District 9 Review

An extraterrestrial race forced to live in slum-like conditions on Earth suddenly finds a kindred spirit in a government agent who is exposed to their biotechnology.

Year: 2009

Director: Neil Blomkamp

Writers: Neil Blomkamp, Teri Tatchell

Starring: Sharlto Copely, Jason Cope, Nathalie Boltt

Transformers and the likes of Skyline or Battle: Los Angeles thunder into cinemas with all the force of…well, an alien invasion. These flicks wage a publicity assault of such magnitude that there’s no chance the movie-going public can avoid the countless posters, billboards and repeated trailers everywhere we go. Obviously this is how movies like this make their money, by over-saturating the mind so much that people can’t stand to let the movie pass them by. I, for one, am very glad of this; I’m glad Independence Day hit it so big in its time; I’m glad Cloverfield and Super 8 pull in the crowds they do; I’m even glad that Michael Bay get’s to keep cranking out Transformers over and over to a public that eats that business right up.

Because that’s how we get gold…like this:

District 9

The big summer flicks prove that there is an audience that pays for sci-fi; and every now and then things are going so well, regardless of the perceived quality of some of these films, that studios feel kind of generous to new ideas. I leave it to your judgement to consider whether it is worth the existence of Transformers to see the occasional District 9.

District 9 is a documentary-style examination of the events that take place in Johannesburg, South Africa, after an alien craft parks over the city. Eschewing the typical alien invasion tropes that most films are based on, these guys aren’t militaristic, curious about human anatomy or even particularly bright: they don’t seem capable of operating their own technology. They’re stranded; refugees who are utterly powerless to help themselves. So it is that humanity sets out to do what it does best: exploit them in the name of compassion.

One of the aliens from District 9

Please don’t be alarmed by the recording equipment…or the locked door…or the heavily armed guard behind you. We just want to help.

I’m not an expert on history, but I know enough to know that a South African director might have a few things to say about racial segregation. This is sci-fi doing what it does best – providing an opportunity to examine ourselves critically from something of a comfortable distance.

District 9 came out of nowhere. Well, I say nowhere, but that’s not entirely true. Y’see, at one time Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings) was tapped to make the Halo movie, and signed Neil Blomkamp as director; they worked for about a year and then the project fell through. They scratched their heads and said, “Well, we’ve got all these people together. We may as well make something.” And something is what they made. Base on Blomkamp’s student film, District 9 draws out the story to make a well paced, well performed and engaging movie. Impressively, Blomkamp does not tie himself down to the documentary format when he moves the story into more action-oriented territory. I saw this as a sign of good craftsmanship: use the right tools at the right times. An absolute gem was uncovered in leading man Sharlto Copely – his first film role. Copely had bankrolled the student film version for his friend, but Blomkamp was onto something by getting him in front of the camera. The guy is so natural and affable that it’s very difficult to dislike him – even while he initially displays some uncomfortably racist (or speciesist?) qualities.

Honestly, there are some characters in the piece that are frustratingly one-dimensional; and I’m not saying that this film is the most incisive piece of work in film history. The message, if there is one, is simple – but above all it’s clear that the makers just wanted people to have a good time at the movies. It’s not that hard.

How to Enjoy It

Got any South African friends? Invite them around and watch them squirm uncomfortably if they don’t have a sense of humor.

Rating – 4 out of 5 (Really Enjoyable)

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