For decades, Hollywood has been fascinated with the concept of life on other planets. The first films about extraterrestrial life began as ones where the aliens were portrayed as villainous, inhumane creatures looking to enslave the human race. Then, in the late 1970s, things turned around when Steven Spielberg proposed the idea that maybe the invading aliens were nothing but friendly, curious creatures. Stemming from that idea is “District 9,” one of the biggest surprises of the summer.
“District 9″ takes us to Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city. One day, a giant alien space ship stops and hovers over the city. The ships stands hovering over the city for 20 years. Eventually, the government opens the ship up to find an entire alien colony inside. With the ship immobile and the aliens stuck on Earth, the humans decide to segregate them into an area called District 9. We are never told what their race is called or what planet they are from, but simply that humans give them the derogatory name of “Prawn.”
While in Johannesburg, the Prawns are mistreated and District 9 turns into a slum. The government plans a giant relocation project for the alien community. This mission is led by Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley). At first, Wikus finds him self battling Prawns. Soon however, he finds himself all to close to them.
A lot has been written in recent weeks about the many feats pulled of by “District 9.” Most articles have focused on the film’s extremely low budget ($30 million) and it’s starless cast and first time director. They act like these are impediments, but in fact they are benefits. These elements just serve to make “District 9″ more original and more refreshing. The blockbuster and the sci-fi thriller seem to be dying thanks to uninspired ideas and adaptations of toys and video games. Here is the first sci-fi thriller I’ve seen in a long time that is totally inspired and totally new.
The first time director at the helm of “District 9″ is Neill Blomkamp. Although it’s only his feature debut, he directs like a pro. Much of “District 9″ is shot in documentary style. A majority of the movie is taken from security camera shots and news footage. However, the whole film isn’t shot in documentary style. It transitions at times to a typical filmmaking style. The film always transitions smoothly between these two styles. Often when a film attempts to balance out these two styles, it usually turns out poorly (for example, “Public Enemies”). “District 9″ does the rare thing that most experienced filmmakers rarely achieves and makes a successful film that is part mockumentary, part narrative.
The typical blockbuster has needed a big makeover in recent years. Films like “Transformers” and “G.I. Joe” have nearly destroyed the idea that entertaining action films can also have a brain. “District 9″ brings the brain back to sci-fi.
Part of “District 9″‘s big brain comes from the fact that it’s an allegory on apartheid. This makes sense as to why exactly the film is set in South Africa; it’s a country that was once torn apart by bitter racial apartheid. This time, the apartheid is against the aliens. The message here isn’t just that apartheid is bad, it’s that the forced segregation of any being ends up de-humanizing further those who aren’t being segregated. It’s not the aliens that look like monsters here, it’s the people.
While most have talked about the film’s connection to apartheid, it also mirrors several other current events. District 9 resembles the slums of Mumbai, and the way that South Africans talk about the visiting Prawns sounds a little bit like the way some people talk about illegal immigrants in this country.
The aliens of “District 9″ look like giant grasshoppers who talk like Jabba the Hut. But it’s not so much the appearance that is groundbreaking but rather the personalities of the aliens. Even though they are aliens, they behave like people. They raise families, they buy food, and they live in houses. The alien Christopher’s troubles makes him seem basically like a human being.
“District 9″ is not the best sci-fi film ever made, but it’s the best one that’s come out in years. It contains some incredible action sequences involving a vaporizer gun. The film also has an ongoing, very dark sense of humor and the emotional finale in a sci-fi film since “Blade Runner.”
Already a huge success, there has already been talk of a sequel for “District 9.” I usually am not a huge fan of sequels, but this is one the few films that I actually would want a sequel for. That is just how much I liked the characters, and just how much I liked the movie. “District 9″ proves that in an unoriginal world, a little bit of unique ideas can go a long way.
Recommended for Fans of: Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., Blade Runner, Alien, Cloverfield