Sunday, August 23, 2009

District 9

Year: 2009
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Cast: Sharlto Copley, Vanessa Haywood, David James, Louis Minnaar

Aliens in film have been generally portrayed in three ways: the violent kind (Alien, Predator, their sequels and the crossovers), the good kind (E.T., Close Encounters Of The Third Kind) and the invading kind (Independence Day, The Invasion). There are also those stupid Martians from Mars Attacks, but let's not get into that.

And now we have aliens as refugees. Refugees you say? Yes, that's what I said. In this new film produced by LOTR's Peter Jackson, aliens have arrived on earth, and they are refugees stranded with no way to get home.

District 9 is set in Johannesburg, South Africa, where for the past 20 years, aliens have arrived and made earth their new home. Through a series of interviews via documentary style, we learn that the aliens, commonly known as prawns (due to the resemblance), are stranded on earth and are now living in a huge slum area known as District 9. And like common slum inhabitants, they live in worn down shacks, feed on garbage and tussle with law enforcement regularly. Some people want them gone, others cry for their basic rights.

The aliens' welfare is being handled by Multi-National United (MNU), a huge corporation that plans to relocate the aliens to a new, larger area called District 10. MNU picks one of their trusted employees, Wikus van der Merwe, to lead MNU officials and security personnel in the relocation process. Wikus is a regular family man who is excited about his new responsibility and for the most part, seems well equipped to handle the task.

However, during the relocation process, something happens to Wikus, an incident that will forever change his fate and intertwines it with the fate of the aliens. This is where he, and the audience learn that MNU isn't all what it seems.

Neill Blomkamp is a first time director who hails from South Africa, and no doubt he used his experiences during the apartheid rule to show humanity at its worst. What he presents on film isn't too far fetched, even though this story of aliens being refugees on earth is ultimately science fiction. You will see how badly humans treat the aliens, and the levels they will sink to, to get what they want. It's a stark reminder of how we, as a supposedly advanced and evolved race, can still do the most evil things imaginable.

Sharlto Copley has no prior acting experience before being in this film, but damn he's good. Copley gives Wikus the perfect heartfelt performance as the man who is caught between his evil employers and the alien race he thought he understood. As the film progresses, things get really critical and life threatening for him, and you'd have to be a heartless person to not pity him.

On the surface, this film doesn't look like it was made on a large budget. In fact it was only made at a cost of $30 million. But even so, the action sequences and special effects are cool to watch. There is a good amount of violence here, so you may want to reconsider watching this if you're squeamish. But I seriously hope you don't, because there is a message behind this film, and that violence only magnifies the impact of that message rather than glorify onscreen mayhem.

District 9 is without a doubt the sleeper hit of the year. Recommended. (4/5)

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