District 9 (2009)

It’s been quite some time since a film came on the scene, whose title could be used in the same breath as such classic horror-sci-fi epics as Blade Runner and Alien, but District 9 is a serious contender. Directed by Peter Jackson’s protégé Neill Blomkamp, District 9 tells us a story of an alternate reality in which aliens (or ‘prawns’, as they are referred to, in derogatory fashion) live among humans in an encampment in South Africa. Specifically, it revolves around everyman Wikus Van De Merwe, who is promoted through nepotism by his Father-in-law, and chosen to serve eviction notices to the ‘prawns’ in order to get them to move from their slums into a newer, more barren camp nearby. When Wikus accidentally finds, and somehow ingests, alien bio-technology he becomes a fugitive and the key to the ‘prawns’ journey home.

Sharlto Copley, in the lead role, anchors the entire movie and to say that this is his first major role is astounding. He’s utterly believable as the pencil-pushing, enthusiastic anti-hero of the piece; completely loathsome and cowardly to begin with but more sympathetic as time goes by, and always relate-able and convincing.

The CGI and creature effects are so good throughout that it became easy to forget that I was watching a movie at all. I thought that the shaky-cam, almost faux documentary style might interfere with the realism of the ‘prawns’ but it was never a factor. Using genuine slums in Johannesburg was a stroke of genius and lends a very gritty feel to the proceedings.

The themes work very well as an allegory for apartheid, or even Nazi Germany, as one of the characters even likens the ‘prawns’ new living conditions to a concentration camp. Whether this was the makers intention is unclear but it is certainly hinted at, I felt. Putting the subtle pseudo-political undertones aside, the film is a triumph of confident storytelling, hard work, inspiration and ambition; the end result looking every bit as good as movies that were made with five times the budget of this one.

From the very first frame, the audience is shoved headfirst into this imagined reality and there is simply not time to become bored. We are taken from one perfectly realised scene to the next with deft pacing and the editing is nothing short of excellent. The gore effects are, at times, used gratuitously and are gleefully over-the-top but again, sit perfectly within the confines of the setting.

Only Jackson’s Weta Workshop and its sister company Weta Digital, could have been responsible for such superbly realised creatures. They are endowed with more personality than some of their human counterparts and the Father-Son relationship between our ‘prawn’ protagonist Christopher, and his boy, is so touching that it almost brought a tear to my eye.

It’s clear why Jackson, who takes a ’Producer’ credit here, took Blomkamp under his wing and had such faith in him. The effects of that working relationship are obvious and I’m tremendously looking forward to what delights Blomkamp might show us next. His is a talent that, I’m hoping, can only get better with time and practise.

Overall, it’s hard to find fault with this movie. It’s exciting, riveting, tense and moving in equal measure. It might not stand up as well to repeat viewings but when the first viewing is so gratifying, does it really matter?

Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

6 Comments on “District 9”

  1. stonecypher says:

    I saw the film a second time, and, if anything, enjoyed it even MORE. Again, I think that has a lot to do with Copley’s ridiculously brilliant performance.

  2. Jamie Carruthers says:

    I really loved District 9, and I think it is amazing it was made for the same amount of money as this years low budget comedy effort, The Hangover.

    The fact that it was made for just £30mil is a real testament to the directors skills.
    The CGI is so robust, and the movie is shot so beautifully, you would never believe how little it cost. Especially in the same year as Transformers 2.

    I was also pleasantly surprised that the none-too-subtle “apartheid is bad” subtext was not as cut and dry as I had expected.

    My only minor criticism would be that I think they could have probably shaved a good twenty minutes off of the running time, as the big action set pieces loomed into view I found myself checking my watch.

    A truly stunning and thought provoking movie.

    Also, the word “fuck” in a South African accent was awesome to hear. Frrkk’n prawns!

  3. Jamie Carruthers says:

    I think during a second viewing you can either ignore the themes and just enjoy a rollicking good sci fi adventure, or sit down and take note of what is actually being said.

    Its the sort of film that is so rich in beauty, and in message, that it can be enjoyed multiple times without any loss of quality.

  4. Louise M says:

    I have to agree – on second viewing I was even more struck by Copley’s earnest, authentic performance. The range he showed was simply breath taking, steering the viewer from mild disdain for his character, to outright contempt, and then dragging it back to sympathy without once making you feel manipulated.

    Best film of the year, easily. Best performance of the year too. I’d have been tempted to actually give this film the full ten skulls.

  5. admin says:

    It was an amazing movie, no doubt about it, but it takes something a bit more special to make me part with the full ten out of ten. It came very close though and is definitely a very, very solid 8, verging on 8 1/2.

    Oh, and Jamie, “fock ooff” ;)

  6. Riby says:

    A very good review of a very good movie. I am so used to disappointment these day in this genre, that it was quite a revelation. Although the effects were not fantastic, it had what so many sci fi films lack these days; a robust and gripping narrative. It powered the movie for me, creating an empathy with the characters ( especially the prawns), which helps you to ignore the few visual flaws there were.

    Is it me, or was it slightly derivative of Alien Nation (1988)? Notably the prawn’s love of cat food ( sour milk). Though I don’t think the prawns got off their trollies on cat food. Or did they?

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