Besides some viral campaign videos, my first real exposure to District 9 was at Comic Con. Seeing the initial previews with a highly amp’d up audience and with Producer Peter Jackson, definitely made for a positive experience. Jackson, Director Blomkamp, and the cast were able to share the vision for this tale of extraterrestrials now inhabiting South Africa. However, I did feel I found out too much about the movie which I would have preferred to be surprised but it didn’t diminish from my overall appreciation of the movie. But it does raise the question, how much do you have to know about a movie to get you interested? That’s a different blog post. For now, let’s go visit District 9…
Overall, I was very pleased with this movie. It’s a relatively small movie with a small budget ($30 Million), and unknown cast but tells an original story that immediately draws you in. As presented by the documentary style introduction, 28 years earlier, aliens arrived from an unknown place for an unknown purpose. The space refugees (1.7 million) settle in a region near Johannesburg now titled District 9. It doesn’t take long for District 9 to turn into a slum complete with crime, starvation, and corruption. Even the third world locals take advantage of the plight of the aliens. Wikus, played by newcomer Sharlto Copley, plays the agent responsible for relocating the inhabitants of District 9 to District 10 because of civil unrest. During the eviction process, Wikus (pronounced ‘Vikus’) is exposed to a mysterious chemical that begins to transform him slowly into one of the aliens. Wikus goes from leader of the project to ‘lab rat’ to fugitive seemingly within minutes. The remainder of the movie is about Wikus trying to reclaim his humanity all the while discovering the humanity in the aliens. He befriends a particular alien and together they set out to change the outcome of District 9 population.
Above else, District 9 is a solid movie in storytelling. It’s refreshing compared to the sea of special effects laden summer blockbusters that have been released in the last 12 weekends. This movie succeeds at telling a story that engages the viewer while causing discomfort. D-9 doesn’t try to preach about the horrors of racism, it shows it and graphically. Clearly, there are metaphors to apartheid but there is a lot more going on here, which is why I liked this film so much. At first it’s easy to think, the aliens are animalistic and ugly, therefore they don’t reserve the same rights as humans. However, soon your perspective shifts as you see their treatment as nothing more than cattle or lab rats. By the end of the movie, I started to think that as far as we have come as a civilization, how easy it would be to make the same mistakes to unwanted visitors from another planet. Any story that causes those kind of questions is a good story.
The world that D-9 creates is believable. The documentary style with news footage, interviews with politicians, locals, and professionals creates a media hype that sells the movie. The entire experience is very visceral and gritty. District 9 and the surrounding area is not a pleasant place to visit and I am glad Blomkamp didn’t pull punches in depicting the terrible conditions. It’s especially impressive considering the meager budget of $30 million. (Transformers and GI Joe were upward to $175-200 million!).
Finally, the special effects. It’s nice to get to this point in the review and say that the special effects almost didn’t matter. With a great screenplay, solid performances, and convincing world, the effects are now there to serve the movie- and not the other way around. Pleasantly, the CGI is solid and was realistic enough to forget it was CGI. The point is that the effects didn’t replace the action but was there to serve the action, big difference. Bravo Blomkamp, I hope Michael Bay and Steven Sommers will learn from your ingenuity and creativity.
I don’t don’t have much to complain about here except I thought a couple of the characters faded off by the last third of the film. Since we are seeing this movie from the perspective of Wikus I guess that makes sense. This movie shares a similiarity with Cloverfield in that it’s a story told through a limited perspective. We mainly see what happens to the central character, not much more than that. So lack of information can be explained, however it would be nice to have more information about what, why, and who. The Nigerians are sure not depicted in a very positive light. While it makes sense to show the crime opportunity that would have emerged, it would have been good to show some compassion and advocacy from the locals. All the hate served the movie but I think it didn’t accurately portray the people very well. This is a minor quibble.
One piece of information shared at Comic Con was how the aliens were composed primarily of ‘worker drones’. For an unexplained reason the ‘higher’ leadership of the alien species was killed off or left. This is why the population is unable to organize beyond it’s scavanging ways. I think this was key and wish they explained it in the story.
Lastly, D-9 is rated R for gore, language, and intensity. I wouldn’t want anyone under 13 to see this.
They left it open for a ‘District 10’ which I would be excited to see. The other Babblers were more apprehensive ala Matrix, Transformers, and every other sequel out there. But call me a sucker, I want to see more. That’s what good storytelling does.
This movie is definitely one of the best movies of the summer. That’s not saying much in comparison to Transformers 2 and GI Joe but nevertheless, it’s up there blowing away the other summer blockbusters.
I give it 4 out of 5 Babbles.
Check out our BabbleOn podcast on District 9