Wednesday, September 16, 2009

District 9 (2009)

District 9 is the name given to the vicinity used to house the 1.8 million members of an alien race found inside a giant mother ship after it stalls itself above Johannesburg, South Africa in 1982. Cut to 2010 and MNU, a government agency created to handle any an all alien related situations, has decided to relocate them - given D9 now resembles little more than a slum, and send in newly promoted everyman, Wikus Van Der Werme (Sharlto Copley) to head up the task. Wikus and his team travel to the foreboding camp to issue notices to its inhabitants about the move. As if inevitably, everything starts to go very wrong for both the aliens and Wikus himself.

Presented in a pseudo-doco style, we receive a briefing at the start of the film on the twenty odd year history of events with interviews from several people involved. This is all faultlessly done and given the upmost realism, especially in the "archival" footage. These scenes also hint at an incident that was about to happen. The opening centres the film's intelligent themes that range from comments on third world society, social perceptions, racism, violence, immigration and media saturation. Soon it does become though, for better or worse, an eye popping action piece complete with Starship Troopers-esque violence and over the top alien weaponry.

One of the first things you do notice about District 9 however is the jaw dropping CGI. The seamless looking creatures (dubbed derogatorily as "prawns" due to their appearance), interact and move in a way that truly surpasses all expectations. The "humanity" given to them is a major achievement and not once does it remove you out of the genuinely compelling story. It is the story that keeps you intrigued, bewildered and devastated equally as it plays out in it's feverish pace. First time actor Copley excels as Wikus, combining innocent humour with downright brutality (a trait all the humans seem to share here); it is hard to imagine a big name drawling a fake accent and pulling it off any better.

The director has hinted that his main influences were the hardcore sci-fi action movies of the 1980's. The works of Paul Verhoeven and films such as Predator, Aliens and the Terminator. This becomes obvious as the film goes on and despite what the first hour potentially offers us, it does feel more akin with those influences than one might have first thought. There are also obvious nods to the likes of David Cronenberg, but this is action sci-fi - or at least that is what it becomes. It should be said that the blatant plot holes and occasionally clunky script do expose it as an imperfect movie, but no such things ever really halt the adrenalin or excitement. Blomkamp has labelled it a "South African Hollywood film", and that is probably an apt description, though it is more than fair to say that this Peter Jackson produced effort definitely offers more depth and emotion - not to mention social and political commentary, than your average US blockbuster.

A film definitely in two opposing halves, overall is a major accomplishment despite some truly, easily ignored flaws. On a technical level, it is hard to falter. Though the promising, brilliant first act turns into something a little more, well, generic, it makes the finished product no less entertaining or powerful. I hope that given the opened ended conclusion, a Blomkamp helmed sequel is not too far away.