Reviews

District 9

4

Science-fiction enters fresh territory…

Born out of the ashes of Halo, District 9 flies in under the late-summer radar as a fascinating scifi specimen, wielding a South African based story about extra-terrestrial refugees forced to live in barbed-wire slums under the watchful eye of a sinister conglomerate called Multi-National United (MNU).

It may have sparked to life as a project to ease Jackson’s guilty conscience (for picking newbie Neill Blomkamp to direct Halo, only to watch the $145m videogame adaptation go up in smoke), but the Lord Of The Rings man’s support for the debut filmmaker allowed Blomkamp to make the film he wanted – namely, an expansion of his own 2005 short Alive In Joburg.

Everyone’s a winner: his vision contains traces of classic sci-fi (Aliens, RoboCop, E.T. – District 9’s aliens want to go home, too) but it’s mainly a fantastically inventive piece of work, told through a guerrilla-style mash-up of video footage, corporate promos, news bulletins and traditional narrative.

As early exposition reveals, the “prawns” – a derogatory epithet for the stranded ETs – came to a standstill in their spacecraft 20 years ago, hovering over the post- Apartheid tinderbox of Johannesburg. Such a move gives Blomkamp licence to reflect incisively on recent South African history under the guise of his alien-segregation story.

District 9’s alien township is essentially Soweto in the ’80s, a subjugated and demoralised tin-shack shantytown ruled by anarchy, chaos and gang violence. Redneck Afrikaners as MNU’s trigger-happy guards, the creepy occult practices of muti (South African black magic) and poor blacks spitting xenophobic abuse at the creatures in their midst: this is Blomkamp putting the city of his youth (he emigrated to Canada when he was 17) under a harsh, unflattering microscope. The historical resonances only enhance the film’s blazing neo-realism, as does the dizzying, docu-style camerawork that propels the opening salvo and closing onslaught.

As for the interstellar visitors themselves… Underfed and unruly, with a taste for rubber tyres, setting fires and killing humans, they’re like Joe Dante’s Gremlins writ large, only without any conscious intent (part of District 9’s untold back story is that they’re drones whose queen has died off, leaving them aimless). The first alien words translated on screen are “Fuck off!” and it’s downhill from there.

It’s no wonder they’re so ill-tempered: they’re due to be forcibly moved 200 kilometres south of Joburg into the concentration-camp-like District 10. It’s through the eyes of MNU field operative Wikus Van Der Merwe (Sharlto Copley) that we witness the attempted alien eviction and subsequent spiralling events.

A smarmy pencil-pusher in sleeveless knitwear, Wikus is an amusing bumbler but also a nasty creep who laughs at the popping sounds prawn pupae make as a flamethrower roasts them alive. In a cast of unknowns, he’s the standout, bringing a relentless energy to his character that’s edge-of-the-seat compelling. He also gets the most intriguing arc, the oppressor becoming the oppressed when he inhales some alien goo and starts turning into one of them.

Forced to hide in the ghetto, he encounters prawn-with-a-plan Christopher Johnson and his cute, buggy son, Little CJ – and suddenly District 9 cleverly shifts into a moving father-son story that, melded with Wikus’ own horrific, Brundle-prawn journey, gives a soulful, heart-tugging purpose to all the mayhem.

“Peter Jackson Presents…” is our intro to District 9, and his splat-stick background can be felt throughout the film, from squelchy sound effects to gooey, exploding humans. But it’s Blomkamp’s stamp that’s imprinted on every frame of this stunning debut, heralding the arrival of an exciting new action-cinema voice who can explore topics like alienation, racism, vivisection and African mysticism without getting preachy for even a nanosecond.

For all the political allegory, though, this is primarily a cracking sci-fi thriller, particularly in its frenzied third act when the beasties’ super-cool weaponry (which only works with their DNA) comes into play, including a RoboCop-esque exo-suit that fuels the sadistic, orgiastic climax.

No, it’s not flawless. There are supposed to be 1.8m of the critters teeming around District 9. But this being a $30m blockbuster as opposed to a $130m one, we don’t usually see more than a few on screen at any one time, which disappoints. There’s also a pace-dip in the mid-section, not helped by Blomkamp switching from guerrilla to old-fashioned camerawork.

You could also argue that, come the end credits, he leaves too many mysteries unsolved. But it’s a deliberate ploy, Blomkamp leaving the door wide open for an eagerly welcomed sequel. Funny: you wait years for a quality sci-fi tale to show up, then two beam down in the same season. Courtesy of Duncan Jones (Moon) and Blomkamp, the genre’s giving us hope for the future again.

Verdict:

Whisking together raw docu-stylings, smart social commentary and wacky, insectoid aliens, Blomkamp has delivered a true original. Missing the thrill of brave, new, brilliantly realised sci-fi? Then don’t miss the No 9…  

Film Details

User Reviews

    • prawnkus

      Sep 4th 2009, 5:13

      5

      Brilliant, breathtaking and totally, utterly shattering. This film will not be to everyone's taste, I'm sure. Those who like to be spoonfed or have their heroes broad chinned and ripped, will be repelled by the gritty, no-holds barred realism of this film. Thank heavens for Jackson, Blomkamp and Sharlto Copley, you have restored my faith in a genre that had become predictable and tired (GI Joe and Transformers 2 take note - bah humbug!). Five Stars and more!

