Neill Blomkamp was originally Peter Jackson's choice to direct the movie Halo but things fell apart as a certain studio, who will remain nameless, put the project on indefinitely hold. Jackson stuck by his man and the stage was set for Blomkamp to expand an idea he had previously developed as a short into a full length motion picture with the backing of Jackson's company Wing Nut Productions. $30 million dollars and a viral marketing campaign later the movie hit major markets to a resounding ringing of cash register and pretty much a locked in sequel.
Talk us through itbr> 28 years ago a honking great big space ship arrived in the sky over Johannesburg and preceded to park, as your alien mother ship has a tendency to do. Wouldn't want to be paying those parking tolls to be honest. South African authorities could not raise any sort of reaction from the space craft so decided the best course would be to slice into it see if ET was home. They discovered a large number of Aliens slowly starving and seemingly incapable of either building or controlling the ship.
The aliens, called "prawns" by humans as they sort of look like a cross between a deranged crustacean and one of Lovecraft's elder gods, are transported to District 9, an enclosed slum, while the human authorities argue about what to do with them. With rising xenophobia and violence aim at the Aliens the South African government decide to contract Multi-National United (MNU) to move the million or so "prawns" from District 9 to District 10, which is well outside the city.
MNU has it's own agenda, which involves cracking the alien DNA structure that will allow use of their advanced weaponry. MNU operatives are sent into District 9 to serve eviction notices in accordance with Government requirements. Wikus van Der Merwe, head of the eviction team, contracts an alien virus via some black gloop while delivering an eviction notice and he starts to mutate.
Merwe quickly becomes the most important man on the planet as both MNU and other organisations deduce his DNA holds the key to the alien technology, the only place left for him to hide is in District 9. But the Aliens may just have an agenda of their own.
Reviewbr> This review is being published at various sites so skip this paragraph if not one of my regular review readers, it doesn't concern you, move along citizen. Firstly even though the movie was shot in South Africa, has a Saffa cast and crew, and pretty much speaks to the South African experience it's still being widely reported as being a New Zealand film. It would be like the Bulls forward pack taking the field wearing All Black jerseys and being captained by Richie "God" McCaw. The New Zealand credit seems to be due to some of the post production having been done in the Shaky Isles, primarily the mother ship rendering, and Peter Jackson's company getting the finished product to completion and out to the Distributors. I'm calling a South African movie with an assist from Kiwiland, you are just going to have to deal with that one. And for those wondering why the flick is being reviewed by a horror site, well hello have you seen The Fly, dude is turning into a later incarnation of the "Brundle-Fly" people! So horror elements and enough Kiwi involvement, moving right along.
With Blomkamp we finally have a Director who is able to mix rocking action, hand helds, and mockumentary style, into pretty much the perfect Sci-Fi package that is going to appeal to different audience members on different levels. And there's not even a single Hobbit in sight either.
The Director gets you in amongst the action to good effect, and while being pretty kinetic Blomkamp ensures the audience knows exactly what's going down in the action scenes. Blokes will be high fiving each other and yelling out for more, which is pretty much what the Director sends our way in the second half of the film. When Blomkamp wants to get his action on he's taking no prisoners friends and neighbours, bystanders better run. Besides the full arsenal of the MNU security forces we get some of the coolest Alien weapons of mass destruction since Davros decided to tool up the Daleks.
When Blomkamp isn't focusing on heads exploding and the like he is either giving us some background to developments or trying to portray what it would be like if you were Wikus Van De Merwe, a pen pusher who suddenly finds himself mutating into a "prawn". Most of the first third of the movie is shot in mockumentary style with a film crew following De Merwe into deepest darkest District 9 and interviewing various people both in and outside the MNU organisation. The Director drops the mockumentary style when he gets jiggy with it but keeps the details flowing otherwise. Notably as De Merwe learns things about the organisation that formerly employed him Director Blomkamp goes for traditional scene constructions. Sounds like it shouldn't hang together but Blomkamp has the movie on a tight leash and keeps it to heel.
The lush visuals and original story line will keep you glued to the screen as Director Blomkamp opens upo a can of pyrotechnic mayhem to keep you yelling for more.
In terms of social satire Writer Blomkamp is having a huge swipe at his own Country and perhaps pointing out the more things change the more they stay the same, due to human endeavour. It becomes evident that the Director has an agenda when two of his interviewees, both from separate segregated communities in the time of the former white regime, pretty much speak with the voice of the past wanting the Aliens contained and viewing them as sub human. The propaganda is being heard loud and clear and it isn't coming from the Afrikaans end of the social spectrum either. Naturally the title of the movie District 9 brings to mind the infamous Cape Town "District 6" and the relocation of the people living in that area.
