Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
|District 9 |
Actors: Sharlto Copley, David James, Jason Cope, Nathalie Boltt, Sylvaine Strike
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Genres: Action & Adventure, Drama, Science Fiction & Fantasy
From producer Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings Trilogy) and director Neill Blomkamp comes a startlingly original science fiction thriller that "soars on the imagination of its creators" (Peter Travers, Rolling Stone). ... more »
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Lewis P. (Turfseer) from NEW YORK, NY
Reviewed on 10/24/2010...
Alien Nation meets Waiting for Guffman meets The Fly
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Right away 'District 9', with the giant alien mother ship hovering in the sky, reminded me of the earlier movie and TV series 'Alien Nation'. That TV Series actually was an improvement over the original movie as the characters had some wonderful idiosyncrasies and you could easily identify with them as they represented a new (and also familiar) ethnic group. Not so with District 9. The aliens look part insect, part crab and have an unintelligible language consisting mainly of clicks and other weird sounds (somehow the aliens can easily understand English but we viewers must watch subtitles; it's not very clear whether humans in the story can understand the 'prawns' very well—you never see any interpreters assisting any of the soldiers when they enter District 9 and attempt to evict the prawns). Even worse is the fact that the prawns are not a very likable bunch as they are scavengers and as we are informed from the outset, constantly committing crimes against the human population which leads for the call for them to be relocated.
The first half hour of 'District 9' is devoted to what I would call a mockumentary (similar to the film 'Waiting for Guffman'). The film takes place in Johannesburg, South Africa and various people are interviewed providing the back story of the alien arrival and subsequent colonization on earth. The filmmakers were lucky to find an abandoned shantytown in Soweto where set designers ably created a massive junkyard inhabited by the prawns. During the mockumentary, it's established that some kind of command module floated down to earth from the mother ship but for some reason, after 20 years, it's never been located inside District 9. I would think that if an alien ship actually landed here on earth, there would have been a huge team of international investigators searching for that module and no doubt finding it after a short search.
District 9 becomes more confusing when we're introduced to the protagonist, Wikus Van De Merwe. He's a bureaucrat who also happens to be the son-in-law of the director at MNU (Multinational United), the corporate group of military contractors who have been awarded a contract to relocate the prawns to a cleaner district outside of Johannesburg. I could never understand why the company needs to have the prawns EACH sign an eviction notice before being relocated. The explanation is that it's a 'cover' but how could the company possibly have 1.8 million uncooperative creatures sign an agreement? If they kept the operation closed to the public, there would have been no need for those eviction notices. Wikus looks ridiculous traipsing around trying to collect signatures and he's such a buffoon of a character that one wonders if the filmmakers were actually going for comedy toward the beginning of their narrative. Certainly the prawns' ravenous desire for cat food adds to the comedy and a group of Nigerian criminals also get short shrift here too as they have no regrets about living inside the odious District 9 and scamming the prawns for alien weapons (which they don't know how to use) in exchange for cat food.
The mockumentary is pretty much dispensed with as we break into the second act of the story. A prawn and his son have been working for years developing some kind of fuel to power the command module back to the mother ship. Wikus manages to ingest some of the black goo and much like the movie 'The Fly', he grows a prawn hand. The bad guys from MNU (they're all bad!) decide to cut Wikus up and sell his body parts to the highest bidder (there's some mumble jumble talk about how his 50-50 human/prawn DNA will sell very well on the black market). Wikus of course escapes and begs for help from the prawn and his son inside the underground module. The prawn can possibly help him in three years after returning to the mother ship but only if they can get the container containing the black goo from MNU headquarters which Wikus had confiscated when he first found it. Much like Terminator 2, Wikus and the prawn break into the impenetrable building and grab the container, only to be chased by MNU's top killer.
