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 »With stunning special effects and gritty realism, the film plunges us into a world where the aliens have landed... only to be exiled to a slum on the fringes of Johannesburg. Now, one lone human discovers the mysterious secret of the extraterrestrial weapon technology. Hunted and hounded through the bizarre back alleys of an alien shantytown, he will discover what it means to be the ultimate outsider on your own planet.« less
"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."
Overbearing at times, but still pretty good.
Robert P. Beveridge | Cleveland, OH | 12/01/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"District 9 (Neil Blomkamp, 2009)
There is heavy-handed, and then there is District 9, a movie that goes so far over that line it's not even funny. Worse, the second half of the movie devolves into the most predictable buddy-cop flick you've ever seen, despite the fact that neither of the buddies involved is a cop. So given all this, why on Earth did I love this movie as much as I did? Part of it, of course, is the phenomenal effects work (the same reason I get so much enjoyment out of the even stupider Alien vs. Predator), but there's something more to it, and that something is Sharlto Copley, a South African actor making his feature film debut, and who manages to outshine everyone else in this cast.
Quick synopsis: aliens came to earth twenty years ago, choosing to land in South Africa, of all places. The government immediately set them up in a section of the city that rapidly became a slum, District 9. The human natives of Johannesburg are restless, and the government has come up with a solution to pacify them: move the aliens, derogatorily known as "prawns", to District 10, two hundred fifty kilometers north of the city, and thus two hundred fifty kilometers farther away from humans. Wikus van de Merwe (Copley), a bungling but likable bureaucrat who happens to the the son-in-law of the director of the company that runs alien affairs, is put in charge of serving eviction notices. Things rapidly get out of hand, due not only to the inherent racism on both sides, but because there really are some things going on in District 9 that the humans should probably have been wary of. At the core of those things is Christopher (no actor; the aliens are entirely CGI), an alien who just wants to repair their spaceship and go back to their home planet. Wikus and Christopher start off in a weird kind of colorless antipathy, but after a horrible accident causes Wikus to be shunned by the human population and smeared in the media, Wikus and Christopher find a need to work together to get what each is looking for.
What really makes it work, despite the transparency of everything, is Blomkamp and Tatchell's layers of understanding of innate racism. Underneath the painfully obvious exterior and the reactions of the outright racists is the sort of everyday prejudice rampant in the world today, and often not considered as prejudice. More to the point, the screenwriters don't try to pull their punches at the end and offer some sort of facile new-age "can't we all just get along?" mumbo-jumbo. (Come on, you know that would have happened in America.) Copley is able to pull off everything asked of him, both in this regard and in the wider role of reluctant action hero, and that's a pretty amazing thing for a first-time actor. He brings a fine sense of nuance to the role that really allows us to empathize with Wikus, as much as that empathy might make us feel uncomfortable at times.
And the effects! Forget the explosions and big aerial shots of Johannesburg and all that sort of thing and just look at the aliens. Who aren't really there. There's no guy in a rubber suit being augmented by CGI applications here and there; everything you see is CGI. That's an absolute boatload of work, and messing up any single frame could have done the illusion in. Doesn't happen. This is masterful work, certainly the equal of anything done by the top animation studios found in America or Japan, and it's magical. That alone is reason enough to see the movie. (Oh, yeah, and a lot of things blow up.)
So, yes, it does have flaws, and it's certainly not the second coming of Star Wars that so many have proclaimed it to be, but is it enjoyable and worth seeing? Without doubt. *** ½ "
Not your typical alien movie
B. Martin | 01/21/2010
(4 out of 5 stars)
"*****WARNING: KEY PLOT POINTS REVEALED IN THIS REVIEW*************************
The great thing about the thoroughly original and entertaining sci-fi film District 9 is the way that it takes our preconceived notions of what "alien" films are and completely turns them upside down. This is no mere story about humans fighting it out with a vicious race of creatures bent on world domintation. No, District 9 is something different.
The movie focuses on a violent slum in Johannesburg, South Africa populated by aliens who arrived on earth 30 years ago. In order to contain any diseases they migh be carrying, the government rounded the aliens up and forced them to live in an internment camp in order to keep them isolated from the citizens of the city. Over time the camp has grown into a ramshackle community full of crime and poverty.
It is into this slum that the film's main character, Wikus (a remarkable Sharlto Copley) enters to serve eviction notices to the inhabitants who the government plans to begin moving to a larger, less accommodating place of residence. Things take a turn for the worse when he comes into contact with an alien substance which causes him to begin transforming into an alien himself.
The bulk of the film follows Copley's character as he goes from an insensitive, spineless buerocrat to an alien sympathizer who ends up fighting against his own government which is trying to harvest his alien body parts in an attempt to operate the creatures' weapons. It is amazing to watch Copley as his character transforms from a cowardly self-opportunist to an angry, resourceful fugitive who does what he has to in order to survie and finally into a friend and ally of the misunderstood and mistreated aliens.
There are parallels drawn to apartheid, segregation and even the AIDS epidemic that put this film a cut above most other summer action flicks. In the end though, District 9 is at its heart, an adrenaline filled, edge of your seat thirll ride. The fact that it is also smart and surprising is just icing on the cake."