What Blomkamp does wonderfully well is turn our expectations on there head and present a movie that will have you cheering on characters that are even more unsavoury than a Shark's back three quarters unit. Wikus Van De Merwe presents perhaps the most unlikeliest action movie heroes outside Arthur Dent. De Merwe is clearly basking in a spot of nepotism, having married the Boss's daughter, and is barely tolerated by the security forces, though he does seemingly delight in destroying alien eggs with all the gusto of Ellen Ripley on speed. During the course of the movie our accidental hero learns about life on the other side of the fence, and when he decides to make a stand you will be cheering him on. Does help that he's kitted out with some pretty cool battle gear at the time. While the "prawns" are ugly mofos, with this irritating clicking sound that passes for a language, by movie's end you will also be cheering on a couple of the buggers as they try to simply get home. Another notable aspect of the movie is that with the exception of a single scene towards the end all the violence being tossed around is by the various humans and not the rather hideous looking Aliens. Bet Blomkamp is a riot at Christmas dinner when his drunken Uncle gets onto politics. Thinking about it that might be just my family Christmas hoedowns.
Outstanding achievement by the special effects and post production people on the seamless integration of CGI into the wetware. We of course expect Weta to be on top of their game, that mother ship is pretty well constructed, but the secondary studio who did all the creature features fracking nailed things to the wall with a sledge hammer. The "prawns" are at once alien and infinitely familiar. Keep an eye out for a few extras in the alien play pen tossed our way as well.
Special mention of the makeup department, De Merwe's gradual transformation is outstanding and totally believable, given you are already dialled into the alternative universe of District 9.
One of the only issues with District 9 is that it will probably be taken to task for similarities to previous movies, none of which thankfully involve the personality free zone that is Timmy Cruise. Sure the mother ship looks like something out of Independence Day, maybe the crew were having celebratory invasion beers and the staff made off with the ship, but considering that movie was highly derivative of the original Battlestar Galactica I wouldn't be calling a foul there. I've already mentioned The Fly, all about that arm, and there are no doubt a few other films people could throw into the mix. What sets District 9 apart is that it approaches it's subject matter in a completely unique fashion with a flawed running man anti-hero in De Merwe, and a complete reversal of what we might expect to go down. In essence Director/Writer Blomkamp is keeping things out in originality park and thus any technical comparisons to previous movies become meaningless.
Sharlto Copley (Wikus Van De Merwe) pretty much carries the movie himself and is on screen for the vast majority of the running time. Copley is all over his character and presents a multi faceted role with De Merwe's ultimate decision to do the right thing not coming out of left field.
To be honest I didn't take much note of the score by Clinton Shorter, I was too busy grooving to Director Blomkamp's story and visual style. Hey it's a "snap judgement", something's got to give when you make a quick call here.
Summary Executionbr> I caught a session of District 9 on opening weekend with my thirteen year old son who was fired up to see the movie via the trailers. Got to say I was absolutely enthralled by the movie, you have to love something straining for originality in the modern conveyor belt film industry, and have it marked down as one of the best cinema movies I've seen thus far in 2009. My son equally loved every moment, but he has some weird tastes in movies caused no doubt by over exposure to South Park and Xbox games. I probably wont catch another cinema session, simply don't have the time for repeats, but will be at the store at opening time when the DVD is released later in the year.
The Aliens have well and truly landed box office wise, always a good measure of how well the advertising has gone down on opening weekend. District 9 surged to top spot in North America with a total just north of $37 million, and Down Under opened in second spot with a tad over $2.5 million. Watching the dailies since it would appear word of mouth is strong with an excellent second weekend coming up. If you keep checking our box office section, only available to scaryminds.com readers folks, I'll keep you up to date with Australian figures on a weekly basis.
District 9 comes at us with a lot of hype and hoopla built it, and for once a movie lives up to pre-release three ringed circus put on by the internet. It's intelligent, dares to be different in a conformist market, and Director Blomkamp boldly goes where very few film makers have gone before. Full recommendation on District 9, you will not see a better movie in 2009. Visit the district, you might just want to book a hotel room.
ScaryMinds Rates this movie as ...br> br> One of the must see movies of 2009. Catch at the cinema, buy the DVD, get yourself the t-shirt.