The Flick Chicks

Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

District 9

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District 9 – Alien Stranger in a Strange Land

There was a lot of buzz surrounding the sci fi thriller District 9 prior to its anticipated release. An attention grabber was the fact that acclaimed filmmaker Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings trilogy) is attached to the movie as producer. No, he didn’t take the reigns as director. That job was filled by 29 year old commercial/video director Neill Blomkamp. But, it was with the collaboration and support of Jackson that Blomkamp was able to get his project off the ground and he makes an auspicious big screen directorial debut working from an absorbing, intelligent script he co-wrote with Terri Tachell.

To begin with, the setting is not New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., or Japan where, movie-wise, interplanetary creatures choose to make their initial presence known on our planet. Instead, the point of interest is Johannesberg, South Africa where, we are told, 27 years ago a massive spaceship inhabited by a race of peaceful insect like extraterrestrials was stranded, empty of fuel, hovering above the city in a fixed position.

Blomkamp and his writing partner came up with a storyline that questions what would happen if such aliens, against their wishes, were marooned on Earth. Would we, humans, give them the care and respect they need to help them integrate into our society or would we treat them as lowly unworthy creatures with little regard for their welfare.

It doesn’t take a scholar to recognize that District 9 is crafted as a political/social allegory with strong comparisons to true life issues such as apartheid in South Africa, the horrific practice of ethnic cleansing in third world countries, and treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany.

Featuring an entire cast of unknown, but talented South African actors, the unrecognized faces actually work in its favor to make the story more believable. The movie opens documentary style using news footage and interviews with locals that provide a back-story of the aliens’ historic arrival.

Cut to the present. More than 20 years after over a million of the creatures, nicknamed “prawns” by the locals, were rescued from starvation and near death in their broken down spaceship and forced to live in makeshift shantytowns separated from the human population, a plan is put into operation for military contractor, MNU (Multi National United), lead by the company boss’s son-in-law Wikus Van de Merwe (Shalto Copley, making a spectacular film debut) to oversee the alien’s evacuation and relocation to a concentration camp 200 miles away.

Although appearing to be somewhat of a nerd, Wikus is also a cold, heartless, sadistic man with little regard for the displaced aliens for whom he hands eviction notices. However, as the story progresses with him as the central character, we get to see what leads to Wilkus developing sympathy for the aliens’ plight after he forms an unlikely connection with one of the adult male “prawns” named Christopher Johnson (yes, the aliens are given Anglo-human names) and his young child. Enough said of the plot. Any more info would be a spoiler. Suffice to say it all has to do with alien weaponry and their DNA.

Sci fic buffs are bound to notice that Blomkamp has been influenced by other film sources such as Enemy Mine, Alien Nation, The Fly and one particular episode of the old TV series, The Outer Limits, just to name a few. Combined with his own inventive vision, the result is a compelling, thought provoking work of science fiction with more heart, soul and depth than any action packed film of that genre presently in release. In addition, I was blown away by how real the CGI alien creatures look, the way they seamlessly interact with humans and are integrated into their surroundings in every scene. You can’t help but root for the aliens and feel their pain, especially when watching the tender interactions between father and son. The computer wizardry, which extends to exciting action sequences, is astounding and should be rewarded come Oscar time.

District 9 has its flaws, but as a whole, the film lives up to the positive hype. What more can I say? Let me add adjectives like gripping, exciting, suspenseful, and often gory (be forewarned of exploding heads, flying bloody body parts and gruesome hospital scenes).

With a plot device that leaves it open for a possible sequel, I can’t wait to see what Jackson protégé, Blomkamp, might has up his sleeve as a promising filmmaker. Based on what he accomplished with a budget of $30 million (that is considered meager these days), I expect his next feature will be out of this world.


Feedback is welcome.