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District 9

USA 2009
Directed by
Neil Blomkamp
110 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Andrew Lee
4.5 stars

District 9

Synopsis: Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley) works in middle management at Multi National United (MNU). MNU are responsible for the relocation of District 9, a massive slum housing zone for the “prawns”, aliens who arrived in a mothership 20 years ago and have so far not been able to leave. Accidentally infected with alien DNA, Wikus becomes the most wanted man in Johannesburg and flees to the one place he might be safe, District 9.

Wow! If you love science fiction, you owe it to yourself to go see District 9. The imagination, the special effects, the story, the sub-text, it’s all here. A feature length version of Blomkamp’s short film Alive in Joburg (you can check it out on Youtube), the film keeps part of the documentary style of the short, with talking heads and the like, as we follow Wikus on his expedition into District 9 to serve eviction notices on the aliens. The casual racism of the expedition is striking, especially when Wikus orders a house full of eggs destroyed. The indifference to the death of baby aliens tells us that,like everyone else, he doesn’t really see them as anything more than clever animals. Obviously he’s going to change his mind at some point, but cleverly, even when he finds himself allied with the aliens, he’s not exactly on their side. It’s not a simple moment of awakening, Blomkamp and his writing partner Terri Tatchell are smarter than that, and God bless ‘em for it as we watch Wikus follow his self-interested path and where it takes him.

The beauty of the film is that its commentary on racism, corporate greed and genocide is all built into the story in a way which is completely organic to the plot. So instead of a preachy little film about how racism is bad, how companies are bad, how superstition is bad, we get this ripsnorter of an action film that has brains enough to let the audience draw its own conclusions on what it is seeing.

There’s so much to love about District 9, from Sharlto Copley’s officious but sympathetic Wikus, to the head-explodingly awesome action and the beautiful designs of the alien weapons and hardware. The aliens themselves are brilliantly realised, the effects work is seamless and the level of emotion captured in the CG work is great. Then again, Weta Workshop did the bulk of the effects, so it’s hardly surprising that the people who made Gollum such a memorable character have done it again.

In a year of anaemic big budget Hollywood disappointments, Neil Blomkamp’s film delivers the goods: high tech hardware, imaginative and adrenaline-charged action, superb effects and engaging characters. You have to check out District 9. It’s a debut from a major talent and I already want to see it again.

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