District 9, the brainchild of Neill Blomkamp and produced by cinema king Peter Jackson, is a sci-fi dream come true. Part mockumentary (think The Office meets Aliens) and part action/thriller, District 9 offers admittedly shaky camera work (intentional) and seamless special effects.
The story centers around Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley) as the leader of a task force for the MNU, responsible for the relocation of nearly two million illegal aliens (literally) from the huge slum they occupy just outside Johannesburg, South Africa, to a huge slum they will occupy 200 km farther away. People are sick of the aliens, who showed up over the city in a huge, suddenly useless alien mothership. And why wouldn’t they be, they’re uglier than lobsters – earning them the nickname ‘prawns’, scavenge garbage, speak another language, and generally have bad manners. Through news footage, we learn that the aliens were trapped in their crappy ship, starving and in poor health. The prawns are put into a huge camp where they scavenge dumps for food, live in shanty towns and will do anything for canned cat food.
The aliens do however own incredible weapons, ones which the MNU are very interested in developing. The MNU is the large multinational corporation responsible for the relocation of the aliens, and of course will do anything to get their hands on alien technology because they are the world’s largest arms dealers. Conflict of interest anyone? Complicating the matter is a huge band of Nigerian thugs, also interested in the alien guns, and responsible for running cat food into the slums for illegal trade.
van der Merwe ends up getting sprayed with a mysterious black liquid while evicting prawns, which begins altering his DNA into alien. Suddenly, he’s the man of the hour, because his weird, new alien hand is capable of operating the wicked weapons which can be set to stun, electrocute or just plain vapourize. The MNU is interested, and so are the Nigerians. Merwe has also since ‘befriended’ Christopher Johnson, a weirdly named prawn with a cute little son who just want to use Merwe’s black liquid to get back up to their mother ship and off home to their own planet.
The movie starts slowly, but quickly gains momentum with a unique blend of news footage, documentary and action shots. Halfway through the movie, Bloomkamp abandons the handheld and goes for full-on action mode. This is mostly because the camera man wouldn’t be able to continue to follow the action the same way he did during the introduction. This fragments the film slightly, but doesn’t take away from the fact that the movie works. Much has been said of the films’ obvious commentary on Apartheid, and other writers have done a wonderful job of exploring this angle. It’s enough to say that the exploitation of human and alien species is disturbing, and points towards the terrible things that have and continue to happen all over the globe.
To really buy into the film, the viewer will need to accept a few plot holes (common for most action films, unfortunate for one of this caliber):
- how did all the alien weaponry get down onto earth
- why does the ship show up and just not work anymore
- how on earth did other countries’ governments not get involved
- why are the majority of the prawns just little scavengers and not fighting back or escaping
This is a creative and unique film which offers something rare in the sci-fi action genre: action, suspense, story and smarts. Highly recommended.