Posted on 11/28/09 09:37 AM
With Quentin Tarantino?s ?Inglorious Basterds? to be released this coming Friday, the summer movie season is finally making its close. Has it been good? For the most part it hasn?t been, but this does not come as a surprise. I gave some summer blockbuster?s a chance. I sat down and watched ?Terminator Salvation.? After viewing it I promised myself I would not see ?Transformers 2″ or ?G.I. Joe.? ?District 9″ was appealing for many reasons. Its marketing campaign kept the film mysterious and intriguing, never giving too much away like other trailers have done this year (?The Lovely Bones?, ?Shutter Island?). Peter Jackson, the man behind the infamous ?Lord of the Rings? trilogy had his name slapped on as a producer. And finally, the film?s documentary style, shown in the compelling trailer, gave the alien project a fresh, but gritty appearance. I?ve had conversations with people who have claimed this thing to be the next coming of alien centric movie-making. Lets not jump the gun here. This is a very audacious and ambitious directorial debut for Neill Blomkamp, but ?District 9″ does not go without some minor flaws.
There is a spacecraft hovering over Johannesburg, South Africa in 1982. It has been there for three months, and nothing has come out of it. We send helicopters to investigate and find an alien race; starved, sick, and in need of great help. There ship has run into technical problems and we are the only ones, humans, who can help them. The film is told, as I aforementioned, in a documentary style. There are interviews with various people connected to the handling of the alien situation. 20 years have passed, and the company in charge of the camp where the aliens are being transported to is called MNU (Multi-National United), a company that specializes in weapons. The camp is called District 9. With the over-crowded aliens in a segregated area, the camps now resemble slums, think ?City of God? by way of ?Men in Black.? Nigerian drug lords have over run the camp, setting up a black market to make profit off this ugly looking alien race.
The film begins to reveal its central plot when focusing on Wikus, a newly promoted MNU field operative. His task is to relocate the 1.8 million aliens living in District 9 to a new area called District 10. He has backing from MNU private security forces. Wikus has clumsy and clownish behavior. He is not very careful when approaching the aliens about their evictions. At this point he seems to only care about making his father-in-law happy, the man who promoted him. Eventually Wikus finds himself in a mess of trouble. He becomes the worlds most wanted man, gaining the ability to operate alien technology, something the government and the slum lords have been looking to achieve for quite some time. Saying good-bye to his wife and the friends he leaves behind, Wikus finds his inner ?Dances With Wolves? and begins to form an unlikely friendship between an alien, or prawn if you will, by the name of Christopher Johnson.
?District 9″ dazzles with not only action, but an ingenious back story. The documentary style shown here is superb. It was a terrific way to introduce an alternate time line, further enhancing the authenticity and jarring rawness. Blomkamp captures some terrifying shots here. The aliens are disgusting to look at, resembling giant cockroaches. It is truly amazing to see these things, in millions, running around the district. It?s like watching a giant ant hill blown up for the big screen. Although Blomkamp awkwardly handles the language barrier (or lack there of) between human and alien, it is riveting to see the behavior these prawns exhibit. Some have justifiably said it is clearly unexplained why some aliens obey and act like civilized humans, and others resemble chaotic and savagery behavior. Can you ask the same question for humans? There are alien rights activists, and others who want to harvest alien DNA in order to operate there technology. The Nigerians go as far as to eat dead prawns to gain the ability to fire there advanced weapons.
The third act begins to drop some of the more intelligent aspects in its arsenal and raises the bar in terms of action sequences. Some of these shots are brilliant. Humans explode with a single fire of a weapon, and there is plenty of blood splatter to satisfy the more gore hungry crowd. The chase scenes are overlong but tense and nerve racking. Although I have not seen Michael Bay?s ?Transformers? sequel I have a hunch that many moviegoers are going to urge Bay to sit down and take notes from this first time director, whose first film here surpasses everything the veteran Bay has ever crafted.
Furthermore, I believe one of the more over-looked gems of the film is the characterization of Wikus. Blomkamp almost dares you to hate this guy in the beginning. Yes, he is funny but not in a way you would expect. If you Googled pencil pusher his image would probably be the first to pop up on the computer screen. Although he begins to form a friendship with Johnson as the film progresses, he never truly sympathizes with these prawns until the very end. He seems to be in it only for himself, and to keep this trait disguised but true-to-life was a remarkable achievement. Also, he fails to conform to the formula of overnight action heroes. Sure he blows stuff up, but he blows stuff up in the most clumsy way possible. He is a walking, talking, office working idiot. And I could not have had it any other way.
I think ?District 9″ is best remembered for its rich political allegory. It is not hard to think of the Nazi?s and the concentration camps, apartheid and the segregation in South Africa. Although its intentions are strong it is never overbearing. This is not a preachy film like ?Crash? where the message is shoved down your throat to the point of exhaustion. This is an action packed, horrifying science fiction film that comes very close to instant classic territory. Save for Wikus and Christopher Johnson, there are not many characters here that are fully developed. Watching the journey of Johnson was great, but there are approximately 1.8 million aliens inhabiting the area. I get why some aliens act differently from others on theory, but I wanted to get to know some of these prawns. When you present an interesting alien race I want to know everything about them, how they think, what there motives are, etc. We get one but I wanted more. Despite some very minor quibbles, ?District 9″ is a must see. It?s an original piece of work, something Blomkamp, a student of the producer Peter Jackson, should be proud of.