Wikus is then captured by the Nigerians but manages to escape by fitting himself into a giant robotic fighting machine (shades of Transformers and Iron Man!). Our Bad guy killer from MNU manages to finally disable the robot and Wikus falls to the ground almost unconscious. Wikus however is saved when a bunch of prawns rip the MNU guy's head off (fortunately there are no close-ups). Oh yeah—the prawn and his son use the goo to power the module back to the mother ship. Everyone's thrilled when the ship leaves our atmosphere. Back to the mockumentary where we learn the prawns have been resettled.
From a confused and awkward stab at comedy, District 9 tries to get real emotional when Wikus and the Prawn and his son BOND! Suddenly the prawns are actually sensitive creatures and Wikus is a hero for saving them! None of it works, since we haven't been invested in the unsavory Prawns from the beginning nor do we care about Wikus, despite all the pseudo-heroic machinations.
If you watch the extras on the DVD, you'll learn that the script was patched together by the director and a co-writer on the fly and that the director really didn't have much of a clue as to what he was doing as he went along. I'll confess that the editing team saved this movie from being a complete disaster. Nonetheless, it's clear that the filmmakers tried to straddle between the worlds of both comedy and pathos and ended up with a hybrid of pure goofiness.
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Best Film of 2009
Leif Sheppard | United States | 08/21/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Note: For those who have not seen the film, there are no "spoilers" in the review. The plot details I list have little to do with the focus of the story aside from providing exposition.
"District 9" is one of those rare gems that immediately immerses you in its world. Beginning in medias res with stark images of a massive spacecraft hovering over Johannesburg, the audience quickly discovers it's been there for over thirty years by the time our story picks up. For months after the craft appeared the Earth waited for a response. When none came, the decision was made to send special teams to board the vessel and finally get some answers. What they got, instead, were more questions.
The aliens inside were malnourished, unhealthy and their intelligence appeared to be below that of most humans. Labeled "prawns" due to their appearance, the aliens were removed from the ship and placed into a temporary encampment known as District 9, which has rapidly deteriorated into an outright slum. Enter Wikus van der Merwe, a seemingly naive yet likeable fellow employed with Multinational United (M.N.U.), the pseudo-U.N. organization tasked with handling the prawns. He's just received a promotion and is ordered to relocate the prawns to a newer camp set up in an area more isolated from humanity.
While the scope of "District 9" seems initially epic, the film wisely follows a very focused tale centered on Wikus and a prawn known as Christopher. As the story unfolds, the development of these characters is outstanding - particularly for an action-oriented film. A lesser film would've transformed Wikus into a more compassionate person as the events transpired, perhaps even culiminating into some sort of freedom fighter for the prawns. With this film, however, we're finally presented with a very real, very flawed character.
Even at his best, Wikus is a wholly self-serving individual and stands as a damning indictment of humanity as a whole. His most selfless act in the film is tempered by the fact that it's still in his best interests to do so. Christopher is, ironically, the most human character here and is unquestionably the most deserving of sympathy. Yet it's interesting to note how many still think Wikus is the true victim of it all. Watch how cunningly manipulative Wikus is when he's attempting to evict the prawns. His demeanor is slick and polished. He uses bribes, lies, and outright threats against them - not to mention the intimidating image of armed soldiers and armored vehicles surrounding the prawns.
The documentary format in which the film is shot is a phenomenal aspect and one which is very original and innovative. Technically this technique has been used before, but it's typically in something like a Christopher Guest comedy and nothing substantially riveting aside from humor. Some have critiqued this film for dropping the documentary style mid-way through and becoming a more action-oriented film. However, had they paid closer attention, the reason for this is quite evident. It's made clear at the beginning of the film that the persons providing the commentary have no idea what happened to Wikus, or indeed what really happened in District 9. M.N.U. predictably covered it all up and only the audience is privy to what really occured. Their commentary mid-way through the film would've been precisely what it is at the end - mere conjecture and thus useless to the audience.
