District 9

2009-09-03 09:00
 

What it’s about:

We're in an alternate version of South Africa in which a giant alien ship and its cargo of leaderless insectoid aliens arrive in Johannesburg. The South African government is unsure of what to do with the starving and malnourished "prawns", who are promptly relocated to a township-like settlement called District 9. Twenty years later, with no advances in technology forthcoming and xenophobic tensions rising, the government contracts a private military company called Multinational United (MNU) to take charge of the aliens. The film follows moustachioed MNU bureaucrat Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley) as he is put in charge of a project to relocate the aliens yet again.

What we thought:

District 9 is, quite simply, the first proper South African blockbuster. Bleak and unforgiving, the film can be read on multiple levels. But audiences will simply enjoy the spectacle of the film, where grimy high technology and dusty Joburg townships mix in a dark, sci-fi action movie.

South African-born, Canadian-based director Neill Blomkamp’s visual effects background is on fine display here – gone are the shiny, clean robots of films like Transformers. The alien technology in District 9 is dirty and realistic. The depiction of the aliens, with their slimy insectile carapaces, never veers into the plastic voyeurism of more recent science fiction movies – they seem solid and weighty, and all the more realistic for it. Blomkamp does his best to emphasise this realism through his use of news footage and shaky handycam cinematography.

Copley gives an excellent performance as Wikus, complete with strong Afrikaans accent that just misses swerving into caricature. His transformation from bureaucrat to unwilling liberator never seems improbable. He’s helped by great performances from David James as MNU mercenary Koobus and Eugene Khumbanyiwa as a Nigerian gang lord who sells food to the aliens in exchange for weaponry.

 Blomkamp’s script takes care not to cast any character as the protagonist. By the end of the film, it’s still unclear whether Wikus is a decent guy or not. Similarly, the oppressed aliens are unpleasant and violent. They are neither good nor bad - just desperate.

As an action movie it succeeds – brutal, beautiful and oddly thoughtful. But the film also serves as an unsubtle metaphor for Apartheid and xenophobia, and it is on this level where District 9 is set apart. "One prawn, one bullet," sneers Koobus, as he puts a gun to the head of alien rebel Christopher Johnson (Jason Cope). Blomkamp may wish to de-emphasise the South African metaphor, but lines like that practically beg to be deconstructed. It’s the history of this country alright, and it ain’t subtle.

Does it work? Mostly. The film unsettles and disturbs, purposefully confronting viewers with images such as an Afrikaans bureaucrat leading aliens to freedom. But perhaps it depends on how much the viewer is willing to read into it. The film certainly doesn’t strive to paint the metaphor in too many shades of grey. It’s an action movie, after all, and even ex-South African Blomkamp admits he just wanted to "throw in" bits of his history.

On its own, the Apartheid metaphor is dissatisfying, but it lends remarkable credibility to the rest of the film, which is all the better for the lack of heroes, or easy answers. There is no resolution, says Blomkamp. Like life, District 9 is messy, but it’s a coherent mess.

The end result is an excellent and thoughtful alien action film – one that lives up to all the hype. Being set in Johannesburg is certainly a new perspective on the genre, and a treat for local audiences, but it doesn’t define the film, merely strengthens it.

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After all the hype, box office millions and universal acclaim, can District 9 deliver where it matters?

Frans Mosia 2009/08/27 10:05 AM
Big up South Africa finally we can reveal what we are made of.
Proud 2009/08/27 10:43 AM
Yay, yay and yay again. I'm SOOOOO proud. Wonder if more people will actually now now where Johannesburg is. Wouldn't bet on it however.
Gaelen 2009/08/27 10:53 AM
I am so proud. I can't wait to see it. I'm so proud lol I'll say it again if you like.
wiledog 2009/08/27 11:41 AM
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i read the comments on the Facebook group from people who've seen it overseas - and everyone is blown away! this is what great sci-fi ought to be, not the drivel it's become nowadays! well done to Neil Blomkamp and Peter Jackson!
Michelle 2009/08/27 11:43 AM
Can't wait to see it!!!!
Rene 2009/08/27 11:49 AM
Booked my tickets! I cannot wait! It's gonna be a blast.
Travis 2009/08/27 12:03 PM
It's hardly "the first proper South African blockbuster". Jamie Uys' "The Gods Must Be Crazy" was a mega-smash in the 80s, and it still commands a big worldwide audience on DVD and TV today. Also, it was a purely SA production, with no overseas financing and development. Please don't buy so easily into the hype!
brian 2009/08/27 12:19 PM
rubbish movie don't waist your money
Uncle 2009/08/27 12:59 PM
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@Brian, Travis, etc. - Please board the Quantas flight to Australia leaving this evening. We don't need people like you sucking our precious air. Oh and Brian...I think it's "waste", not "waist"...use it, don't use it, you know.
MP3 2009/08/27 1:03 PM
I thought it rocked. Go watch it. It's constantly got you thinking what's gonna happen next. Not like a lot of movies of today where u can predict almost whats gonna happen.
Jaco 2009/08/27 1:40 PM
I was so please to see that other people also detects the clear xenophobia message in this film. Can't wait for the release here. gonna be epic!
Dexterity 2009/08/27 1:58 PM
This trended on Twitter for over two weeks and has a simply awesome trailer and website - personally I can't wait: it looks lekker and clever. Brian: use the cash you save not seeing it to invest in some remedial English lessons. Then start saving for that trip to Oz...
Alpha_N1H1 2009/08/27 2:45 PM
I'll going to watch this tomorrow, hopefully it doesnt disapoint...
bob 2009/08/27 3:08 PM
D-9 = poop on a stick warmed up Utter rubbish
Thabo 2009/08/27 3:12 PM
Saw it last night. It was pure rubbish! It'll be a waste of money.... I say.
bob 2009/08/27 3:17 PM
I ask this one question, if somebody has an opinion about something and its negative...why do you then have a childish immature response as the following from @Brian, Travis, etc. - Please board the Quantas flight to Australia leaving this evening. We don't need people like you sucking our precious air. Oh and Brian...I think it's "waste", not "waist"...use it, don't use it, you know. Dear uncle get a life and please do me a favour go stick your head back into the sand in Poffadder where you most probably reside. The film is rubbish plain and simple...If an american states that a film is rubbish, he does not get told by his fellow country that he must pack his bags and leave for CANADA. Grow up and start respecting other peoples opinions or are only your opinions valid or an opinion or positive outcome...Further are we now giving englesh lessons to people to point that out you might have a better understanding of spelling and grammar...englesh is correct ize but know this...further just to inform you of an old saying....you can polish a turd but it remains a turd, cappish!!
trailertrash 2009/08/27 3:24 PM
to Bob and Thabo ( do i smell a rat here)....anyway to each his own!
shandy 2009/08/27 3:26 PM
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To Bob and Thabo ( do i smell a rat here) ..... anyway to each his own!
MovieFreak 2009/08/27 3:29 PM
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Also saw it last night and thought that it was quite good, but be prepared for lots of violence and torture scenes. Will defs not let kids see this - some scenes are way to disturbing.
Dof johnny 2009/08/27 3:29 PM
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Saw it last week. WAY better than the glitzy stuff served up as scifi by hollywood (at 3 times the price). Gritty and real and an enjoyable movie. Well done guys
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