**** (out of 5)
August 14, 2009
Sharlto Copley as WIKUS VAN DE MERWE
Jason Cope as GREY BRADNAM
David James as KOOBUS VENTER
Mandla Gaduka as FUNDISWA MHLANGA
William Allen Young as DIRK MICHAELS
Studio: Screen Gems
Directed by: Neill Blomkamp
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
The science fiction genre offers some incredible tools for writers and filmmakers. It allows them to take contemporary and real-world problems and get an audience to think about them without pointing the finger so strongly at ourselves, making things less personal and allowing us to be more comfortable with the issues at hand.
Sure, sometimes science fiction films can be preachy in this manner. However, when done properly, they can be incredibly thought-provoking and, while difficult to accept at times, lets us look at our own actions in a new light.
“District 9” achieves this, making it more than just a standard summer science fiction film. The movie embodies speculative fiction, taking a real-world situation, applying it to a fantastic concept and then seeing how it makes us feel.
Oh, and there’s also some great action, excellent special effects and a wicked-cool alien weapon that blows a lot of shit up, too. So you “Transformers 2” nuts out there can enjoy it as well.
The film tells the story of the fictional District 9 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Here is where the government has been keeping a large population of aliens, colloquially called “prawns.” These prawns came to earth decades ago in a massive mother ship, which has been sitting dormant since its arrival. Because their social structure had fallen apart, the prawns are kept in this giant refugee camp where crime runs rampant.
Wikus Van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley) is a government bureaucrat who has been put in charge of evacuating District 9. When he enters the camp to force residents from their homes, he comes in contact with a mysterious liquid, which infects him and starts a metamorphosis. Soon, Wikus finds himself a target of the government, and he goes on the run. When he seeks refuge in District 9, he forms an unexpected bond with a prawn that helps him with certain conditions attached.
The film is inspired by a real-life situation that happened in South Africa decades ago when the leadership ousted 60,000 people from a section of the inner city. Even if you aren’t familiar with the original story (which you can learn about by Googling “District Six”), you will understand the similarities of racial – or in the film’s case, species – separation under a regime.
But “District 9” is more than just an allegory of apartheid-era South Africa. It also has a lot to say about culture clashes in general and the ugly side of human nature. It sends a message about not trusting your own government (which is not a bad message to send) as well as how we as a species look at anyone who is largely different from us.
What makes “District 9” work so effectively is the documentary style in which it is shot. We’ve had a lot of these types of films made over the years – from “The Blair Witch Project” to last year’s “Cloverfield.” However, director Neill Blomkamp makes the bold decision to not just make the film told from a cameraman’s point of view. He uses first-person camera perspective, but he also shoots private scenes and action sequences with the same style but not from the documentary viewer’s eye.
What results is a film with a fiercely visceral feel, but one that still plays out like a regular movie and not some film school project featuring an overzealous cameraman armed with batteries that never seem to expire, who will shoot everything, including his own demise (like the aforementioned “Cloverfield” and last year’s “Quarantine”).
“District 9” has enough thrills and explosions to work as a mainstream science fiction action film, but it should also make you speculate on whether the human race’s reaction to these events would be any different were the story real.