Further, some have felt the film draws large plot elements from a myriad of other films such as Enemy Mine, Robocop, or Alien Nation. This can hardly be a criticism, because "District 9" incorporates elements from these films in only the broadest sense possible. It's akin to declaring that American History X is influenced by To Kill a Mockingbird or Hart's War is influenced by The Great Escape. While there may be a modicum of truth to this, the respective narratives are much too wildly divergent to be categorized in this manner. I can agree, however, that it seems very unlikely (even for a science fiction film) that the fuel/fluid could perform both the uses it does in the film. Still, this plot device provides an excellent catalyst for what transpires and is entirely forgiveable.
I've read some critics believe the themes are a bit on the nose, and while I definitely concur that occasionally a subtle route is best, "District 9" is so thematically rich and the narrative is complex enough that this rings as a hollow criticism. "District 9" is, on the surface, an action film. Yet this film has more to say about human nature than any film in years. If this weren't so, how else could a film about alien creatures on Earth feel so real?
The polarizing opinions and wildly diverse interpretations of this film are precisely what writer/director Neill Blomkamp was aiming for. It's been labeled as both a brilliant allegory of apartheid and of the Iraqi war, it's been accused of somehow being a 'racist' film, while others simply see it as violently offensive rubbish. Many watch "District 9" and cannot see the forest for the trees, they simply cannot see past the gore and violence to the core of the film. Further, they want the film to provide answers and solutions, when the truth they're unable to face is that there are no viable solutions.
These spirited debates, in a sense, mirror the ones in the film concerning the handling and treatment of the prawns. Ultimately, whether you like or dislike this film, it'll almost certainly have you talking about it for days afterwards. This can be credited to the fact that, once the smoke clears, there is a very real beating heart at the center of "District 9" (provided you're able to look beneath the surface). In the end, these are the true marks of a lasting, important film.
* The text hereafter refers to the features included on the 2-Disc DVD of "District 9". As this assumes you've already seen this film, fair warning, there are spoilers below. The disc has two menu screens, one in an M.N.U. design and one in a prawn design, the difference between the two being entirely cosmetic. It's a nice touch to a fantastic home video release. The first disc contains three special features: a fine selection of deleted scenes, a making-of featurette, and a commentary track with director Neill Blomkamp. There are roughly twenty-three minutes of deleted scenes that shed a little more light on Blomkamp's vision. Almost all are little more than a minute each and a few have incomplete special effects (much like the ones from the recent "Star Trek" release). A handful are uninteresting filler, but the best ones range from a scientist explaining the reproductive habits of the prawns to one which depicts Wikus forcefully stealing the vehicle he drove to the M.N.U. headquarters. While I enjoyed the scenes immensely, I feel it was a wise decision not to offer an "extended" version of the film. The pacing of "District 9" is lighting quick without feeling rushed, something that the addition of these scenes would've ruined entirely.
Next is a thirty-four minute making-of featurette which offers a generalized overview of how the film was conceived, shot, and edited. I'm not typically interested in this sort of thing, but a film like "District 9" is anything but typical itself, so I found this highly entertaining. It's precisely what one expects from a feature of this sort - plenty of interviews with the cast & crew along with some great behind the scenes footage. Watch for an amusing scene where Sharlto attempts to eat his lunch using his alien hand. Rounding out the first disc is a commentary track which is also excellent, well-stocked with Blomkamp's wealth of tales and comments about the genesis of the film. If he at times spends a bit too much time describing rather personal details, they still only serve to provide deeper insight into the film, especially considering Blomkamp was such an integral part of the film's creation. There are plenty of details covered here that aren't mentioned in the other features, though some of it could be considered a bit extraneous. (All of the above is also included on the single disc version.)
