Directed by Neill BlomkampStarring Sharlto Copley and Vanessa Haywood Rated R*8.5*Goes well with: Alien Nation, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Tsotsi
So, it's finally here, your sci-fi summer bookend companion to Star Trek. District 9, produced by Peter Jackson and directed by handpicked protégé Neill Blomkamp, is exactly what you want in a big Hollywood movie: a solid, intricate story that's not too over-plotted to follow, good acting, terrific special effects, solid humor and even a message to digest. Perhaps that's why Hollywood had very little to do with it.
Originally, Jackson tapped Blomkamp to direct the feature-film adaptation of Halo. When funding was pulled, the filmmakers instead decided to expand Blomkamp's short film Alive in Joburg, which was part of what attracted Jackson in the first place.
D9 takes place almost three decades after a massive alien spacecraft hovered over the largest city in South Africa carrying a refugee population of insect-like aliens. From where, no one knows. Why? No one's sure. Co-existence is tough—the prawns (the derogatory term for the off-worlders) are placed in a militarized slum, District 9, rampant with poverty and crime, and it doesn't take long for their neighbors to declare their parks and restaurants human-only. Two decades later, the government decides to relocate the entire alien population, a task designated to the massive private security firm MNU.
Right. Slums in Johannesburg. Racial tension. Desperate crime and poverty. Yes, the allegories between the situation in District 9 and apartheid are obvious. In fact, much of the movie's plotting is fairly obvious, even if it's intricate and well-conceived. But it all works—even the nasty corporate bad guys, the blood-thirsty mercenaries, the horrific gangsters and especially Captain Obvious himself, Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley). He's a geeky MNU employee tapped to oversee the alien eviction, primarily because his father-in-law is a high-level player in the corporation. Wikus, we're told through documentary footage at the movie's onset, is a notorious figure in history. We're not sure what sort of figure, exactly, but we are sure that he is woefully unqualified to move more than a million pissed-off aliens to a refugee tent camp. Wikus isn't necessarily a bad guy, but like most South Africans, he doesn't like the aliens; he sees them as a dirty, bottom-feeding form of life only interested in getting hooked on cat food, procreating and trading in illegal-alien weaponry with the Nigerian gangsters who've taken up residence in District 9. But—and here's something that's kinda predictable—an incident during the event, which often plays out like a great episode of Cops: Joburg, causes a shift in Wikus' DNA. It also accidentally aligns him with an alien called Christopher Johnson, who has grander plans for his people than letting them sit as fallow cat-food junkies.
Sure, you get the message. But if D9 is a message film, it has two of them. The first is that discrimination sucks. The second is that those big-ass weapons the aliens brought with them rule. Happily, all the lessons about tolerance Wikus learns lead to those weapons, which are more than happy to disintegrate anyone who has the misfortune of standing in front of them when the trigger is pulled.
Jackson's name may have gotten District 9 funded, and Copley is a terrific lead—equal parts funny, entertaining and pathetic as Wikus, a selfish little man whose self-interest affects every outcome—but this is a coming-out party for Blomkamp, who takes what might be considered cliché and makes it awesome. With District 9, he establishes himself as the guy whose movies fanboys will flock to, like moths to a flame—or a prawn to a can of cat food.Write to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.