Aug 31, 2009

[Movies] District 9 (2009)

District 9If you've been reading my movie reviews for any length of time, you'll know that I continually lament the declining creativity of Hollywood and the rise of the cheap remakes and re-imaginations of pre-established franchises. It's a sad consequence of the movie industry trying to get through the recession by making "sure fire hits" every time, it's resulted in less and less originality in terms of how such stories are presented on the silver screen.

Despite how jaded and bitter I've become about this fact, it's nice to be genuinely surprised when a truly good movie comes along and reminds me not to lose all hope in Hollywood just yet. It's even better that the movie in question turns out to be a science fiction piece, and thus all the more enjoyable for a geek like me.

District 9 is science fiction movie brought to life by director Neill Blomkamp (yes, the guy slated for the now dead Halo film) and produced by Peter Jackson (yes, the Lord of the Rings guy). It's actually based on a short film created by Blomkamp that you can view in the embedded video below:


Alive in Joberg by Neill Blomkamp Spyfilms (District 9 director)


Following the premise of the short film, District 9 is about a group of about a million aliens who get stranded on Earth back in 1982. The government of Johannesburg, South Africa eventually creates District 9 as an area for these alien refugees to reside, which is a strong parallel to District 6 of apartheid infamy. Like in 1966, the government eventually decides to relocate the aliens further away from the city and thus find some flimsy legal action to get them evicted and force them to the new location.

This is where Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley), a field operative of a private corporation Multinational United (MNU), comes in. MNU handle security arrangements for District 9 and have now been tasked with the effort to relocate to the aliens to the new camp called District 10. He pretty much becomes the protagonist of this film and all that's initially revealed is that he does something that makes people brand him as a traitor of some kind. The entire film is shot as a sort of mock documentary and thus it cuts between interviews and dialog that somehow take place after the events of the movie interlaced amongst the "live" sequences following Wikus.

Now the impact of this movie was just something else. I mean seriously, it's not often that a science fiction film makes me feel like I've marathoned movies like Crash and The Constant Gardener for a week straight or something. It's definitely not your typical Hollywood blockbuster with a ridiculous special effects budget and massive battle sequences. It's really about aliens who are mistreated and discriminated against, which is something that will always remain a part of South Africa's history when you think about it.

Not that the movie is devoid of action - the alien weapons are insanely strong and they result in some pretty gory deaths here and there. Plus if you've seen the trailer, then you know there's going to be some pretty nimble powered armor involved, too.

District 9 writers and Peter Jackson discuss t...Image by worldchaos81 via Flickr

It really helped the movie that none of the actors were familiar, thus keeping the whole documentary feel to things. The only thing that didn't make sense was why the cinéma vérité treatment was maintained all throughout the movie since there were significant portions that weren't really meant to be documentary footage, unless there really were cameras meant to follow the protagonist around the entire time or something.

It was interesting too that I actually felt strongly for the "prawns", which is a derogatory term for the aliens in the movie. They really did feel like hopelessly desperate refugees suffering a really bad situation at the hand of their human oppressors. The added element of the MNU playing the evil mega-corporation is definitely not an old idea, but was one that was utilized very skillfully and effectively in this movie.

District 9 is definitely a very original piece of storytelling with a very powerful story to tell and the kind of movie we should see a lot more of. This geek definitely recommends that everyone see this movie, perhaps more than once if you need to, in order to support quality movies like this.

District 9 gets 5 cans of cat food out of a possible 5.


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