Tuesday, August 18, 2009

District 9, movie review

Posted by lea at 2:53 PM
Unlike every other big alien movie, the aliens in District 9 do not target New York or any other city in America - instead it has landed over Johannesburg, South Africa, and the aliens are not a destructive force of superbeings. Something has gone wrong, the ship cannot return to its home, and the one million-strong malnourished, dirty aliens are rescued/herded into an area (District 9) which quickly becomes a slum. Fascination turns to impatience and anger and the humans, led by the MNU (Multi-National Unity), are now on a mission to drive the 'prawns', as they are derisively called, out of the city and into a designated area set up much like a concentration camp.

The central storyline follows Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley), as he leads the MNU team into the slum to serve eviction notices to the aliens. Director Niell Blomkamp (a South African who based the film on elements of his childhood experience during the apartheid) begins the movie as a documentary with the shaky hand-held camera affect, but evolves it seamlessly into movie-mode as a tragedy envelopes Wikus and takes him beyond his limits.

District 9 is didactic in its racial commentary through its portrayal of the very worst of human nature in its dealings with the aliens, but it's done in a way that's fresh, real and very confronting. As Wikus' story unfolds (I won't give away the crux of the story), we see a man - an ordinary man - pushed to his extreme limits in every manner possible. With every new assault, with every push to break him down, we begin to see true humanity emerge.

This movie is absolutely gripping and, in my books, absolutely brilliant. And not just for its portrayal of racial division, but just as a movie. As my 14 year old nephew said afterwards, 'How good was that? I think there was some sort of politics going on in there, but I don't really care. Did you see those heads explode? Those alien guns were awesome.'

Interesting facts:
  • Neill Blomkamp was set to direct the movie version of Halo before it fell through.
  • Apparently Peter Jackson and his wife bankrolled much of District 9 themselves to get it started.
  • Never heard of Sharlto Copley before? That's because he's a high school friend of Neill Blomkamp's who had never acted before. I find that unbelievable because he did such an amazing job as Wikus.
  • The slum used to film District 9 were real slums in South Africa, and many of the inhabitants were still in the process of being evacuated into better housing by the government when they started filming.
  • All the aliens (except the carcasses in the MNU test lab) were CGI - an amazing job once you've seen the movie. And more kudos to the actors for a brilliant job.
Okay, enough proselytising - go out and see it if you haven't already.

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