Monday, September 21, 2009

District 9

District 9

  • Released Internationally on 13/08/09
  • Released in Malta by KRS on 09/09/09 (how appropriate)

In a nutshell

Blurring the line between immigrants and aliens, this original and gripping science-fiction film from South Africa puts extra-terrestrials in a whole new light.


The film wastes no time in presenting the striking image of an enormous spacecraft hovering ominously over the Johannesburg skyline. The engaging mock-documentary style mixes in a few interviews with news footage to quickly explain how 28 years ago this massive mothership appeared in the sky, came to standstill, and then did nothing. After much debate, we humans decided to break in, and a million weak, malnourished and generally docile aliens were found inside. With the eyes of the world watching, the South African government did the noble thing and gave them asylum in a fenced district – District 9.

Illegal immigrants

The metaphor for illegal immigration is immediately apparent, also thanks to not-so-subtle imagery. The aliens are treated by Johannesburg residents as a drain on resources, a nuisance, and a potential source of crime and danger. The town is full of signs prohibiting their entrance, they are nicknamed ‘prawns’ due to their appearance, and as the years go by the government is pressured into somehow getting rid of them. A huge eviction campaign is started, with plans to shift the entire prawn population to a ‘tent city’ far from the city centre.

Wikus Van De Merwe

During the opening documentary-style scenes, we are given a quick tour of the operation headquarters by a geeky-looking type who seems eager to impress. Wikus (impressive newcomer Sharlto Copley) is put in charge of the evacuation, thanks to some good old favouritism, and we join him on the much-advertised first day of the project. The replies his fellow colleagues give during interviews give us a sense that something is going to go incredibly wrong, but we are initially in the dark as to the nature or scale of the problem.

The issues at stake

Besides the focus on tensions between locals and immigrants, the film also delves into the artillery issue, with large corporations putting lives at risk in the search for dominance in the weapons market. These dubious ethics and the overriding racial conflicts manage to lift this film high above similar outings in the genre. The middle section of the film relies less on the documentary style and progresses like a thoroughbred sci-fi action film, but the hand-held camera work and overall style maintain the sense of realism and urgency that makes this film so distinctive.

Who’s in it?

Young South African director and visual effects artists Neill Blomkamp made a short film in 2005 entitled ‘Alive in Joburg’ (available online here). This film is a development of that 6-minute film into a fuller story, and was made with support from Peter Jackson’s production company. There are no big names on show, nor are they missed. The two principal actors both contributed to the original short, and they do a fine job, as do all the cast and crew. The visual effects are effective without ever being overdone, and the sparse score is a fine finishing touch.

In the end

Whilst borrowing concepts from Aliens, Independence Day and even The Fly, this film stands out as wonderfully original film, and should also appeal to those not usually drawn towards sci-fi. One of the best films of the year, and hopefully the start of a fruitful and entertaining directing career.


Trailer: (High-res Quicktime)

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