Director and co-screenwriter Neill Blomkamp leads the crew which filmed District 9 in his South African homeland, specifically Johannesburg, so the aliens’ target locale has a personal touch to it, while making a nice alternative to New York, Paris or Los Angeles. First time screenwriter Terri Tatchell co-writes the 112 minute screenplay in English, with Nyanja and the alien language accompanied by subtitles.
Filmmakers anchor this gritty, gory film with a documentary-type camera style (without being too shaky). This camera style injects special effects and science fiction elements into the experience which creates a whole new level of appeal, but most importantly offers a different twist on the genre, as the audience is always looking very closely and very intently for something to happen… and plenty does. Other camera techniques, like the MNU soldier steady-cam, and situational humor bits, like a pig throw, add nice “icing on the cake” touches. This film has several themes and elements that illuminate several aspects of human nature and society.
A first time lead actor can often help put a fresh spin on a familiar genre. An actor who’s also an experienced filmmaker and has a long-standing relationship with director Blomkamp really elevates this already strong material. Sharlto Copley plays Wikus van der Merwe in a star-making role. As the plot progress, situations change, and by the film’s end, Copley impresses with a tour-de-force performance where his character, Wikus, remains the same person inside throughout his entire ordeal.
Wikus is a MNU (Multi-National United) bureaucrat who just became a field manager who must oversee a mass eviction of the aliens (a.k.a. prawns – a crude, derogatory term the locals use in describing the aliens’ basic features/appearance). He tries controlling a situation that no one has experienced before as filmmakers keep the logistics and situations realistic.
Initially, Wikus’ cell phone communication might be an exception to the realism. He’s smart enough to not use his cell phone, yet desperate enough to risk talking to the person at the other end.
Wikus knows his stuff, but learns he must assert himself throughout this extraordinary ordeal, which also involves a ruthless Nigerian gang that covets the aliens’ weaponry. This gang, lead by Obesandjo, even strikes trades with aliens (who really like cat food) to get what they want.
Wikus also has a lead assistant, played by Mandla Gaduka, who plays a small, yet important role in the plot’s aftermath.
The film retains the classic hero-villain rivalry where all antagonists, including a mercenary named Koobus (well played by newcomer David James), realize they shouldn’t force people beyond their limits and eliminate freedoms for selfish reasons.
The main alien character, Christopher Johnson (well voiced by Jason Cope), has a son and special missions he wants to accomplish when fate/coincidence brings Wikus to his doorstep twice. The women on hand include Vanessa Haywood, who plays Wikus’ wife Tania, and Nathalie Bolt, who provides some insight as sociologist Sarah Livingstone.
The plot gets political on a very general, yet personal level with strong visuals and easily understood situations while other details expand the political undertones. The visceral themes of survival often cut through the politics. Non-objective media coverage and hidden agendas create a wider appeal, especially for action fans, so the film appeals to several audience types. The special effects blend very well and they must because this film is shot in a documentary type style.
The overt theme of “paving the way to unity” covers the MNU’s real intent to harvest the aliens’ biologically engineered weapons. Filmmakers use a common setup twice. Actual characters are involved in incredible actions, while other characters enact opposing dialogue. The other side, doing the action, are always underestimated and depicted as inferior.
Canadian Clinton Shorter produces a great music score while several African musical artists, including Zola, PRO, Molemi, Jon & Drikson, and Zulu Mobb, contribute some solid songs.
You can’t avoid being reminded of related films like Star Wars, Minority Report, Robocop, and Cloverfield, plus the third act climax needs more originality — but District 9 has enough heart and power for a high recommendation. Rated R for bloody violence and pervasive language.
Blomkamp and producer/director Peter Jackson regrouped to create this film, based on Blomkamp’s 2005 short film “Alive in Joburg” after their Halo film collaboration was stopped short by studios Fox and Universal.
Copyright © Michael Siebenaler