Thursday, 25 February 2010

Movie Review: District 9 (2009)


A huge spaceship cruises over Johannesburg and comes to a stop. Eventually a large number of aliens, who look like giant prawns on legs, are welcomed to earth. They mainly take up residence in District 9, a cordoned-off ramshackle camp within the city.

Tensions between the humans and aliens grow over time, resulting in an attempt to relocate the residents out of District 9. Things go wrong when human government agent Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley) is infected by a mysterious substance and starts to morph into an alien. Horrifying for him and his wife, but fascinating for the government, since he can now use the aliens' sophisticated weapon systems.

District 9 is a well-made, sharply-delivered science-fiction film, remarkably similar to Avatar in terms of plot elements, but on one-tenth the budget. It demands sympathy for a strange looking alien race, introduces a human-to-alien transformation as a central plot element, portrays humans as both heavy-handed and under-handed, and quickly trots out something equivalent to the military-industrial complex to be the real evil.

That the first half of District 9 may be a metaphor for the mistreatment of blacks by the ruling white class during South Africa's apartheid era just adds a layer of poignancy.

But District 9 does unravel a bit in its second half, descending almost into a routine and forgettable action movie, with Wikus teaming up with one of the aliens, complete with cute young alien kid, to plan an unlikely escape from District 9 back to the mothership still hovering mysteriously overhead.

Sharlto Copley is the best thing about the film, as the well-meaning and naive government bureaucratic who finds himself turning into an alien. Particularly early in the movie, with Wikus going door-to-door in District 9 requesting the aliens' "consent" to be relocated, he embodies all that is distasteful about blatant government hypocrisy.

This is director Neill Blomkamp's first feature length film, and he puts his documentary storytelling style to good use. The movie effectively takes its time to establish the context, and there is no padding in the running length of under 2 hours.

District 9 is proof that a science fiction movie can be entertaining, thoughtful, and polished without necessarily costing the equivalent of a small country's GDP to make.







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