District 9

District 9
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Rating: 7.9 Out Of 10
Release Date: August 14, 2009
Directed by: Neill Blomkamp
Written by: Neill Blomkamp & Terri Tatchell
Starring: Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, Jason Cope, Sylvaine Strike and Christopher Johnson


OVERVIEW – District 9

The new film ‘District 9’ from filmmaker Neill Blomkamp is one of the most anticipated films of the year, and a film that’s true story has been hidden by a smokescreen of intense viral marketing. The trailers for ‘District 9’ only gave us a glimpse at the alternate reality that Blomkamp was setting up, but never delved into the actual true story. ‘District 9’ is one of the best films of 2009, and possibly one of the best science fiction films of all time. It’s shot in a pseudo-documentary style to set up the world. This is a political action film, but at the core of the narrative, it’s the story of one man’s journey to regain his humanity.

The fiction of ‘Disctrict 9’ is set up in a world where insect-like aliens are the most downtrodden minority race in Johannesburg and are forced to live in the slum-like conditions of the containment area District 9. The aliens known commonly as “The Prawn” arrived over 20 years ago when a massive spaceship entered the earth’s atmosphere and came to a halt over the South African city. The ship hovered there for months without movement or any form of communication from inside the ship. A United Nations group cut their way into the haul of the spaceship, only to find the remnants of a diseased, malnourished and disoriented alien society.

The aliens aboard the massive spaceship are shuttled down by helicopter and are fed and housed in what eventually becomes the alien quarantine zone, District 9. MNU (Multinational United) A multi-conglomerate takes over the supervision of MNU and polices and controls the growing population of District 9, which is located next to Johannesburg. We quickly learn that MNU is also the second largest weapons manufacturer in the world, and their investment in District 9 is a cover for their interest in learning how the alien weaponry work. The catch is the alien weapons won’t work with human biology, and the next stage in the world weapon’s race is cracking these secret of how humans can use these alien weapons.

Blomkamp doesn’t shy away from any analogies of big business being evil or having ulterior motives for helping the aliens. It’s not fully pushed onto the viewer, but themes like this are woven into the film stealthily, and makes for a deeper and far more interesting story than allowing the film to be a just a fake documentary film or even just an action film. MNU could easily represent any big business corporation, but it’s easy to assume it’s also analogous for The United States. Particularly since MNU hires private contractors, which is a far too real parody of the Black Water mercenaries that the United States has hired to help in Iraq.

Under the control of MNU, District 9 becomes nothing more than a heavily policed slum where the aliens are forced to live in squalor. Through the use of various news footage interviews and clips, we witness how the residents of Johannesburg feel having the alien society near their city and what impact it’s had on the residents of Johannesburg. They want the alien relocated away from the city- whatever the cost.

There are many stories to be told in the world of ‘District 9’, but the film focuses on one man, Wikus Van De Merwe. Played by first-time actor Sharlto Copley, who delivers an engaging and compelling performance, Wikus represents the every-man type of character. He’s an MNU office worker that is more ignorant than he is a bigot when it comes to the Prawn.

Wikus is complacent with the treatment of the Prawn being held in what is nothing but a concentration camp, but he draws the line at torture and excessive violence. Beyond that, Wikus is a likeable, be it clumsy and slightly aloof man. He’s a dedicated husband and eager to do his job at MNU to the best of his abilities. Early on in the film through various interviews with people that were close to Wikus, it’s revealed that during the day that he went out to help with the relocation project to move the Prawn to the new quarantine zone District 10, something went horribly wrong.

While out on assignment Wikus is exposed to an alien liquid that starts to change his biology, and eventually he will turn into one of the Prawn. This infection also allows Wikus the curse of being able to use the Prawn weaponry and that makes him the most valued business asset ever.

MNU doesn’t care that he was once a loyal worker, and to make matters worse Wikus’ father-in-law is the head of MNU and is willing to turn his son-in-law into a diced-up science experiment as long as MNU can profit from the alien weapons technology. Wikus becomes a man on the run who is slowly losing his human appearance and most take refuge in the last place anyone would look for him: District 9.

What ensues in the course of two hours is some of the most impressive action filmmaking to be seen all year. Neill Blomkamp, a Johannesburg native, has used the backdrop of Johannesburg to set ‘District 9’. The film is clearly analogues for the apartheid, but Blomkamp never gets to heavy-handed with those themes. Just when the film starts to heavily touch upon those themes, it wisely backs off because Blomkamp knows that ‘District 9’ at its core is still a summer action film.

‘District 9’ is book-ended and interlaced with documentary-style footage, but there are lengthy stretches where the film drops that and shifts into a standard cinematic experience. The documentary footage is used wisely. It helps expand the world of ‘District 9’ and allows the audience to see and experience things that would take far too much time to explore if the story was told in a standard and generic manner.

It gives a privy look into the life of Wikus, and his friends and loved ones. These are people are wrought with emotion and the pain not knowing of why Wikus made such a drastic decision. With having no recognizable actors, I never once questioned these interviews with the people from Wikus’ life, or the man-on-the-street interviews with the people of Johannesburg and their sentiments towards the prawn.

Impressively, ‘District 9’ was produced on a budget of $30 million dollars, but looks like and feels like a film made with a $100 million dollar budget. The special effects (CGI and conventional) are stunning, but it never becomes a special effects extravaganza movie where the filmmakers are visually saying, “Look at what kind of crazy stuff we can do with millions of dollars”.

From grainy home-video footage shots of the spaceship looming over Johannesburg to the culminating spectacular alien mech vs. mercenaries action set piece. The film’s special effects are impressive, but also understated, accompanying the action and the narrative of the film accordingly. For being an effects-ladened summer film, ‘District 9’ is the subtlest of anything to be released this summer but also the most striking.

The mech sequence was one of the exciting action set pieces I’ve seen in many years. When Wikus gets inside an alien mech suit and unleashes its full alien arsenal on the mercenaries and African warlords that have been perusing him for most of the film was beyond satisfying. Rarely do filmmakers give audiences exactly what they want and then some.

The creature designs of the Prawn are fully unique. The Prawn move fluidly make for some of the most convincing aliens I’ve ever seen on screen. They don’t suffer from the pitfalls that many CGI movie creatures do. These are not overly glossy and pretty creatures. There was also the choice to give the Prawn human-like eyes in order to convey various emotions on the aliens face. Without that it would have been much harder to relate and emphasize with characters like Christopher Johnson.

The alien designs have an extra layer of dirt and crime with an extra coating of ding that makes these slum-dwelling aliens believable and compelling to watch on screen. ‘District 9’ is a perfect example of seamless CGI integration. Films like ‘Transformers’ made us believe that cars and trucks could turn into giant robots, it’s films like ‘District 9’ that makes us believe aliens are real (on screen of course).

It might not end up as one of the highest grossing summer films of 2009. However, ‘District 9’ will be remembered as the most impressive action film of the summer and one of the best films of 2009. With ‘District 9’ Neill Blomkamp has taken his pet project ‘Alive in Joburg’ and turned a six-minute short film into an unforgettable cinematic experience.

Blomkamp has shown Hollywood that you don’t need big name stars, big-budget special FX or even traditional film advertising to make an ambitious film. ‘District 9’ doesn’t break the rules of filmmaking, but has certainly raised the bar of filmmaking and will inspire countless other filmmakers to follow in his footsteps. Neill Blomkamp has created an instant classic with ‘District 9’; and in the following years ‘District 9’ will be talked by about with the likes of milestone science fiction films ‘Blade Runner’, ‘Aliens’ and ‘The Matrix’.

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