DISTRICT 9 Review
With District 9’s $37,000,000 opening weekend at the box-office a few things appear apparent. Good reviews still matter, people are looking for something a bit different at the movies and you don’t have to spend $150 million to make a very good film.
The one thing I recommend doing before you see this film is to not read extensive reviews or ask people what to expect because the real surprise of this film is that it’s not exactly what you think it might be. At least that was my reaction and the story really played out very much differently than what I expected – and I say that in a very good way.
Shot on a reported budget of just $30 million, first time director Neill Blomkamp gives the film both a documentary and real world look so everything feels very authentic. Mixing in news reports, interviews and handheld camera footage, Blomkamp’s film feels nothing like a Hollywood product. This film is interesting, well crafted, and intense with seamless special effects so well done that you never think for a second that the aliens are not real. In a summer of one bloated Hollywood movie after another District 9 is a refreshing change and something to really appreciate.
The movie opens up with the shot of a huge spacecraft over the sky in Johannesburg, South Africa. After a three month wait expecting the Aliens (eventually called Prawns) to emerge, the government cuts their way into the craft only to discover a dying breed of extraterrestrial. These strange creatures are then set up in a makeshift facility in South Africa called District 9 until the world’s nations can figure out what will become of them.
Over the span of these twenty years these aliens miss home, are discriminated against, are forced to live in horrendous over-crowded conditions and, like any desperate intelligent life-form, are reduced to acts of violence and criminal activity which results in the general populace losing patience with them. They become an unwanted underclass with no value in the eyes of humans on this planet.
Like any quality film this movie features a solid lead character that we can follow throughout. That character is Wikus Van Merwe (a terrific performance by newcomer Sharlto Copley) who is a hapless middle manager in a Johannesburg security corporation. Initially seen as a straightforward company man with a cold approach to his task at hand, Wilkus’ life takes a strange turn when something unusual happens to him when processing an eviction notice to one of the Prawns. This occurrence forces him to reevaluate the way he looks at these aliens and himself. It’s what gets him to that point that you do not want to know about going in (I’m not going to give this away). It really took me by surprise as there was nothing in the trailers about this event which puts Wilkus’ very interesting journey in motion.
While there is clearly a message about apartheid and other rights issues here (director Blomkamp was born and lived in South Africa for 20 years), the movie never tries to hit you over the head with it but, like all good science fiction, it gives much to mentally chew on. There’s also a subplot about an evil corporation that might be considered standard fare but really helps set up the third act where all the action kicks in. As for the special effects, they are terrific with CGI breaking new ground.
While the film has a very original feel to it, it does borrow ideas and concepts from David Cronenberg’s The Fly and James Cameron’s Aliens. At the end of the day, though, this is a refreshing change of pace and I’m quite sure we’ll be seeing District 10 down the road. It is a thoughtful character study of human nature and, as it turns out, alien nature, with a very believable sequence of cause and effect. Thank you Mr. Blomkamp for delivering intelligence back to the world of summer movies. 4.25 out of 5 Zombies
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