Theatrical Review: District 9

Aliens have publicly landed on Earth and they’ve been with us for the last 20 years…They’ve mysteriously “landed” in Johannesburg, South Africa (their ship remains afloat above the city) and they’ve proven not to be a threat and more destitute than anything else. The aliens are evacuated from their ship and put into a refugee camp outside of Johannesburg called District 9 where life is hard for them and about to get harder. Over time, the aliens, derisively called Prawns by humans have become a major annoyance to the people of the city, and now it’s in the hands of a Haliburton-type of corporation to move them from the city to a location some 200 kilometers away, where they’ll be less of a concern to the people of Johannesburg. This corporation, called MNU who has more plans than just the displacement of the aliens, puts this task into the hands of a rising bureaucrat named Wikus Van De Merve who’s life is about to take the turn for the worse…

And that’s the basic premise to District 9 the new movie from director Neill Blomkamp and producer Peter Jackson and it’s one incredible ride from start to finish.

Now parts of this premise are certainly nothing new in movies, with the basic idea being one that was handled years ago in Alien Nation, but District 9 ups it’s ante considerably by placing it in a location that’s just as alien to American viewers in South Africa, and griming it up dramatically. It’s story is told in both a mock documentary style and straight-up narrative that blend together pretty well as the events unfold and it doesn’t really let loose for a moment.

There’s a lot of back story established though there are some holes, but I don’t necessarily think those holes are there for lack of an effort, but more for getting the main thrust of this story moving forward. Or maybe Blomkamp is trusting his audience to sort of fill in the holes themselves (these holes being the language barrier between human and alien and aspects of a lack of involvement from other nations of the world here- but with a 20 year past of being on Earth, there are certainly ways to fill those holes in yourself). Regardless, they don’t hurt how this moves, and discussion of these things makes for great talk after the experience is done, and believe me, there’s room for this property to move in all sorts of ways beyond what’s here…

It’s really incredibly well made and well-paced. Jackson’s visual effects team WETA has gone the extra mile here and there’s no seams showing, the visual effects of District 9 are so far, for me, the best I’ve seen in movies this year, and one can only hope this will be remembered come Oscar time… and for maybe more than just the effects…

… what I’m speaking of in particular is the performance of actor Sharlto Copley as Wikus Van De Merve which is just loaded with all sorts of nuance. He starts this thing as almost a Steve Carell-type of movie character (sort of thinking of The Office’s Michael Scott as a serious character) who just grows in leaps and bounds as events happen to him and unfold for him along the way. He’s not a typical movie “good guy” (nothing in the movie is typical really at all) and there’s shades of grey here at the start that don’t necessarily put you in a rooting mood for him. But it unfolds pretty naturally and we’re with Wikus as this goes and by it’s end, you can’t help but really feel for the poor guy. Big kudos to Blomkamp and Jackson for not using any name actors here, as it obviously adds further to the realism of the piece.

As I said at the top, this is just one hell of a ride, and the whole thing will spur a lot of discussion afterwards, particularly with genre fans. They’ve certainly left this open for a sequel, and I have to say I hope this does well enough for this to happen. It’s R-rated and it certainly earns that R in it’s graphic violence, so fair warning for those that might be a little squeamish out there. It borrows from a lot of other movies, but puts it together in a way that’s fresher than anything else out there. This one made a great impression on me, and is certainly right up there with The Hurt Locker as one of the best things I’ve seen this year. Don’t wait for video on this one, catch it in the theatres… highly, highly recommended.

About Darren Goodhart

Darren Goodhart is a 44-year old St. Louis-based Graphic Designer and Illustrator (and former comic book artist) who's been seeing movies all his life, but on an almost weekly basis in theatres for the last 20 years and owns nearly 1,000 DVDs for his home theatre. He's learned a lot about film over the 20 year period, and has taken his appreciation beyond the mainstream. His favorite types of film are mostly genre entertainment, but he also enjoys a wide range of drama, action and cult-y stuff from around the world, and is currently re-discovering a love affair with lower budget exploitation and genre films from the 70s and early 80s. He doesn't try to just dismiss any film, but if there's a bias against one, he'll certainly tell you that in the space of his reviews.

16. August 2009 by Darren Goodhart
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