Directed by Neill Blomkamp
Produced by Peter Jackson
It can be debated whether the quintessential science fiction film has stood the test of time, but when it comes to aliens, they stand as a genre all on their own. The seventies brought us Alien (1979), the eighties brought us E.T. (1982) and the nineties brought us, well, Independence Day (1996) (no matter how cool he is, Jeff Goldblum will always look alien-like). However, in recent years the alien film has somehow become a carbon copy remake of past classics, only with better special effects (i.e. War of the Worlds (2005), Day the Earth Stood Still (2008) and so on). If audiences want to see an original alien picture, the only option they have nowadays is to see the newest animated family flick. But alien lovers, rejoice! District 9 is what we’ve been waiting for.
While traveling to Earth, an extraterrestrial spaceship breaks down over the South African city of Johannesburg. After twenty years of residence, the alien colony, also known as prawns, is forced to live in a sectioned-off, slum-like area of the city, known as District 9. Conflict ensues when Multi-National United (MNU), a private company designated to study the colony, is committed to evict the creatures into concentration camps and make off with their alien weaponry.
Unlike most recent sci-fi films, District 9 does not take advantage of its audience by hiding the alien species from sight. Instead, the creatures are in your face, creating their own interactive persona on screen. The prawns resemble a hybrid of marine crustacean and human, walking on inverted bent knees, speaking a dialect of clicking tongues behind a tendril covered mouth with their stature reaching over seven feet. But what is captivating about the creatures is their human-like expression of emotion. They show pain, anger and frustration. Not since E.T. have we felt such strong sympathy for alien creatures.
The film does itself a favor by taking its time revealing its antagonists; we do not know too much of the prawns, so why should we side with them? But it is only in the first, fast-paced 15 minutes of the film that we become witness to the harrowing treatment of the aliens brought on by humans, eerily similar to the stories we hear in news stories every day. The prawns live in rundown decaying shacks, surrounded by filth with very little to eat and are being forced out of their homes. Although a distinct political allegory can be detected regarding the treatment of a different race, the film restrains itself from being too preachy. But it is still, at times, hard to watch.
The film also brings viewers a breath of fresh air by shooting on location in Johannesburg. Unlike your run-of-the-mill alien film, we are not surrounded by the unrealistic American life with a Manhattan or Washington backdrop. Instead, we are given the opportunity to see an historic parallel to the residential representation of Johannesburg, primarily when it comes to the gritty physicality of the racially segregated neighborhoods.
Newcomer Sharlto Copley’s performance as protagonist Wikus Van De Merwe is brilliantly executed. His portrayal of the bumbling, annoyingly chipper, idiot-savant torn between his professional duty and his own well being is something new to the screen that audiences have never seen. He is the ‘nobody’ who transforms himself into ‘somebody,’ and ‘something,’ along the way. Merwe’s performance alone is something to behold.
For a first-time feature director, Neill Blomkamp has created an astonishingly original experience. Part documentary, part science fiction and a healthy tinge of action, District 9 is by far one of the best films this summer and one of the best alien films to come along in over a decade. Go and see this movie. All humans are welcome.