Directed by Niel Blomkamp
South Africa has been to hell and back during the past century. Famine, corruption, AIDS and the apartheid era have seriously hindered the country’s chances of becoming a serious player within the African continent. A few years ago, local director Neill Blomkamp produced a short film entitled Alive in Joburg, a 6-minute science fiction “documentary” that would eventually be expanded to become District 9. The aforementioned short was so well made that Peter Jackson commissioned Blomkamp to direct the ill-fated Halo movie, but when that project fell through, Jackson felt that his South African counterpart should have another shot at directing a full-length film.
His enlarged gut was right on the money. Produced by WingNut Films, District 9 is one of those rare action gems that don’t come along very often. In it, Blomkamp expands upon the themes that were touched upon in Alive in Joburg, especially apartheid. Under the guise of a giant alien slum, District 9 explores racism, segregation and cultural differences, the very problems that plague civilizations all over the world.
When a large number of aliens (more than a million) have been quarantined smack in the middle of Johannesburg, the locals get restless. They demand for relocation and they eventually get their wish when the MNU, a large multinational arms manufacturer, takes control of the ‘camp’ and decides to relocate its inhabitants 200km outside the city. However, this isn’t as easy at it seems. The aliens have been confined to this slum-like environment for more than two decades, and they don’t exactly want to leave. Subsequently, a fruitless effort to have them sign eviction notices sparks a massive riot and MNU’s own renegade security is called in.
Meanwhile, one man has been put in charge of relocating the aliens, Wikus van der Merwe (played brilliantly by Sharlto Copley). His main task is to overlook the entire operation and to hand out eviction notices. By signing them the aliens essentially ‘agree’ to move, thereby rendering the process ‘legal.’ Merwe and the MNU couldn’t care less about the aliens’ welfare, and they continuously treat them like animals as they are being rounded up.
Copley’s performance is absolutely worthy of high-praise. In the first half of the movie he plays an abrasive, narrow-minded twit whose power trip gets him into deep trouble. A mysterious black sludge is sprayed into his face and a few hours later, he is taken to hospital. There he realizes that his left hand has turned into a claw, and while it would be irresponsible of me to tell you more, it sure is tempting! I felt deep resentment for Merwe until about midway through the film (he refers to the aliens as ‘prawns’, a derogatory term) and then, I slowly found myself empathizing with him and his condition. By the end of the movie I (and the rest of the room) was rooting for him, and that is a testament to the fantastic writing by Neill Blomkamp. Any director who can make me feel ecstatic, stressed, angry and sad in the same movie is a genius.
The seamless CGI integration reveals shades of Peter Jackson’s guidance and the editing is superb. Often, I was completely immersed in the film, entirely oblivious to the fact that half of what I was seeing was animated. If you were impressed with the exosuit in Aliens, this will blow you away. Blomkamp has definitely earned his wings, so to speak, with this effort.
Ultimately, Blomkamp’s film can be interpreted in many different ways. I hope his audiences get the main, underlying message though, which is that people of different ethnicities worldwide aren’t getting along, and it’s all a matter of miscommunication and lack of information. Here, the aliens are sequestered and unable to leave; subsequently, the citizens of Johannesburg see them as intruders and urge them to go. You wouldn’t have to travel too far to see something like that in real life. District 9 is as close to perfection as it gets for an action film, and you should definitely catch it when it opens this weekend.