District 9 (2009)

District 9Reviewed by Nomad

Starring Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, Nathalie Boltt, Sylvaine Strike

Directed by Neill Blomkamp

Some years ago the aliens came to Earth. It was an exciting time, as one would expect, but as the days dragged on and the giant space craft hovered above the planet with nary a sign of life, the nations took matters into their own hands. What they found inside were refugees, starving and in need of medical attention, and as the public outcry rose up, Earth took them in. Nearly 30 years later the human populace has yet to benefit from technology that can only be activated by alien hands and struggles to understand this insect-like race that seems to be of no great intelligence. Planet Earth has its own band of immigrants, and as you could expect, after the fantasy of first contact has worn off, the people of South Africa who are forced to share their land with these invaders make their message perfectly clear. Aliens … go home.

In a startling dose of reality on film, as it were, the reactions of governments and corporate interloping intertwine, and we quickly see the vested interest in keeping the aliens right where they are. Thus enters Wikus Van De Merwe (Copley), an odd mix of twitchy and false bravado, charged to head up a “relocation” project for the MNU (Multi-National United). Since this company still wishes to keep a watchful eye on their prize specimens while appeasing the African public that have had enough, they launch a massive campaign to move the aliens away from the humans. In the midst of this operation, we learn about Wikus through documentary style footage conveniently shot before the execution of said project and further commentary from friends, family, and colleagues after some great controversy Wikus seems to have stirred up. No word on why we are given this inside look into the first steps of the relocation of these alien beings, but we quickly discover it’s not exactly going to generate fantastic PR. What happens next is an exercise in the extreme levels of human apathy toward creatures they’ve deemed “inferior”. Wikus is a company man through and through, utilizing deceit against the aliens as well as a monstrous decisiveness. Wikus is at once a loyal friend to his human co-workers and a fairly evil yes-man, committing atrocities with an amazing degree of cheerfulness as he goes about his work.

District 9The next events are fairly difficult to convey without spoilers, and since none of it has been revealed in commercials, I’m going to be real sketchy. Bear with me! Through an unfortunate turn of events, Wikus finds himself on the receiving end of company treatment. It’s clear we are meant to feel empathy for him as he is treated … let’s just say … unkindly, but knowing that Wikus is most likely capable of these same acts against the aliens makes it very hard to do anything but see the irony. Further, it’s painfully obvious that Wikus isn’t an instant convert to the aliens’ cause. He consistently acts in a purely self-serving manner pretty much right up to the end of the film. If I haven’t made myself clear, Wikus is the central character in this tale and, by default, plays the hero role, but to say he’s a flawed hero is a horrendous understatement. I’m very curious to see how the public at large reacts to a character that, while very likable, is an unashamed, unforgivable wretch. Director Neill Blomkamp and company make no bones about it and never waver. This IS brave and original, especially for a sci-fi thriller, but it still doesn’t help me to root for anyone but the aliens. You can liken this film to Alien Nation if we were allowed to see the moments when they first landed, though making the aliens less humanoid somehow makes it easier to distance yourself from feeling sorry for them as they are shoved around, banned from standing in one place for too long, or just plain blasted in the head by an over zealous soldier.

Speaking of the bugs … while there is not one second of doubt towards the “believability factor” of the special effects used in this film, as you would expect from any project Peter Jackson is attached to, I found the aliens fairly uninteresting. This is not to say District 9 is without its WOW moments! Make it through a lengthy sequence with Wikus sort of running about aimlessly, and when the finale kicks in, you’ll find pure sci-fi gold. What’s on tap? Military ordinance vs. alien weaponry including that killer mech suit you see at the end of every commercial. It’s not often we get to see this level of awesome in a film of this nature, so drink in the big budget goodness (until we get to see Avatar I’d suspect). Action fans will be grinning from ear to ear as well. There is NOTHING not to like about this film’s finale, and I’d dare say it’s worth the price of admission alone. For horror fans, be prepared for a return to Peter Jackson’s favorite town … SPLATTERVILLE! I’ll say no more as I’d hate to wreck the moment(s), but suffice to say, nary a wall is left undecorated with human and alien remains alike. Ahhh … good times.

