District 9 (2009)
Reviewed 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.
The 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.
Stylistically, 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
Discuss District 9 in the Dread Central forums!
Planning to see District 9? Guarantee your seat before you go and avoid a sold-out show.
Buy your tickets at Fandango.com.