Movie Review: District 9 (2009)

District 9 (2009), directed by Neill Blomkamp and co-written with Terri Tatchell. Set in Johannesburg, South Africa between 1982 and 2010, it is a sci-fi thriller, shot in a documentary style and tells a story about humans and aliens.

I knew nothing about the movie before watching it and I will not share any more information about the plot or the story, mainly not to spoil it. The 8.0 rating on IMDB summarises the quality of the movie. In total, the film has received 110 nominations, including nominations for 4 Oscars and numerous nominations for Golden Globes and BAFTA, and collected 30 wins. It is the first documentary-style film to be nominated for Best Picture Oscar.

 

Released in 2009 with a mere $30,000,000 budget, the movie is extraordinary even by today’s standards. The story is anything but mediocre, contrary to what we would expect from a typical sci-fi movie. It’s thought-provoking while still being entertaining; it has elements of humour, including dark humour but it also is very serious. Gritty to its core, the movie can be viewed as social commentary with underlying social and historical themes of racism, human relations and human nature. The film was inspired by director Neill Blomkamp’s childhood in South Africa during apartheid. This personal connection to the story creates a very powerful, thoughtful and emotionally-charged film.

The protagonist of the movie is Wikus Van De Merwe (played by Sharlto Copley) and the film puts him through extraordinary challenges. It is impressive that this was Sharlto’s first (leading) role in a feature film and, not long before, he had no intention of pursuing an acting career. Thanks to his close relationship to Neill Blomkamp, he was given a leading role in this and Neill’s other films. Sharlto gave a superb performance in District 9 and Elysium and is clear he is a very talented actor. He gave a truly three-dimensional representation of Wikus, portraying effectively all his flaws; there were times when I wondered who I should root for. Sharlto Copley, unknown at the time, gave a top-class performance of an ordinary man trying to survive.

District 9 is an original, innovative and genuine piece of production. There aren’t overused, boring cliches and it breaks numerous stereotypes of sci-fi/alien films. For once, aliens are geo-literate and are aware of other places on the Earth to land on other than America. There weren’t any famous actors or names in the film to distract us from the story and the acting. There weren’t any meaningless and thoughtless action scenes that tried to compensate for the holes in the plot/acting. Lastly, the plot wasn’t straightforward or predictable.

I have strongly praised Sharlto’s performance, because, in District 9, he was the most visible character and the story focuses on him. However, every actor in the film gave a solid performance and production was top-notch. The aliens, realized with the highest quality of CGI come to life and we can genuinely sympathise, and even empathise, with them. According to IMDB, all of the aliens in the film were CGI (except the ones on operating tables in the medical lab) and all of the speaking aliens were performed by one actor, Jason Cope. Furthermore, the dialogue for the speaking aliens was ad-libbed by Cope, and dubbed over in post production.

 

Neill Blomkamp created a gritty, realistic and entertaining story with District 9. It was rich with humour, action and drama. The film did not shy away from portraying the brutal violence of our past. Acting was top class with characters portrayed as realistic, genuine and engaging. Right up until very end it wasn’t clear how the film would end, perhaps, partly because around six different endings were created during filming. Most importantly, the movie felt real, the events felt plausible. With the sequel in the works, it has all the necessary ingredients to become a classic franchise.

Definitely watch it.

P.S. SPOILERS

The film finely explores the line between humanity and alien-hood. I loved how the story was portrayed: Aliens or the “prawns” for reasons not entirely clear appear over Johannesburg, South Africa. For 28 years, they lived in the slum/refugee camp, or District 9 (that later turned into ghetto) where they were abused, confined and exploited. With the initial welcome by the public fading and tensions between the two groups rising, MNU is preparing to forcibly evict the aliens.

Fascinatingly, while being much stronger than humans and able to use their powerful (alien) weaponry, the aliens remained peaceful. Despite all the abuse and terrible living conditions, their instinct was not to fight or conquer Earth. Even Christopher Johnson, most likely one of the superiors of the alien ship, discovering the medical lab where experiments are being conducted on his species, does not go on the killing spree for vengeance purposes. His main instinct was to repair the command shuttle and evacuate his kind.

With “prawns” described as monsters in the movie, you wonder maybe the human kind are the real monsters. Despite the similarities between the two groups, the attitude towards the aliens was one of animals or inferior beings (even though humankind is far behind the technological advances to build a spaceship like that). The movie makes you, without deliberately forcing you, to sympathize with the aliens and their desperation.It is a sombre movie with a poignant ending, but one that has to be viewed.

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