District 9 (2009)

district 9 IMDb

District 9 isn’t exactly subtle storytelling, but I don’t think subtlety is what Neil Blomkamp is shooting for here. This film is supposed to punch you in the gut with it’s grittiness and hit you over the head with its indictment of racism. Usually I don’t go in for this sort of storytelling (especially in science fiction), but when the movie is well made I can overlook it.

This is a movie that I avoided for several years due to my sister’s description of it being “really, really gross.” Thankfully what I was picturing in my head was way worse than what is actually shown on screen. Not to say that District 9 isn’t gross at times; it is incredibly gritty and gruesome, something you rarely see in contemporary science fiction movies. This is science fiction for adults, in the vein of Alien or Planet of the Apes. It’s refreshing to see the genre treated with respect and not toned down (this is one of the few R rated sci-fi films in the past decade that I can think of).

District 9 is the story of an alien ship that comes to a halt above South Africa in an alternate 1982. Humans entered the ship to find that the alien inhabitants were sick and their ship is unable to leave. The aliens are relocated to what was meant to be a temporary government run camp, but quickly becomes a permanent slum known as District 9. The aliens are confined to their slum city for 27 years until Johannesburg’s human citizens demand their eviction. Enter Wikus van de Merwe, a bureaucrat about to have the worst day on the job as he leads a private military task force to inform the alien population that they must move.

This is obviously a commentary on South Africa’s apartheid system, but speaks to racism leveled at any group of people. The aliens are referred to a “prawns,” meant as a slur towards the entire group. They are forced into poverty, and taken advantage of by everyone from the country’s government down to human gang members. Their lives are seen as expendable and regimentally controlled, to the point where they must gain permission to even breed.

I think the real brilliance of this film is that it gets you to care about a species that is anything but cute and cuddly. The aliens are insect like. Their language sounds like noise more than words. Their faces do not convey much emotion. Yet, the audience is able to identify with beings that are completely foreign. A lot of this is can be attributed to Wikus’ transformation from human to alien. However, Wikus was such a jerk at the beginning of the film that I found it easier to identify with the aliens from the beginning. I felt that karma was rapidly catching up to Wikus, though did feel for him as he is hunted for his military value.

This movie is screaming for a sequel, but I’m not sure how it can be made in a way that fits well with the original. District 9 relies on “documentary” footage to explain the events leading up to this story. A sequel wouldn’t necessarily lend itself well to this format, but it might be fun to see the story unfold in a more traditional format. As long as it doesn’t try to for a PG-13 rating it could work really well.

Rating: A

I completely understand that most of the time sci-fi movies have to be watered down and not be as violent or gritty as the filmmaker had intended in order to achieve the magic PG-13 rating so that kids can come and see your movie. I get why this happens and am able to enjoy many of those films, but sometimes it is nice to see some adult sci-fi once in a while. District 9 is that film. It is a violent and entertaining look at what would happen if aliens ever landed here. The fact it also has quite a few real world messages about racism and excluding others is a bonus. I actually fell asleep the first time we watched this film, but I woke up for the final 20 minutes and was so impressed by it, I sat down the next day to watch District 9 again from the beginning. It was well worth a second look, this is one of the best science fiction films of the past decade.

District 9 asks the question ‘what would happen if aliens were to land, and how would we all react’. The film is told as if it is a documentary and is set 28 years after a large alien ship appeared out of orbit and began to hover over Johannesburg. The aliens that landed were sent to a small set of slums known as District 9. The aliens, nicknamed ‘prawns’, were rejected by humans and forced to survive in their small slum community, being exploited by Nigerian gangs who overcharge them for food. Humans have been protesting their appearance for so long that the government has finally decided to move the alien refugees to a different colony further away from Johannesburg. The man in charge of moving the aliens to their new community is Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley in a star making role), he is a government bureaucrat looking to impress his boss and father-in-law by performing this job that many people wanted. During the first day of relocating the ‘prawns’, Wikus is exposed to a liquid alien substance that makes him sick at first, but eventually begins to turn him into an alien. He wakes up the next day to find his left arm is now an alien arm and he can use weapons that previously only the aliens had been able to operate. His government sees him as a potential bio-weapon and wish to exploit him. Wikus must flee into District 9 and gain the help of the aliens he had previously lampooned in order to become human again.

This is an enthralling film. I really loved everything about it. The story is engrossing and the acting is great. I really enjoy the story of how this film was made. Director Neill Blomkamp has previously been attached to direct a live action movie based on the popular video game Halo. When that fell through, prospective producer of the Halo film, Peter Jackson, gave Blomkamp 30 million dollars and told him to make a movie with it. District 9 is the result. It is great sci-fi with an exciting story. I thought the alien weapons were so cool, and the prawn aliens looked great on the screen. My only issue with this film was that the aliens didn’t speak English. I’d have been able to relate more to them if I could understand them a little more. There are subtitles when they talk, but I’d have enjoyed it more if they were able to express more emotion than they do. Despite this one negative, District 9 is still a great film. It feels so fresh and entertaining. Blomkamp did such a great job with Jackson’s Lord of the Rings money.

Rating: A

One thought on “District 9 (2009)

  1. Pingback: Elysium (2013) | From The Abyss to Zoolander

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