Thursday, October 1, 2009

District 9 Review

Older post but posted for archiving purposes
District 9:
Directed by Neil Blomkamp
Released in 2009

I remember it clearly: It was the summer of 2006 and a relatively unknown director, Neil Blomkamp, was chosen to direct a movie based off of Halo, the revolutionary first-person shooter video game. Even at that time, I was unsure if I wanted a Halo movie to come out. After all, movie-video game adaptations have had a history of being egregiously bad, with basically no exceptions. I was relieved to hear that the project was scrapped because of financial problems, with the producers asking for a budget of over $200 million. Basically, Neill Blomkamp and Peter Jackson, a producer, said "screw this" and made a film called District 9, a lower budget sci-fi film based off of Blomkamp's short film, Alive in Joburg about alien refugees in Johannesburg, South Africa. Now, three years later, the film is released and, rest assured, it is a million times better than anything with the name "Halo" in the title would have been.

District 9, with its subject matter of extraterrestrials, is, ironically, very human. It is about the story of a gargantuan Alien mothership that stalls above Johannesburg. From here, aliens are given a home in the city below and are segregated into a separate section of the city, District 9. District 9 is basically a slum, in the nicest description, and all the aliens live in shanty houses and poor conditions. These aliens, called "Prawns" by many humans, look like a crustacean-cephalopod creature and make various moaning and clicking sounds to communicate with one another. They vary in intelligence and ferocity but they are all united by one purpose: they want to go home. Even with their repulsive appearance, the aliens have a very human heart and do not appreciate being treated like the bottom-feeders the humans believe they are. This story relates very closely to the real-life segregation that occurred in Johannesburg many years ago.

The film follows the story of Wikus Van De Merwe, played by a newcomer to American cinema, Sharlto Copley. He starts as a relatively annoying, forgettable character but evolves to be much, much more. He is assigned to be in charge of the forced relocation of the alien denizens of District 9 and starts his raid on the village with plenty of armed soldiers behind him. This introduction is very well-made using mostly handheld cameras in a documentary style fashion. Most aliens view the humans in contempt and respond in a violent fashion, prompting the humans to fight back. Many of these encounters are actually very sad and show the barbarity that humans can display. However, during a raid on a house with the intelligent, caring alien called Christopher Johnson, Wikus is infected with an alien compound and starts to experience a metamorphosis. I will refrain from revealing the rest of the story because it is worth experiencing firsthand.

Copley's performance in this film is fascinating and an amazing debut to start on. He makes the viewer feel his pain in addition to seeing it and delivers a performance akin to Jeff Goldblum's in The Fly. His transformation is very grotesque and not for the faint at heart, with blood, black vomit and decaying appendages by the plenty. He also develops a bond with Christopher Johnson and this proves to be one of the film's greatest strengths. For once, he finds himself united with these "alien" species and exiled by the humans.

The special effects in the film are also spectacular. With only a budget of $30 million, it made me think if the extravagant, $200 million + films truly put their budget to good use because this film accomplished these admirable and beautiful feats of technology with a fraction of the money. All the aliens are given great detail that properly conveys their features and emotions, and the omnipresent mothership is a wonder to behold. It is also amusing that the final action scene involving an alien mech suit is better than any scene Transformers 2 had whatsoever. It just goes to show that soul truly is a critical aspect in any film.

Overall, District 9 is one of the best movies of the summer and a must-see for anyone seeking an original adventure. The movie starts out strong with its documentary style approach and then improves as it becomes an emotional, graphic human tale. The ending is also very touching and beautiful. It resonated with me long after I left the theater and affirmed the film's artistic merit. Go make like a cat and pounce on this experience. 
Final Verdict:
4.5 Stars out of 5

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