District 9

Review by Dan Brightmore @danbrightmore

Directed by

Neill Blomkamp

Starring

David James Jason Cope Sharlto Copley

Anticipation.

Producer Peter Jackson and the WETA workshop do little green men, while Neill Blomkamp has a point to prove.

Enjoyment.

Two hours fly by as if you’re watching Alien or Terminator for the first time

In Retrospect.

The best sci-fi flick in years.

Neill Blomkamp’s film offers thought provoking thrills that have the audience rooting its CGI characters.

Back in the ’90s, the naysayers reckoned ‘The Lord of the Rings’ was unfilmable. Well, how about the story of giant prawn-like aliens who arrive on Earth seeking asylum? Peter Jackson obviously loves a challenge, and, in his role as producer, he’s summoned the might of the special effects wizards at WETA to cast their spell over a reworking of Neill Blomkamp’s 2005 mock doc Alive in Joburg.

Through documentary flashback we learn that it’s 20 years since a giant spaceship ventured to our planet with a cargo of extra-terrestrial refugees. These unannounced visitors have since been integrated into South African society as an alien underclass, while their monolithic craft hovers mysteriously above the capital – an ominous portent of future conflict.

With the world watching, and relations between species disintegrating, the government tasks a shadowy multinational to relocate the aliens to their new home in ‘District 9’ – little more than a shiny concentration camp. But their dastardly intentions are to find a way to harness the awesome power of the alien’s biotech weaponry.

Enter bumbling agent Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley) who gets contaminated with a mysterious substance during the botched clear-out, and soon sprouts an alien claw.

On the run from his former employers, and desperate to halt his metamorphosis, he enters a lawless wasteland inhabited by Nigerian gangsters trading alien armoury with rioting ‘prawns’ addicted to tinned cat food. Darkly comic and disturbingly possible, Transformers this ain’t…

Early teaser trailers used the film’s unusual setting to bamboozle audiences into thinking that District 9 was an allegory for the failures of post-Apartheid South Africa, with added flashes of digitised carnage. But the origins of this project provide the real clue for what to expect.

After failing to secure backing for an adaptation of legendary sci-fi video game Halo, Blomkamp and Jackson have decided to show the studios what they missed, returning to the genre but this time released from the creative shackles that an established franchise brings.

And what a thrilling experience it turns out to be. Fiendishly plotted and with awesomely kinetic (and outrageously bloody) action scenes, Blomkamp announces himself in a major way, without letting the third act crescendo lose focus in a blur of noise. For while the look of his film’s grungy tech rivals the distorted realms of Terminator: Salvation, it’s always within a framework that support’s a breakneck fight and flight story.

District 9 joins Cloverfield on the short list of new age action movies fuelled by something close to auteur vision, a documentary sensibility and an open desire to defy genre pigeonholing. Managing to draw serious parallels with the way humans have the capacity to turn against each other, Blomkamp’s film offers thought provoking thrills that have the audience rooting for CGI characters in a way George Lucas can only dream of.

The stage might be set for a sequel, but the inevitable expectation and bigger budget (District 9 cost just $30m) mean it will have to go some to match the impact of a compelling modern classic.

Published 4 Sep 2009

Anticipation.

Producer Peter Jackson and the WETA workshop do little green men, while Neill Blomkamp has a point to prove.

Enjoyment.

Two hours fly by as if you’re watching Alien or Terminator for the first time

In Retrospect.

The best sci-fi flick in years.

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