Amongst all the high-profile tentpole releases like Trek and Terminator, one film has stealthily been infiltrating our brains – District 9.
The sci-fi stare into a world where aliens arrive on Earth only to become second-class citizens provoking fear and distrust among their human neighbours is the brain child of director Neill Blomkamp and arrives in cinemas this September.
So far, it has been spreading viral tentacles out across the web and last week finally released a trailer. Could this be the quiet sleeper hit of the summer? Or at least as quiet as any film with Peter Jackson as a producer…
We decided to dig into what’s known so far…[page-break]
It’s happening now because the Halo film collapsed
Back in 2005, Peter Jackson picked Blomkamp to make the first film based on the Halo console franchise.
While the movie had been announced with much fanfare and PR hype (including a Master Chief-costumed lackey personally delivering the script to various movie studios), the project languished in development despite a quick pick-up from Universal and Fox.
The budget began to inflate even as various script drafts were cranked out, and eventually the film was shut down.
"What happened was this: Universal, on behalf of both studios, asked for a meeting with the filmmakers just prior to the due date of a significant payment," says Peter Jackson’s development executive, Ken Kamins.
"Basically, they said that in order to move forward with the film, the filmmakers had to significantly reduce their deals. They waited until the last minute to have this conversation. Peter and Fran, after speaking with their producing partners and with Microsoft and Bungie, respectfully declined."
Blomkamp would direct three short Halo ads for the franchise’s latest games, but Halo remains in limbo. Jackson, meanwhile, was ready to move on: “Okay," he apparently told the helmer. "Let's just make a cool movie from an original script."
The result? Something new from something old…[page-break]
It’s based on Neill Blomkamp’s sci-fi short
In 2005, director Neill Blomkamp – usually to be found shooting adverts and music videos – wrote and filmed a short film called Alive In Joburg.
Blomkamp, who grew up in Vancouver but was born in South Africa, came up with a new, Apartheid-examining take on the type of story put forward in Alien Nation.
The story finds extraterrestrial creatures – that first arrived in 1990 – attempting to infiltrate the Earth. Instead of coming in with laser cannons blazing, they allowed themselves to be subjugated and rendered second-class citizens.
The docu-drama format brings Cloverfield to mind, despite Joburg having been made before JJ Abrams and co began work on their monster mash.
So what is it, exactly?[page-break]
It’s not Cloverfield: The Second Coming
''It's not somebody running around with a camera, filming everything,'' Jackson told Entertainment Weekly. ''We have a mixture of documentary and dramatized scenes.''
“Part of the fun is learning how the alien society has taken its lead from Earth society and from its own original thoughts. The film has this documentary rawness to it,” he tells Rolling Stone.
“It's original, which is good, because the film industry today only wants to remake every 70's TV show and superhero graphic novel. District 9 is not your typical summer film."
Technically, it’s a remake of Joburg, but we’re promised that it’s different enough to count. And it has plenty of resonance for its creator.[page-break]
It hits home for Blomkamp
Like Alive In Joburg, District 9 tackles themes and ideas drawn directly from the director’s birthplace.
“I was a science-fiction nut when I was growing up in Johannesburg.” he tells Rolling Stone. “I just wanted to see that kind of imagery in a third world setting with the complex political history of South Africa. I'm not trying to beat people over the head.”
"These aliens arrived 20 years ago in a dead, derelict mothership, which hovers above Johannesburg. It's enormous, like the size of 10 football fields,” Jackson explains.
At first, all seems exciting, as the stranded aliens possess weapons that every government on Earth would like to get their hands on. But things quickly go downhill.
“The aliens have ended up in a Soweto-style township beneath the ship. It's clear that they're not really integrating into society. They like to scavenge things, rip up train tracks.
“So the authorities shift them 200 miles away, into the African belt. They've built a concentration camp. The residents of Joburg want them gone."
But just because it has otherworldly visitors, don’t go expecting OTT spectacle…[page-break]
It has subtle effects
While the trailer shows off some impressive, effective visuals, don’t go expecting huge battles and waves of invaders. At least, not to begin with…
"The film has almost a disregard for visual effects,” says Jackson. “Like, the aliens are so mundane and so part of the geography that you don't really focus on them at all," which is what makes this so unique.
"Neill has built these teasing glimpses of alien culture, like gangs that spring up among them.”
Blomkamp got his start at 16 as an animator and has since gone on to create shorts - like Joburg and robo-police story Tetra Vaal – alongside ads for companies like Citroen, so it seems only natural that he has a handle on producing effects-heavy films on a tight budget.
And given the swift collapse of Halo, you can bet that D-9’s purse strings were tightly held.
Still, the trailer (above) looks great, and we’ve been waiting for this for ages, ever since we got our first, viral look at the pic…[page-break]
It’s been viral for ages
While the teaser trailer is now online, the ad campaign for District 9 has been in full swing for months.
The first hints about the movie began to appear at last year’s San Diego Comic Con in July.
The early posters and banners offered links to the film’s official site, but several other locations have also sprouted up.
The Multi-National United Corporation appears to be a benevolent organisation aiming to strengthen the ties between humans and their alien neighbours – called Poleepkwa in Alive In Joburg, but not yet named in any of D-9’s material.
But all is not as it seems, since there’s also the blog page MNU Spreads Lies, which contends that the company is instead marginalising the mistreating the extraterrestrial creatures.
Finally, there’s Maths From Outer Space, which on the surface appears to be a harmless education site for the ankle biters, before you realise that it’s run by MNU…
We’re sure that there will be more, Dark Knight-style as the year progresses. For now, enjoy the protest video below…
Like This? Then try...
- The shonkiest zombie FX we’ve ever seen
- 9 Greatest Friday The 13th Slaughter Scenes
- The 8 most inappropriate children’s Halloween costumes
Sign up for our free weekly newsletter for the latest news, features and reviews delivered straight to your inbox.