 9’ is a smart and unique film, and provides enough character and thrills to satisfy just about anyone.
* * * 1/2
(out of four)
Directed by: Neill Blomkamp
Written by: Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell
Starring: Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope
Cinematography by: Trent Opaloch
Music by: Clinton Shorter
Produced by: Peter Jackson
Released: August 14, 2009; 113 Minutes