District 9 review

Ever felt sympathy for an alien invasion before? Nope? Ever thought, “Wow, now that could really happen!” about a sci-fi movie before? I didn’t think so. District 9 is definitely a new look at an old plot with an idea as old as time – prejudice. Really the aliens aren’t the point. The film doesn’t look at aliens – it looks at Man.

An abandoned mother ship floats over the unlikely of places: Johannesburg. Not New York or an Alabama cornfield – a city where racial tensions are high to begin with. With nowhere to go, the aliens – or “Prawns” – are welcomed to land and slums develop in the city. With crime and hostilities rising, bureaucrat, Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley), is sent to evict the aliens into what looks like a concentration camp. But when some unknown liquid squirts in his eye, Wikus finds himself growing scales and craving cat food…

The realism of this movie means looking at not-so bubblegum-esque aspects of humanity – such as cannibalism, weaponry, and even the phrase “inter-species prostitution” is heard. So what would an ordinary citizen do if aliens became a part of their world? Hollywood would say “Fly a bike over the moon” or “infiltrate their race to destroy them”. South African director, Neill Blomkamp, says there would be slums, rounding up and tagging, extortion and generally, racism. Plus, on top of all that would be a government holding experiments for hostile reasons. Does any of this sound familiar? All this film needs is a leader with a toothbrush moustache!

These vile aspects may not sell but they give an uneasy feeling because, let’s face it: they’re probably true, because humanity doesn’t like what they don’t recognise. Throughout the film you question Man more than Prawn.

The realism can be both a blessing and a curse: it eliminates the old clichés we all yawn at today, but when things get more extreme we start laughing at the 10ft killer robot. Of course, maybe that’s the point: to lighten things a little bit? A few elements suggest humour, such as Wikus himself, who looks like he should star alongside Mr Bean. He doesn’t “rise to the occasion” as a cliché should, doesn’t have a butch physique hidden behind that dorky face and finally, he isn’t a pre-teen boy. Instead he stumbles along and makes mistake after mistake leading to a bittersweet ending – realistic, and therefore funny.

Another point towards humour is that logic seems to have left the building. But if you’re not so anal to notice then there’s no problem – another difference between District 9 and your usual sci-fi films. Mainly logic is lost on the aliens but important when looking at the humans, such as when looking at the real reactions if aliens landed. So the humans and Prawns understand each other despite talking different languages? So there’s no explanation as to how a squirt of fuel oil can turn a man into a Prawn? So long as the underground labs make you rethink your blasé attitude to animal cruelty…

Of course, realism takes a back seat after Wikus starts turning into a Prawn – for those who came to see something blow up. This could be another humorous anecdote. The film starts in the style of a documentary, made up of news clips and interviews of experts, but somehow that’s forgotten as the story progresses. When Wikus escapes the experiment lab, then the real fun begins – gunfights, metamorphosis, space craft, the works. Realism also escapes the editing. Out come the slow-mo shots, the dramatic music, and the explosions. Then, as the film closes, somehow the experts are back? Depending on what you thought of the documentary style, this can either excite you or bore you.

Not much can be said for the cast’s performance, since one person plays half the characters! And any overacting would have been hard to spot under all that CGI. But Sharlto Copley’s performance is something to admire. How can you even get a cowardly hero? The idea doesn’t seem possible. Keep the subtitles on, though. Between heavy accents, the African curse words and, of course the Prawn’s language (described as “clicks” and may or may not be a jab at the South African accent?), it becomes necessary.

The story gets a little clichéd after Wikus’ escape. “We have to get back to the mother ship for whatever reason and to do that we’ll need to blast and shoot our way there”. It was a bit like watching Die Hard, when you realise you’ve forgotten the story because you’re busy admiring Bruce Willis’ …moves. Whatever they adapted from the short film, Alive In Joburg, is gold: the documentary aspect, the criminals the Prawns were becoming, etc. But when it becomes about the robot and the aircraft the film dips. The only redeeming quality would be the message of friendship/teamwork coming through at the end. It may make some people sick, but was a treasured point of happiness after so much realism.

It might have been helpful to look again into the past. Look at old literature and put an old gem into an over-used story such as was done with the latest Batman film. The Dark Knight Rises owes its plot to Charles Dickens and his Tale of Two Cities and the biggest selling Disney film, The Lion King credits Shakespeare for its Hamlet plot. People who see sci-fi movies aren’t idiots – quite the opposite, the old stereotype is that sci-fi lovers are geeks and geniuses – so why give them such a simple plot? It’s almost insulting.

District 9 was good, but with a decent plot – maybe a Schindler’s List angle? – it could have been epic. It starts off strong but weakens with time. It’s worth a watch, maybe a few, but it’s not something to rave about.

3 out 5.

Film’s Title: District 9

UK Release date: 13th August 2009

UK Distributor: TriStar Pictures

Classification: 15

Running Time: 112mins

Director(s) Name: Neill Blomkamp

Main Actors Names: Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, David James, Eugene Khumbanyiwa, Louis Minnaar

Genres: Sci-fi, Drama

Countries of Production: South Africa, Canada, New Zealand, United States

Rating: 3 out of 5

Year Of Production: 2008

Formats: DVD and Blu-ray

Original Language(s): English

English Translation: Subtitles

Subgenres: Cult Movies, Monster Movies

Writer’s Credit: Laura Maxwell


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