Directed by newcomer Neill Blomkamp and produced by the almighty Peter Jackson. District 9 is set in an alternate reality South Africa where an Alien spacecraft has landed and its occupants quarantined to the titular District 9. The plot is still somewhat under wraps, but this new trailer sheds a little light on it.
The film appears to be shot in a semi-documentary style, which really helps with the immersion of the special effects and the reality of the world. Here’s hoping for some ultra long shots like we saw in Children of Men.
Racial segregation is a big deal in South Africa. It has been since colonial times. In 1948 new legislation allowed different racial groups to be segregated and housed in separate residential areas by forcibly removing people from their homes. Black people were given inferior education, medical care and public services to that given to white people. Violent riots ensued. This legalised racism was abolished in 1994 but the country still has a complicated, serious and often violent racial problem… And you thought District 9 was about aliens!
The science-fiction genre has long been the ideal arena to disguise social commentary with fantastical stories. Director Neill Blomkamp has, with his debut feature constructed a science-fiction masterpiece worthy to be stacked alongside Alien, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Bladerunner.
Thirty years ago a giant alien spacecraft came to rest above the city of Johannesburg, South Africa. Rather than finding peaceful greys or triangular headed monsters bent on Earth domination, they found malnourished insect-like Refugees. The humans set them up in a large slum known as District 9. Tension between the aliens and human grew over the next few decades until finally the government is pressured into a mass eviction plan to move the aliens to a new area outside the city unimaginatively called District 10. Which is where we come in. Enter funny, flawed and frankly endearing Wikus Van De Merwe (played by newcomer Sharlto Copley who also played a sniper in Alive In Joburg, the short film from which District 9 was expanded), the MNU worker put in charge of the operation. When Wikus is accidentally infected with a DNA-altering alien virus things really get interesting…
All those wonderful flaws are paraded in District 9. Greed, hatred, exploitation. Sharlto Copley is perfect as Wikus, a deeply flawed and very human protagonist. We are made to first question his abilities (for the first 20 minutes Wikus could easily be mistaken for a Chris Lilley character), then question his morals (he delights in the sound of alien babies being burnt alive and popping “like popcorn”). Each of his heroic acts seems to spring from selfish motives. There are no Hollywood good guys in District 9. In fact there’s little sign of Hollywood at all, aside from the occasional homage.
The story weaves in an unconventional way. The style switches freely from documentary to film and back again. The special effects are close to flawless as the aliens blend perfectly with their environment. The action is insane! Alien weapons = enormous body count that would make Johnny Rico wet his futuristic fatigues. People explode, are electrocuted, even smashed in the face with a floating pig. There’s a huge amount of humour to be found, both in the goofiness of Wikus himself, and in the generally insane landscape (including some hilarious moments of interspecies erotica).
District 9’s flaws are few. A handful of small plot holes are left unanswered and it should also be said that whilst Blomkamp goes to great efforts to point out the racial disharmony of the country in which it’s set, it fails to suggest a way to fix the problem; its one thing to fly the flag of protest but another thing entirely to help work toward change… Anyway, I’m going to climb down off my high-horse now and go see it again.
First posted on Movie Nation: August 11th, 2009