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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

District 9 - A Review



My own internal reaction to this film was so exciting that I completely forgot that I had hit a bollard with the side of my car on my way to see it! Thankfully, like the film, there were no dents to be seen...

This is one of those flicks where you see the trailer and you think, WOW I HAVE to see this movie... usually you see such a film and you walk away realising you have fallen for the same boring old story, retold a million times by Hollywood film makers. Not this time. District 9 disembarks from Hollywood regurgitation, it is wonderfully disgusting in its satisfyingly realistic view of Human Nature and portrayal of alien weaponry that turns a human into instant splatter puss. Not since the very first Predator Movie or Alien have I seen such a stirring and blood curdling piece of sci-fi story telling. There is nothing ordinary about this legendary piece of work and the bar for Science Fiction has been raised forever.

This is certainly a film for grown ups.

Director Neil Blomkamp was originally ivited by Peter Jackson to Direct the film version of the best computer game series ever (I'm biased) - Halo. When that project got shelved he was given the green light, and green paper, to expand his short film "Alive in Joburg" into the feature that became D9.

Take a gander at this so you can get a taste of what I am about to beat you up with:



Just like in "Alive in Joburg", District 9 makes good use of "real" camera work, kind of like in the Blair Witch Project, where the camera is mostly hand held, only like in a fast paced documentary.In fact most of the film is a mocumentary, only it seems to chop and change between this style and the conventional methods of cinematography.

It gets straight into it too, there is no pussy-footing around; right from the first scene you are aware of this massive alien vessel above Johannesburg, South Africa where more than 20 years ago it just appeared and after nothing happened for a few days the government send a team to break it open, only to discover it full of malnourished insectohumanoid aliens that are "rescued" only to become the outcasts of society. The people of Joburg want nothing to do with them and eventually they are delegated a small slum, which becomes known as District 9, by the private company Multi-National United.

It begins as a sort of "Day in the Life" of Wikus van der Merwe, your friendly alien-human social worker as he leads a team of MNU employees and Government soldiers in an effort to evict the Prawns (the derogatory name society has given the aliens) to District 10, a sort of glorified concentration camp. It almost plays like an episode of Cops until Wikus crosses paths with Christopher Johnson, an intelligent Prawn with a plan to get back to the mother ship by collecting fuel from alien technology. Only his plan fails when Wikus accidentally squirts himself with the fuel...

And so the fun begins.

You see, the aliens could just go home but they're being kept here for a sinister purpose. MNU have stock piled alien weaponry which can only be used by Prawns. No Human can get the darn things to do anything... that is until Wikus' DNA is manipulated by the Alien fuel, transforming in gradual fashion this geeky pen pusher into something that would best suit a commercial for insecticide.

Now I have watched a lot of Star Trek style Science Fiction where the Human species is uplifted to an almost godlike position. Where words like "Humanity" and "Dignity" are tennised about by players convinced that we're all basically good and sometimes do a little bit of evil. Its so sickeningly unromantic; this idea that human beings are going to get there on their own eventually. In District 9 we see the complete opposite - Human Beings doing Human things, evil things to a disadvantaged group of people, despised on account of their being different. MNU perform heinous experiments on the Prawns to get what they want and even Wikus is put on the chopping block for the sake of technological and financial advancement. Greed is god and the Prawns are just commodities. Mankind is evil with the capacity to only sometimes do good, and as Wikus becomes one of them and looses his humanness, only then does his true "humanity" rare its not so ugly head. It resounds with "All have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God" (Roman's 3:23) and bares a strong resemblance to the crimes of the real Nazi's of yesteryear...

I thought I would never say this but the CGI in this film was awesomely cool. Most modern pictures flood the screen with computer graphics that leave you wondering why you paid $15 to see something you could have seen on the telly with your kids during Saturday morning Cartoons. Blomkamp got the balance just right and gently massaged the Special Effects into the feature so that you wouldn't be distracted by the fakeness of it all. Its like a woman who looks beautiful wearing lipstick as opposed to the other beautiful plastic chick who grabs your affectionate gaze just long enough to terrify you when her nose falls off.

Blomkamp also succeeded in creating a situation where the aliens came to a country that wasn't America, there were no Greenpeacers citing Alien Rights and there were no dorky honorable Soldierly salutes at the end that made you want to gag. This movie is raw, serrated and tells it like it is, even if it wasn't.

Be warned, violence is more than a eight letter word in this film and there is plenty of the four letter word that starts with "F" in it, only the South African accents made it hard to distinguish at times. I think this may be a boys film but the story may be enough to attract a female audience - although the many scenes of decapitation, mutilation and cat-food eating may set the squeamish screaming. There was one bit where Wikus tries to cut off his alien arm with a short axe and someone in our test audience actually cried out, "Don't do it!" before I could.

After its release date on August 13th this film will be bathing under a fountain of fantastic reviews.

I give it a 9 out of 10, simply because I have never seen anything quite like it. In fact I haven't felt this way about a film since the days when only the rich had VCRs and seeing a movie was a special and expensive thing. I tip the hat I am not wearing to Blomkamp and hope to see more of his imagination on reels again soon.


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