The second disc contains four featurettes which in toto run approximately forty-five minutes. These are focused on a specific aspect of the film's production, as opposed to the more generalized feature on the first disc. The first is called "Metamorphosis" and highlights how the makeup crew gradually transformed Sharlto Copley's character from human to alien (if you liked seeing how the "Benjamin Button" crew transformed Brad Pitt, you'll love this one too). The second is "Conception and Design" which details the inspirations and ideas that led to the creation of the film. It's interesting to watch Blomkamp acknowledge previous sci-fi films that served as templates for the themes he wanted to flesh out with his own film, while simultaneously illustrating how brilliantly original the mechanics of "District 9" are. The piece begins with some great photos and information on how Weta Workshop created the unique alien weaponry. The third is "Alien Generation" which delves into the special effects work. This primarily focuses on the mechanics of creating the aliens and making them interact seamlessly with the human characters. The fourth is "Innovation" which details Blomkamp's approach to directing the actors in the film, along with how he felt improvisation was the key to making the film feel more organic. All of these features have tons of interviews and comments from the cast & crew (including Blomkamp & Copley).
The Blu-Ray version includes all of the above as well as the ubiquitous digital copy and an exclusive feature called "Joburg from Above: Satellite and Schematics of the World of District 9". This is a unique feature which allows the user to explore sensitive locales on both the alien and M.N.U. sides with an interactive map. Also included are a couple of newish features popping up on all new Blu-Rays: the "CineChat" feature, which allows users to chat with friends while watching movies; and "MovieIQ" which provides a large database of technical information about the film. For those who are interested in this sort of thing, there's also a demo for a video game called "God of War III" for the Playstation 3 which includes a making-of clip once the demo is completed. I don't own a PS3 so I can't comment on the quality of this feature. A final note: the one feature that many hoped would be included is absent on all versions, which is the original "Alive in Joburg" short that inspired the film. However, the short can easily be located and viewed online."
B. George | SA | 08/29/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Just watched the movie at the opening night and I am spellbound! Firstly, I am living in Johannesburg and was absolutely amazed at many a subtle hints and glances at history this movie gave. There were too many moments that only living in Johannesburg will make one truly understand what the director was hinting at, and all done and put together brilliantly in a way I haven't seen done much before. Secondly, I simply loved the way Neil (btw never heard of him before) didn't conform to the traditional and all too cliched Hollywood sci-fi recipe, and wasn't scared of breaking lots of Hollywood cinema 'laws'. Alien ships always land somewhere in the US, aliens are always here to kill us with no reason, we always are the experts in solving any issues in the end - none of these were followed. I read some reviews of the film being too racist, xenophobic, sexist etc. which were issues that I believe the director was actually trying to highlight to us, rather than capitalise on them. And these are real issues well and alive in many countries outside of South Africa, not sure why people pretend to see past and overlook them as if life is all perfect. In conclusion, a very thought-provoking movie for me that combines great elements of sci-fi action and storytelling - and maybe the message is, sometimes to be human again we have to think like and become alien."
The absolute best movie of the summer
N. Durham | Philadelphia, PA | 10/20/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"District 9 is something that perhaps no one saw coming, and ends up being the absolute best movie of the summer hands down. Produced by Peter Jackson and helmed by Neill Blomkamp (the director Jackson hand picked for the shelved Halo movie), District 9 depicts an alien race that came to Earth on an emergency basis a couple decades before hand, and have since become refugees in a violent slum in Johannesburg. Bureaucrat Wikus (Sharlto Copley) is charged with serving eviction notices to the alien "prawns", and through a mishap, ends up undergoing a horrifying transformation that makes him a wanted man by everyone. As he and a prawn dubbed Christopher Johnson become unlikely allies, things begin to really kick into high gear. Beginning as part mockumentary and part satire on apartheid, District 9 takes its time to become a bloody full-blown action/sci-fi opus that stays with you long after the credits are done rolling. What also helps make District 9 so good is that you truly never know what is going to happen next. The sheer unpredictability of the film helps make it so magnetic, and newcomer Copley manages to be hateable, likable, and sympathetic all at the same time as his character continues to develop and change (literally) as the film goes on. All in all, District 9 is an incredible science fiction film that features equal parts action and heart, and in a bloated summer full of empty blockbusters like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, G.I. Joe, and the like; it is indeed refreshing to see something like this on the big screen. Do yourself a favor, don't miss out on District 9."