District 9Stylistically, District 9 favors bright daylight sequences and the neons of factory spaces over anything else. No moody shadows to be found here. It’s as if the filmmakers are saying, “This is the film we have chosen to make … love it or hate it. We stand by it.” Most scenes are so bright it’s as if they are bleached by the sun itself. This lends very much to the documentary style of storytelling. Even when the narration and editing desert our characters and we are left to follow Wikus and some enterprising aliens along their parts of the story, it’s as if the camera man has remained, now unseen, to document it all. Sticking with this style throughout amps up the originality meter five more notches and does wonders to set the film apart from others like it.

There is no doubt that District 9 is largely a serious, political piece with flashes of Cronenburg and even Ridley Scott, creating a sci-fi tapestry that will be watched for years to come. What little humor is injected is always at someone’s expense (whether human or alien), the type of moment where you say, “Oh, that’s just wrong!” but laugh anyway; and the rest of the time it’s probably just our reaction to good old fashioned gore sprayed across the screen. The film did seem a tad long, but as stated before, making it through slight doldrums brings rich rewards of eye candy the likes of which I haven’t seen in a great long time.

It should also be mentioned that while the political statements are clearly made, they are not heavy-handed and repeated with ridiculous frequency. The message is clear and exists as a mere overtone to the film, which focuses unflinchingly on Wikus, for better or for worse. This is not Star Trek. This is definitely not Starship Troopers. District 9 is a thoroughly original, super realistic, sci-fi-tinted tale of woe; and at the end of the day we have to applaud such originality as loudly as we possibly can.


4 1/2 out of 5

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  • Evil Alien

    nomad, you say, “The message is clear”…I’m curious on what your take is on what the message is. you also say, “political statements are clearly made”, for example? I think it would be helpful to your review if you explained the first statement and gave examples of the next. cheers!

  • PelusaMG

    Saw this earlier and thought it was a good film – 4/5 knives!

    *** Contains spoilers ***

    Agreed with the review above in all the essential points, although I did feel that there were some obviously levered plot moments and attempts to tug at the audience heart-strings. Was a little confused as to whether the aliens could get out of the compound all of the time, none of the time or used to be able to get out and now could not (for example, how did Christopher manage to steal all the computer stuff, yet at the same time live in a protected compound with security gates)? Liked the fact that the ending was left open, liked the lead character (foibles and all), REALLY liked the fact that this was set in South Africa, and thought the film looked way more expensive than its budget. On the other hand, I hated the crime-lord side-story and was a tad unsatisfied by the demise of the lead soldier (his name escapes me for now). Highly recommend people to go and see it, although as I said to my friends at the end, “The Hangover” is still my film of the year so far!

  • abio2

    If you guys are interested in finding out if any of the cool science in the movie could happen in reality, go to http://www.district9facts.com. You can weigh in about what you think of the movie and get details on the behind-the-scenes science. I like the idea that a gun can only be used by whoever’s DNA it is registered to. What do you think?

    • Nomad

      I think we are years off from a DNA reader but a print reader seems more likely to activate a gun.

  • Heather Buckley

    I think it will be good. Even if it isn’t, I get to stare at monsters for a bit. Yay Monsters. Good review. 🙂

  • Gus Bjork

    So essentially Burke from Aliens finally gets to shine in a lead role?

    Nicely written review and I’m 100% on seeing this as soon as it comes out.

  • Mr. Gray

    All of the reviews I’ve seen so far have been positive.

  • The Butcher

    I’m hearing great things across the board on this one. So hopes are very very high.

    And DSIC, so what’s the problem with a Nomad review? Your taste varies from his? Shit man, you favor UNDERWORLD over THE HOWLING, which to my taste is heresy. I’d still take something positive you might say in a serious light.

    Not to mention, have you seen the trailers for DISTRICT 9? I try not to jump the gun as far as pre-judging something (thanks Shawn Lewis! hahaha) but this looks bad ass regardless of who sais what.

    • Didn’t See It Coming

      A Nomad review means that 99% of the time I’ll disagree. I don’t take his opinion seriously at all. If this had been pretty much any other reviewer I would, but Nomad? Nope.

      I think D9 looks interesting, but derivative. It could be just the set-up, but that makes me less interested in it, and now with Nomad’s review, even more so.

      • Rottenjesus

        That’s funny, I never take your opinion seriously on anything.

    • The Woman In Black

      Good points! Plus, I’d say this is one of Nomad’s best written reviews so reading it was as pleasant as the movie-going experience for District 9 will hopefully be.

  • Didn’t See It Coming

    Ugh…A Nomad review.

  • nonserviam03

    I’m excited for this movie.

  • Enraged_Otter

    How many pesos will Nomad be owing us? or will we be owing him this time around?