District 9 (2009)

South African director Neill Blomkamp had directed a number of short films and was supposed to have his feature debut with an adaptation of one of the Halo video games.  Things didn't work out, but it's nice to have friends in high places that can kick you a cool 30 million dollars and provide you with one of the best effects studios in the world.  That is exactly what Peter Jackson did for Blomkamp, and from that we got District 9.

Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley) is a mid-level bureaucrat with Multi-National United, or MNU, a private organization tasked with helping the South African government deal with an alien race nicknamed Prawns.  The aliens arrived in 1982 on a large ship and were discovered in a state of malnutrition and near death when authorities entered the ship, but what was originally a humanitarian effort led to the Prawns being fenced into a slum called District 9 within the confines of Johannesburg, below their forever-hovering mothership.

The government has decided to relocate them to District 10, a more isolated location outside the city, and van de Merwe is tasked with leading the team distributing the eviction notices.  The Prawns are in no way happy about this, but any resistance on their part is met with severe retribution from Koobus Venter (David James), who heads up an autonomous military branch of MNU.  During one of these evictions Wikus finds a cylinder and is sprayed with an alien fluid.  At first he thinks he is simply ill, but he soon begins to show signs of his DNA combining with that of the Prawns.  Unfortunately, that means MNU is eager to harvest his DNA since the alien weaponry is only operable by the aliens.  It also makes him a target of Nigerian gangsters within District 9 who believe eating the Prawns will give them their powers.  Eventually the changes lead to him working with a Prawn named Christopher Johnson who, along with his son, may have found a way of returning home and saving his people. 

District 9 was influenced by an incident in Cape Town in the 1960s where a black township was forcibly relocated by the Apartheid government so that white families could build in the area.  In fact, references to Apartheid are all over this, largely in the violent way the aliens are treated and how no one, from rich to poor, wants them on our planet.  Of course, no one really wants them to leave, either, since they are centuries ahead of us in technology and it is pretty evident that when Johnson and his son arrive home there may be reprisals. 

Sharlto Copley's portrayal of Wikus is one of the things that makes this movie so unique.  He's not exactly someone to root for.  He delights in the mass murder of the Prawns' babies, clearly sees them as little more than animals and, even when he begins a sort-of friendship with Christopher Johnson and his son, his own interests overshadow doing what is right.  He is a frustrating character that at times is cowardly and selfish but at other times willing to have a temporary change of heart before getting back to being his own disgusting self. 

Although the Prawns are as alien as can be they also have enough human mannerisms to connect them to the audience, and since WETA was behind the effects they still look, in most cases, as good as they did back in 2009.  The only one I saw that was iffy was when Wikus uses a weapon to throw a pig, and it looks like a video game object.  The Prawns, the ship and much of the technology looks great.  It is filmed in a semi-documentary style which also helps, but never goes into full-on found footage.  Blomkamp also knows when to break with the style and just show what is going on, particularly in the final effort to help Johnson achieve his goal. 

If anything I found this movie even better the second time around.  I'm quite happy with how it ends, and also quite happy that Blomkamp hasn't seen a reason to go back and give us a sequel.  I know how I feel about what should happen, and I'm pretty sure I'm with most viewers and with Blomkamp on that.  Seeing it, however, would be less satisfying than imagining it.  

District 9 (2009)
Time: 112 minutes
Starring: Sharlto Copley, David James, Vanessa Haywood
Director: Neill Blomkamp



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