Tuesday, October 13, 2009

District 9 (2009)

Movie quotes:

"When dealing with aliens, try to be polite, but firm. And always remember that a smile is cheaper than a bullet."
- Automated MNU Instructional Voice

MNU Agent: MNU! We're serving eviction notices.
Alien: What is ‘eviction’?

At a glance:
Director Neill Blomcamp’s first feature length film is a gritty, action-packed, and ‘realistic’ appraisal of humankind’s most expected reaction to the presence of drastically non-human aliens in their midst

Our review (with spoilers):
Johannesburg, South Africa is the unlikely entry point for the first Earth visit from extraterrestrials. A massive ship hovers over the city for months, taking no action and showing no signs of life, before it is finally raided from below. Its starving ‘cricket-like’ occupants appeared to be rejects from another world, and they are treated as such on Earth as well. They are held in an internment camp near Johannesburg. This decrepit shack city quickly deteriorates into a slum. When the residents of Johannesburg tire of the behavior that these violent scavenging aliens bring, a mass force eviction is planned to move the creatures 200 miles north to a new tent camp.

The man sent in to command the operation, Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley), is as prejudiced as anyone. He’s probably a moderate – he’s derogatory, and has no qualms about illegally moving the aliens as long as there is a token effort made to make it look like it is legal. To his credit, he wants to do it without violence. While inspecting an alien’s shack, a small metal device sprays his face with a black fluid. De Merwe gets progressively more ill. Admitted to hospital, his arm turns into an alien claw. This is big news for the MNU, the alien wrangling / arms dealing multinational that employs him. They whisk him away and perform tests that prove De Merwe can now fire the aliens’ advanced DNA-specific laser guns. De Merwe is quickly sentenced to death by operation, his body to be unceremoniously harvested for organs and DNA, and then sold on the open market at great value.

While fleeing from his death sentence, De Merwe is sheltered by an alien (Christopher Johnson) and his son. Christopher, one of the most technically advanced aliens, has a plan to rescue his comrades and cure De Merwe.

District 9 paints an ugly picture of how humans might treat a visit from aliens. The documentary-style vision is bleak – and it’s probably a realistic appraisal of how humans would actually react. The aliens are grossly different in appearance. Humans hate and distrust those who are different. It is fair to say that the more differences, the greater the hate and distrust. Apartheid is used to isolate the aliens – in fact, the shacks used in the film are existing shacks from an apartheid area of Johannesburg. Most refreshingly, the film also scrupulously avoids any attempts at sentimentality via anthropomorphism.

District 9’s powerful themes cannot help but overpower their execution, especially when the budget was so small. The movement of the aliens suffers from obvious low-budget CGI constraints. Those comments aside, I have rarely finished watching a movie and been as keen for a sequel as I was at the end of District 9. The touching and open-ended conclusion cries out for more. And encouragingly, director Neill Blomcamp has already mentioned the ‘S’ word.

Rating:  3 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"District 9 is a ferocious fable. Potent and provocative, it is an allegory for our time. It is bursting with contemporary themes -- oppression, greed, power, propaganda, and the conflict of disparate cultures."
- Tony Macklin (tonymacklin.net)

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