THE CRITIC: District 9
Director: Neill Blomkamp
In theaters: August 14, 2009
You’ve seen the ingenious D-9 ad campaign splattered across phone booths, billboards and benches encouraging us to report non-human activity. And, in contrast, you’ve probably also seen the underwhelming commercials displaying images of aliens, spaceships and violence. Bo-ring. Exactly what you’d expect from another sci-fi movie. Throw Peter Jackson’s name in the mix you’ve already got a guaranteed blockbuster. But Neill Blomkamp’s “District 9” isn’t exactly your typical alien movie, it’s more layered and emotionally complex than I expected.
“District 9” tells the story of the coexistence between humans and aliens over a span of nearly three decades after a space aircraft stabilizes itself above Johannesburg, South Africa. A human invasion on the aircraft introduces people to aliens for the first time. Unlike most sci-fi movies, there is no initial attack or overwhelming sense of hostility– the aliens are malnourished and weak. With the whole world watching, the government undergoes a humanitarian effort to help the debilitated aliens and creates District 9 in Johannesburg, an area intended for refugee camps for non-humans (which look like a creative concoction of cockroach, prawn, and that tentacle-faced villain from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise…see image below).
These camps soon become crime-infested ghettos and the South African people become increasingly impatient, organizing dangerous riots in an effort to put pressure on the government to relocate the alien camps. Eventually a private company, Multi National United (MNU), is given the responsibility to evict and relocate the aliens, while also invading the camps to seize powerful weapons. However, the alien technology is so advanced that their weaponry can only be operated by an individual with non-human DNA, thus creating a problem for MNU.
The hostile evictions are overseen by MNU employee Wikus Van De Merwe who is exposed to a liquid during one of these raids that slowly begins to change his DNA (from human to non-human), making him a science experiment, social pariah, and valuable commodity when it comes to operating non-human weaponry.
For a fully summarized plot, read the Wikipedia plot summary. No spoilers here. Now, onto my review…
Any reasonably educated person could not watch this film without drawing immediate parallels with apartheid, specifically District Six in South Africa during the 1970’s. The political, racial and social undertones were present throughout the movie, without making you feel as if you are sitting through a two hour public service announcement. Instead, the heavy underlying themes are thought provoking and give the film a light allegorical feel…which, in turn, makes you feel less guilty about the fact you just handed over 20 bucks to see aliens getting shot-up while you snack on your Diet Coke and popcorn. Everybody wins.
While the plot was well executed, the script was laced with profanity and the $30 million dollar budget provided an excessive amount of blood, guts and explosive devices, making this one of “those” movies that really deserved it’s “R” rating. There were a few times when I was physically uncomfortable while watching the film, so I don’t recommend sneaking your 10-year-old sister into this flick (or anyone with a sensitive stomach, for that matter).
Although this film has garnered many positive reviews, some of my fellow press-mates have slammed this film for a lack of originality. I beg to differ. Although I am not among the most hardcore science fiction aficionados, I’ve never sat through a sci-fi film where the person next to me wiped away a tear at the end of the movie. To me, that speaks volumes. “District 9” is emotionally visceral and redeeming while still providing the action, effects and visual excitement to suspend one’s sense of reality for the entire hours and 52 minutes.
See it if you are buying your movie tickets expecting an entertaining science fiction film that can provide a very “real” experience.