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    • Marshall85

      Sep 6th 2009, 17:59

      5

      "f**ken prawns" amazing film :D

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    • rossoblu

      Sep 7th 2009, 21:29

      5

      I have to say it was very good, a well made and thought provoking film, well done to all involved

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    • FilmFatale

      Sep 8th 2009, 22:25

      4

      I can't get over how well written this review is - Brundle-prawn still makes me smile when I think of it. Crazily good writing. Great film, amazing review.

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    • MattMaytum

      Sep 9th 2009, 12:24

      4

      Seriously impressive (especially considering the budget), and and despite a few flaws and holes along the way, by the time the action was blazing you appreciate it all the more because you've actually been engaged by the lead character. Sharlto Copley deserves a hell of a lot of credit, he was superb. District 9 really puts the likes of Transformers 2 and T4 to shame.

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    • annunziato

      Sep 17th 2009, 19:59

      5

      Best film this year so far. Excellent all the way through. Class movie making. Intelligent story with a nice dab of humour that doesn't take anything away from the serious tone of the film.

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    • RaveyDaveyGravy

      Sep 21st 2009, 19:07

      5

      heres what I thought http://lastnightisaw.wordpress.com/2009/09/10/district-9/

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    • dztop

      Sep 22nd 2009, 13:34

      4

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    • oysterboy212

      Sep 23rd 2009, 10:11

      5

      Best film I've seen this year. Refreshingly original.

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    • totalmilf

      Sep 23rd 2009, 23:26

      5

      I loved this film... best I've seen for a long time. It was nice to see something original (I saw it straight after The Final Destination - nuff said). It was also great to see a film set somewhere other than New York... (I laughed at the narrator's little dig there at the start). Very cleverly played on your emotions... and thought provoking without being preachy. And funny. This film has it all! Go see it if you have any taste!

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    • dthekidd2005

      Sep 28th 2009, 2:13

      5

      I was sceptical about this film. Im not one for hype. Thank you episode 1. But this film really is as good as everyone says it is. The main character, wiccus is a perfect example of human nature. Selfish, racist and pretty pathetic and you find it difficult to warm to him even as he has a very difficult few days. The star of this film is the main alien. You cant help but feel sorry for the plight of their race and all you want is for them to get home. Its amazing that they pulled off such depth in a cgi character on such a limited budget. George lucas should pay attention to films like this. I am a big fan of sci fi but this isnt bogged down by the science part. It offers little to no details as to why the aliens are there or why they lack any motivation to better themselves. This unfortunately will lead to the inevitable sequel, possibly two. Where they will feel the need to explain it all and ruin this gem of a film. PLEASE PLEASE let this be left as it is. Let the audience's imaginations take care of th sequels and not the studios need for more money. Sequels only ruin good films e.g. matrix reloaded/revolutions, pirates 2/3/(probably 4)to name a few. Excellent film with a brilliant story and inspired cgi. Definately one to buy as soon as its out on dvd.

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    • hulk68

      Sep 28th 2009, 10:40

      4

      Very fresh, innovative and entertaining through out. However, five stars seems a bit high. After all it is not a movie that every body will enjoy.

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    • catcheeky

      Sep 29th 2009, 14:51

      4

      i went to see this with high hopes and left a little disapointed but saying that it is still a really good film. i would watch again very happily. they have left it open for a second if not a third and i think that will be bad as much as i felt the ending needed something i dont think it needs another 2 or 3 films. i look forward to watching it again

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    • glamasp7

      Oct 3rd 2009, 15:12

      5

      A talented and inventive film-making, an absorving plot, an intelligent critic, a current master-piece that revitalizes the 'alien-cinema'

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    • mattburgess

      Oct 10th 2009, 16:34

      2

      I was SO looking forward to this film, but was very disappointed. Maybe it just wasn't at all what I was expecting (that's the risk you run when you avoid trailers), but I thought the camerawork was unnecessarily dizzying, with a blatant, unexplained switch to regular film in the middle. The main character was entirely unsympathetic. The film was a mash of genres - it couldn't decide if it was a documentary, an action film, a social commentary, or a poignant sci-fi. Too many threads left open for an unnecessary, unanticipated sequel. Perhaps if they had "finished" more of the story they already had, I might want to see a little more. A prequel, set during the aliens' arrival (and not in docu-style), would go down nicely.

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    • captainchod

      Oct 19th 2009, 13:46

      5

      I loved every minute of this. It wasn't entirely what I was expecting, but in a good way. It much more of a story, and turned my intial expectations upside down middway through. A perfect example of how to use a modest budget to blow your mind!

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    • thedazzler73

      Nov 15th 2009, 21:45

      5

      great film. great story. finally something where aliens not landed somewhere over the USA. Think Copley was brilliant throughout and his ignorance of his own ignorance was genius. I think he is an inspired choice if he goes on to play Howling Mad Murdoch as reported.

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    • Andyvalver

      Jan 12th 2010, 12:58

      5

      Great film with a great story and great acting. You really start to feel for the aliens as the film goes on. Film of 2009 for me with star trek a close 2nd.

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    • Dominc

      Jan 20th 2010, 23:03

      5

      Amazing love it

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    • district9

      Aug 24th 2010, 14:49

      5

      One of the best films ever made! Brilliant from start to finish

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    • district9

      Aug 25th 2010, 16:32

      5

      Who did this review! This is a crime against film to not give this film 5 stars, everything about it is brilliant- the story, screenplay, acting, effects, score. One of the best films ever made.

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