Written by: Dan Geer
Not much is coming to mind concerning my opinion is about this film, except that I absolutely loved it! It’s dark, it’s gutsy and it has characters you care about. It is unafraid to step outside the norm of your typical alien invasion film.
It also has some serious balls.
Filmed partially in mockumentary style, District 9 is about how aliens – also known as “prawns” due to their bug-like appearance – land here on earth in the unlikely city of Johannesburg, South Africa and how we found them suffering from starvation and “rescued” them by relocating them to the ground.
After 28 years of the aliens taking up residence on our planet, the city ends up becoming a slum. The aliens and the humans don’t get along. Fear of alien attacks soon grips the population of the city and they demand that they leave. An innocent government official by the name of Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley) is in charge of relocating the aliens to an area completely away from any humans – known as “District 9.” Of course, the aliens don’t accept this very well.
What is interesting is that the film doesn’t go where one would expect. At this point it would appear that all-out war would break loose between the aliens and the humans because they don’t want to leave. These aliens are stronger than us, and savages in many cases. What ends up happening is that Wikus ends up being exposed to an alien virus that he confiscated while trying to evict an alien named “Christopher Johnson,” from his home (apparently the aliens adopted human names). This virus starts slowly turning him into a prawn himself, although most of the movie he still looks pretty much human – save for having a lobster claw for a hand.
As it turns out, there is a secret security organization that has been trying to learn how to use alien weaponry and technology. Only aliens have been able to operate them, until the recent development of van der Merwe slowly turning into a prawn. Needless to say, he is a pretty valuable asset to them if they can capture him. But all he wants is to reverse the process, become fully human again and get back to his wife. Of course, Christopher Johnson – the owner of the canister carrying the confiscated virus – holds the key to turning this whole thing around.
What is amazing about this film is its realism, not just with extremely real-looking aliens completely rendered in CGI, but also the look and feel of the movie itself. It is very gritty, and the story contains social commentary evoking the real-life apartheid racial segregation system that once existed in South Africa. It also has radical Nigerian criminals who think eating the flesh of the prawns gives them power, prostitutes who don’t mind doin’ the wild thing with the aliens (thankfully we are spared from seeing this), and violence that feels very real. You will feel like this is simply a camera pointed at a real-world situation while watching this movie. As far as I am concerned, the events in District 9 really happened.
It is worth mentioning that it is not only the CGI that makes the prawns look and feel so real. Perhaps it is just the cleverly-told story, or the graphic depiction of the oppression against the aliens, or perhaps something else entirely – but these aliens evince humanity in many cases. By the end of the film, it is hard not to empathize with their situation and feel what they are feeling. It is quite moving, actually.
Did I mention the movie has some serious balls? The film starts out a tad bit slow, but if you are patient it pays off in the last half of the movie with very well-choreographed action sequences with the Military and Nigerian criminals squaring off against alien technology. It contains some of the most exciting realistic action since Children of Men. It is one of those films where you really feel like you are a part of what is going on, and it is terrifying when you are transported into this warzone.
This movie is filled with heart and has tangibility. There are heart-wrenching scenes contained within – particularly the scene when Wikus does get captured after he was exposed to the virus and becomes the subject of gruesome experimentation with alien weaponry. It has been a while since I really felt connected to a character in a movie. By the end of it all, you just plain feel horrible for the guy. It doesn’t end without hope, but it doesn’t have the traditional hollywood happy ending either. Sure, it is science fiction. But sci-fi has never felt this real before. Director Neil Blomkamp and producer Peter Jackson did a tremendous job bringing this story to life.