Sometimes a movie comes along and you hear good things about it beforehand. Try as you might, if you are like me, you try to put those reviews aside. Again, if you are like me, the good buzz gets you a little more pumped up, but if it builds your expectations up too high, well, it can only disappoint. Therefore, I did everything I could to not let my expectations get too high before going in to see the new sci-fi movie “District 9.” It is so nice when a movie lives up to its hype and then manages to surpass it.
You’ve probably seen the commercials. The premise is that, 28 years ago, a giant spaceship came to rest hovering over the city of Johannesburg South Africa. It sat there doing nothing for some time before humans cut their way into the ship. What they found there were over a million starving, scared and desperate aliens. These aliens were then brought to earth but, soon, they were put into a kind of ghetto, surrounded by fences, guards and wire, and then completely segregated from the rest of humanity. The ship was damaged and could not move and it just sat there, over Johannesburg, while the residents who had been on the ship were treated more and more like animals and creatures not worth saving. Now humans are sick of the aliens being even in such close proximity and a plan has been made to move them to a new place, 200 miles from the city, called District 10.
A company called MNU, one of the largest weapons manufacturers on the planet, has been assigned the task of handling the move. The man put in charge of the eviction is a weasely, nervous-looking man who happens to be married to MNU’s daughter, named Wikus van der Mewe (played by Sharlto Copley). He has to venture in and actually get the aliens to sign release forms agreeing to the move even though they are all going to get moved anyway. The movie starts as a kind of documentary as they follow Wikus into District 9 and see him confront the aliens. He is a man who does not like these creatures. Like most he fears them. When he comes across a house filled with alien eggs he shows noticeable delight at setting it on fire and the popping sounds the eggs make as they burn.
However, while traveling around he stumbles across a cylinder. He tampers with it and ends up sprayed with a mysterious black fluid. Before too long Wikus has grown an alien hand. This delights MNU, including his father-in-law because no one can get the alien weapons to work. They function on DNA and only and alien can cause them to work. Well, now Wikus is both and he can get it to work. Suddenly, he is very valuable.
Meanwhile, an alien who has taken the name Christopher Johnson, and his son, have come up with a way to get back home. They know how to get the mothership started again. The hope for their kind rests in the mysterious black fluid in that cylinder and now only Wikus can help him get that cylinder back.
This movie is a stunner. This movie grabs you by the throat and then never, not once, lets go. It is filled with no-named actors, who mostly improvised their lines, and the movie feels like something that is unfolding right in front of you. It manages to be horrifying, funny, touching, thrilling, exciting, breathtaking, dazzling and heart-warming all within a span of two hours. Yes, this is another movie extending past the two hour mark, but you will not once notice the time as it flies by.
The film is a first-time effort of Neill Blomkamp. He did a number of commercials and then a short film that is the basis of District 9. Copley played the same character in that short film. Blomkamp has come under the wing of Peter Jackson, and Jackson’s advances in using motion-capture to make the aliens appear alive is utilized here. This is not a huge special effects movie. In short, this is not the Transformers. This is a smart movie, with powerful images, and a character that you do not like at first and then you see him change as the movie moves forward. By the end you are rooting for him and the aliens. Blomkamp, I hope, will be around for along time and do even bigger and better things soon.
These aliens are not pretty. They are called Prawns by the humans because they are considered bottom-feeders (aliens also are addicted to cat food), and because they, well, they look a bit like prawns. For fans of Futurama, imagine a skinny, less-comedic Doctor Zoidberg and you have some idea of what they look like. The communicate in a series of clicks. The alien Christopher Johnson even has a son with big wide eyes that somehow manages to be cute despite the tentacles hanging over its mouth.
Of course there are parallels to be drawn between the way South Africa treated blacks when they were under Apartheid. But this is a movie that is not simply there trying to beat you over the head with it. This is a very exciting movie that travels along like a speeding train. I was very literally on the edge of my seat by the time the movie ended. I was rooting for the aliens and I was hoping for the best for Wikus, a character that was so unlikeable at the beginning.
Too many summer movies are just full of explosions for the sake of explosions. The robots in Transformers, when they fought, are just a mish-mash of metal that is impossible to follow. District 9 even has a Transformers-like robot fighting machine that manages to look real, and behave in a way that you can almost believe could be how such a machine might work. This movie has plenty of explosions, and plenty of gore. It will satisfy on all levels for those looking for a thrill and those looking for something deeper.
District 9 is a truly remarkable achievement