Movie Review: "District 9"

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Writer and Director Neill Blomkamp’s first feature film is not only unique and unlike anything else you will see this summer, but also absolutely brilliant.  District 9 has created a believable alternate history through the use of many different shooting techniques.  All have been done before, but the ways used in District 9 are far more successful then past attempts.  Blomkamp has mimicked 24-hour news feeds and documentaries with a combination of raw footage and creative standard film techniques to craft a totally different film then we have ever seen before.  The difference between fiction and reality is hard to notice once you become fully immersed into Blomkamp’s alternate world.

Yes, I am talking about Blomkamp here and not Peter Jackson.  Many people do not realize Peter Jackson was the producer on this film, not the writer or director.  Therefore, I will focus more on Blomkamp even though I am sure Jackson had a huge hand in production and creative design.

District 9 takes places in Johannesburg, South Africa where an alien spacecraft has been hovering dormant for the past 20 years.  The over one million aliens aboard were helpless and starved.  Once they were captured by the government they were brought down to Earth to a shantytown much like men and women in poverty live in today.  The South African government does not know what to do with these creatures and the people’s patience has run out.

A private company only interested in money and weaponry, Multi-National United (MNU), has been out-sourced to take care of the alien situation and move them to a new area.  In order to do so however there are many laws and regulations that MNU must abide by.  Eviction notices must be directly handed and signed by the aliens 24 hours before they are moved seemingly making it appear that the aliens do have some rights and are practically citizens of the country.

The star of the movie, I mean documentary, is Wikus van der Merwe played by Sharlto Copley, a MNU field operative who has recently been promoted and is in charge of much of the relocating operation.  Wikus and his MNU field agents enter the gated District 9 with a great amount of back-up.  However, tensions between the aliens and the MNU begin to rise when they are given their eviction notices.

Many of these aliens are considered criminals as some of their shacks contain hidden areas with weapons and other lawbreaking items.  The weapons are what the MNU are really after, but they are still studying how they work due to them being inoperative without alien DNA.

When Wikus inspects one aliens home, he comes across what appears to be an alien chemistry experiment.  While gathering evidence he finds a small container that ends up spraying him with a black substance.  This quickly makes him sick and begins to change his DNA.  It’s only several hours later when the government and the MNU are after him.  With nowhere safe for Wikus to go, he winds up back in District 9.

South Africa was a terrific choice of location for this film as it’s so different than expected for a movie like this.  We have seen aliens arrive in major metropolitan cities in many films, but rather here the filmmakers decided to see what would happen if the aliens landed at a place not of the norm with a poor government.  This creates a far different storyline and a sense of reality.  Who is to say the aliens have to arrive at one of our planets landmarks?  This immediately delivers a new perspective that has not been considered before.

As with all places with a lack of control surrounded by a bad area, District 9 is much like a ghetto.  Hoodlums and evil thugs have ransacked the shantytown and have been able to live there themselves making money by selling the aliens food and other common items they may want.  There are also other humans that are there to secretly buy alien technology for themselves, but without alien DNA they are still useless.  These people are insane and desperately want to have the power the aliens have causing them to eat dead aliens.

The film has a great cast of characters from the gangsters to the deceitful MNU agents.  However, I’m sure you mostly care about the alien creatures.  These aliens as you may have seen in the trailers are a resemblance of an insect with mixture of a crab or crawfish.  They are mostly all CGI due to the small waists and odd limbs, but beyond anything, they are just disgusting.  The first half of the movie will have much of the audience cringing or looking to the side.  Not only will these slimy creatures creep you out, but much of the violence may gross you out as well.  I’m talking about blood and guts flying all over the place including landing on the camera several times.

Even with the insect-like design of the aliens, they are still much like a human.  Blomkamp was able to somehow capture a great deal of emotion out of these creatures.  By the end of this film I found myself actually caring for these creatures.  The stand out character of the film however was not any of the humans, but rather an alien kid named “Little C.J.”  He was absolutely adorable and really showed the closeness between alien and human.

This film is not your average summer popcorn blockbuster.  Instead we have received an incredibly original take on classic old sci-fi movies.  District 9 is a realistic take on what if aliens came to our planet and were stuck here with the control of humans.  Many questions are asked on what we as society would do in this circumstance.  For instance, would we let them leave if they could?  Do they deserve common rights that humans receive?  How would civilization feel about their presence on Earth?  Is this how we are treating illegal immigrants in our own countries?  Most importantly, are we really just the same from one another?

As you can see, this film goes a little deeper than just your average alien encounter action-suspense film.  District 9 asks all these questions and then some.  Many believe the location used was a direct metaphor for the problems South Africa has come to face with in past years including their problems with illegal aliens from neighboring countries.  You may still be wondering why I stated the difference between fiction and reality is hidden in this film.  Well, if you put the film into context to the current situations our world is facing, you can just replace the aliens with illegal immigrants or different races our cultures dislike and the film will work the same.

The interviews shown in the short film the movie was based from, Alive in Jo’burg, were actually derived by the citizens of Johannesburg being asked how they felt toward the influx of illegal aliens.  Regarding the short, Blomkamp says, “I was just trying to get the most completely real and genuine answers.  In essence, there is no difference except that in my film we had a group of intergalactic aliens as opposed to illegal aliens.”

Much of District 9 is shot like a documentary and may surprise some that this is no typical action flick.  However, there is some great action in this movie.  I really appreciated the fact that nothing was done too big or unbelievable.  Instead, much of the action is seen through a handheld or security camera which also brings realism to the film.  None of the action was done just for action sake, unlike much of blockbusters we have seen lately.  AKA Transformers 2.

I didn’t care much for the lead actor, but it was mostly just because his character was a little annoying.  His character was deeply layered though as Wikus appeared to be intelligent and caring in front of the “documentary cameras” but was entirely different when he knew cameras weren’t on him.  He obviously did not care for the welfare of the aliens or their rights.  Imbedded in the subplot was a small love story between Wikus and his wife who had become scared once Wikus began his transformation.  It really served no purpose except to show that Wikus’s character was actually caring and had some good hidden within him.

The beginning of the movie was a little slow, but it does a magnificent job setting the tone and false history of the last 20 years.  For the most part, this is how I feel an alien contact like this would occur in real life except I’m sure there would be more people involved then just the South African government.  The film in its entirety has a great pace and it’s not all about special effects and action.  When the action does start up, it’s pretty exciting.

This however won’t be a film for everyone.  For starters District 9 is horrendously grotesque.  I got used to it quick, but everyone in the theater was constantly trying to hide from the images on screen.  Nothing is held back when it comes to showing blood and guts.  Also, I believe many moviegoers will not care for the “mockumentary” style of shooting even though I feel this was the correct way to tell this story.  Overall, District 9 is very satisfying and delivers a unique film moviegoers may not be used to.

This is storytelling at its finest.  I hope District 9 doesn’t become forgotten with the vast collection of quality movies this year.  It’s definitely worthy of a visit to the theaters unless you’re squeamish.  I’m seriously considering seeing this again on opening day.

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