[Tonight, a very special reader-submitted review of the incredible new flick District 9, first published a few days ago on Day of the Woman. Loyal Vault Dweller Wendy Winant Bodine sent this in to me--enjoy, and check out the movie at your earliest convenience...]
As a witness to the viral video campaign for this film for the past 6 months (it’s been going on for at least over a year now), I had some idea of what District 9 was going to be about probably a bit more so than those who hadn’t noticed the campaign. But that still didn’t prepare me for much of what was witnessed at the midnight showing I attended last weekend. I also knew that producer Peter Jackson wouldn’t let me down, having been a fan of not only the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but his earlier horror work with Braindead (1992) and Bad Taste (1987). And the short film by fledgling director Neill Blomkamp upon which the film was crafted (“Alive in Joburg” (2005)) left enough of a pleasant aftertaste to make one look forward to the cinematic buffet that is District 9.
The film tells of a race of aliens whose mothership comes to rest directly over Johannesburg, South Africa, sometime in the early '80s. After several days with no action on the aliens’ part, humans make their way to the ship and literally drag the occupants out under the pretense of helping them. They set them up in what was supposed to be a temporary facility that quickly grew into the slum known as “District 9”. Heavily regulated and living in squalor, the aliens just want to be left alone, or better yet, to be allowed to return to their ship, although the humans keep insisting that them leaving is not an option. While the humans in charge of District 9 talk continually of their desire to help the aliens, the real motive is to gain access to their highly-advanced weaponry. The aliens are so hard pressed, they willingly trade their technology for food. All their technology is useless to humans, however, as it is all biologically based on the alien’s DNA—only they can use it.
Enter Wikus van der Merwe, an executive at Multi-National United (MNU), the mega-corporation hired by the government to take charge of the upcoming relocation of the aliens to “District 10”, a supposedly better living area. Wikus and his team, assisted by MNU mercenaries lead by the malicious Obesandjo 7, attempt to serve the aliens with eviction notices to make the move as uncomplicated as possible. While inspecting one shack, Wikus runs across a vial of black fluid, which he unwittingly sprays into his face. This is the turning point for the future of aliens and humans alike, as the chemical spreads into Wikus’ system, altering his DNA and slowly morphing him into an alien. When MNU becomes aware of this, they seize him and, rather than trying to save him, force him to test alien weaponry, which he does reluctantly but successfully. MNU plans to dissect him for further study, to see how alien DNA can be merged with human so that humans can use alien technology. Wikus escapes and finds sanctuary in the only place he can—District 9.
This movie is a breath of fresh air in a long-stale movie atmosphere of too many remakes and sequels, of brain-dead bathroom humor and teen-oriented romances. My main pleasure was finding out how intelligent this movie is—it doesn’t insult the audience by relying solely on high-tech special effects and an over-abundance of violence. To be sure, such elements exist, but in the proper ratio to an actual PLOT, something that’s been lacking in mainstream sci-fi for too long. ALL the characters are 3-dimensional—the aliens have their own language (although how they communicate with humans verbally, understanding each other’s language, is never quite explained, but doesn’t hinder the storyline) and speak it at all times (with English subtitles), giving us insight into their culture and history by observation, not just by some human explaining it to us.
Some might be put off by the overtly-obvious and oft-used theme of “evil humans”, but if you’re familiar with the history of South Africa at all, you realize that in this case, it cannot be ignored. Most of the humans depicted in the film, whether they’ve interacted with the aliens or not, view them as inferior (the slang term for them is “prawns”). The hapless Wikus especially maintains his negative view of the aliens; as his change progresses, all that matters is reversing the process, to the detriment of those around him, human and alien alike.
There is much more to be said about District 9, but I will end here for fear of giving away much more of the excellent plot and of repeating the comments of other reviewers. I can say definitively though, that District 9 was worth the hype, and if the ending is to be believed (and I certainly hope so), I look forward to more from Blomkamp and Jackson in the future. Rated R for bloody violence and pervasive language. 5/5
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