District 9 is the kind of science fiction we deserve. The main character is a spineless racist who is only really concerned with his own well-being and the love of his wife, the plot takes logical steps to elevate the situation towards an action-packed climax, but the whole ordeal grows out of a classic aliens-as-metaphor conceit.
Best of all, the flick doesn’t feel like it’s pulling any punches or taking any leaps of faith to trick you into liking it. It’s a bold debut film and, with the exception of Duncan Jones’ Moon, the only science fiction film that feels like it’s ready to join the family of classics without depending on becoming a box office smash over a few weeks. District 9 might be my favorite movie of the year thus far, and I don’t want to spoil the experience I had by blowing the film’s wad in plot description and details.
That being said…
Decades ago, an alien ship appeared over Johannesburg, South Africa. It stopped and hovered until the inhabitants of Earth finally cut through its hull, revealing malnourished and starving aliens living in their own filth. It seems that the leadership of the race had died and the remaining aliens, dubbed “prawns” because of their lobster/grasshopper like appearance, we stranded here.
As part of a seemingly philanthropic gesture, the prawns were moved to District 9 in South Africa where they have lived until present day. District 9 has become a slum and the residents of Johannesburg are less than thrilled with their extraterrestrial neighbors. The aliens have brought weaponry, though it’s mostly been confiscated and cannot be operated by any non-alien due to DNA recognition technology that is beyond our understanding. What weapons are left are quickly gobbled up by Nigerian slum-lords who run District 9’s black market and crime syndicate (including prostitution, which – thank God – we never have to watch).
Finally, public uproar is heard and MNU, a faceless bureaucratic company combined with a Blackwater like militia, is charged with evicting the residents of District 9 and moving them to a new camp with a more organize, concentration camp feel. Put in charge of this operation is Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley), a character who initially looks better suited to be guest-starring on the British incarnation of The Office than running this sort of large-scale, possibly illegal operation.
Wikus burns prawn babies and finds some illegal caches of weapons…and something else.
What happens to Wikus kicks the story off running and the fauxumentary look of the beginning of the film, complete with expert interviews, melts away so we can follow some amazing action set pieces and CGI aliens with hand-held, in the moment action beats. When everything finally simmers down, we get a coda in the documentary style, bookending an intimate experience with wide-world implications.
This is the debut film from Neill Blomkamp, the fine young gentleman who was all ready to direct the Halo movie before that fell apart (now that responsibility lies with Steven Spielberg), and it shows. The action is frenetic and full of tech, the camera is occasionally mounted to soldiers as they spin around corners, guns ready and some of the alien weaponry looks like a video game made manifest. I’m so sad Blomkamp says he won’t do Halo. His prepping for the movie shows, and his series of three Halo live-action shorts titled “Arms Race” have a lot of similar looking action to District 9.
Although it gets dangerously close to spoilers, I will only say that District 9 does leave room for a sequel, but I really hope no one thinks that’s a good idea. A $30 million dollar debut feature has been executed about as well as anyone could, and – like classic science fiction before it – all of our questions don’t need to be answered, they just need to be asked.
District 9 is amazing and because the joy of discovering it is part of the magic, this review is mediocre. Go see it when you can, then I would suggest THIS All Things Fan Girl article for your post-D9 reading.