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A true sci-fi original
on July 13, 2010
2009 was a great year for sci-fi fans. Not only did we get the wonderfully genuine Moon, but this movie also seemingly came out of nowhere. Films like these help make up for the trash that Michael Bay is ramming down our throats.
District 9 contains recognizable elements of classic sci-fi. The ship hovering over the city is an obvious homage to Clarke's Childhood's End, but this time the ship is not settled over a major city like New York. It is found hovering over director Neill Blomkamp's home town of Johannesburg, South Africa. This is a refreshing change. Michael Bay also ripped off Childhood's End, but as we all know he chose the ship to hover over the White House and blow it up!
The major science fiction theme here is xenophobia. Humans investigate the silent ship and find a million "Prawns" inside -- insectile humanoids, as different from us socially and psychologically as imaginable. They are out of fuel, stranded and starving, so a shantytown called District 9 is set up outside Johannesburg. This solution is anything but. 20 years later, after conditions keep getting worse and the Prawn population keeps expanding, the decision is made to forcably evict the Prawns from District 9. They will be re-settled in a tent city, a reference to events of the Apartheid era.
Echoing today's private corporate armed forces such as Blackwater, the eviction is handled by a private company called MNU (Multinational United). The man put in charge of this relocation is a junior clerk named Wikus van de Merwe who is hopelessly ill-suited to the task. Wikus, who serves as our protagonist, is at first nothing more than an incompetant fool who earnes the disfavor of the military men. He is protrayed as a real person with family and friends, but completely unsympathetic to the Prawns.
Wikus unwittingly stumbles upon a precious cylinder in the shack of a Prawn named Christopher. This cylindar can re-power the ship, but it also has adverse effects on Wikus, which will change his life forever. Soon, Wikus will find out for himself how it is to be an outsider, but also a valuable commodity. Wikus can now operate powerful alien weapons, the only human able to do so, which makes him a target on the run from both MNU and Nigerian gangs. And Christopher needs that cylinder back.
District 9 is disturbing to watch, both visually and thematically. Feelings of indifference toward Wikus eventually turn to sympathy. There are also moments of graphic sci-fi violence and gore. However, it is virtually impossible to turn away. The CG effects are stellar and look great in 1080p hi-def.
Much like Moon, there is much food for thought in District 9. This is aided by the fact that none of these actors are well-known to North American audiences, but the performances were still excellent.
The blu-ray disc is fuly loaded. There is a neat interactive map where you can explore District 9 and the alien ship, but this gets tiring after one or two viewings. More interesting are "The Alien Agenda: A Filmmaker's Log" and some featurettes on the effects in District 9.
District 9 is an absolute must for true fans of science fiction. If you have been hungering for the real thing, the real deal, then District 9 is for you. For casual fans and movie goers, you will enjoy the aliens, the combat scenes and effects as well as the storyline. District 9 is not for everyone, particurly those with a weak stomach, but is a very rewarding watch.
I can't wait to see what Neill Blomkamp comes up with next, and I hope the success of District 9 means he can continue to make unique films without bowing to Hollywood.