When an alien ship reaches Earth the place of first contact is Johannesburg, South Africa. The ship hangs quietly in the air doing nothing. After an amount of time people enter the ship and find thousands of aliens dying. They are rescued and punt into a camp, district 9. They are not allowed to leave the premises nor to reproduce. Basically district 9 is a modern day concentration camp with prawn-like aliens instead of Jews or black people. District 9 looks like an indie film but with a budget of 30 million dollars, CGI aliens and Peter Jackson as a producer it’s far from that.
And that Peter Jackson funded this flick is quite obvious. There isn’t a poster stating “Peter Jackson presents” and his name is one of the first on the credits. But funding is just putting up some cash, the real credit goes to Neill Blomkamp who wrote and directed this movie that has gotten critical applause almost universally, applause that has been deserved as District 9 is a fresh take on aliens visiting us. This time they’re refugees who receive asylum in South Africa. They are second rate citizens to say the least. Locked up in District 9 they have rules to follow and their living conditions are poor. Their favorite food is cat-food and they will trade anything for it. The latest alien weapons technology is available for just 100 cans of cat-food. Luckily the alien weapons are triggered by their DNA so it’s useless to us humans.
The movie starts of with Wikus van der Merwe who has the task to forcibly evict the population to a new district outside of the town. This is all filmed in a documentary style like The Office. Wikus shows us in a misplaced jolly tone how he stumbles upon a nest of alien eggs and how they torch them to ashes. He makes us aware of the popping sound describing it like “just as popcorn”. Disgusting in a way but he just doesn’t know any better. We do the same thing when insects cause a plague. Things change when Wikus comes into contact with an alien biochemical substance and starts changing slowly into a prawn himself. The company he works for is now interested in him in a way he doesn’t like and seeing things now from a prawns perspective changes a lot.
The movie shifts in the second half to a normal film losing the documentary style. This happens unnoticeable and before you know it we’re in a alien version of Enemy Of The State with Markus being hunted by the people he worked for and making friends with the creatures he mistreated.
Blomkamp avoids the trap of getting too political correct and gives us a movie that actually makes us care for the hideous creatures. The latter isn’t too hard as the creatures themselves are mostly shown as victims and the humans as hostiles with a nauseating rulebook. The movie has a gritty look which makes it all the more realistic. Don’t expect any slick Michael Bay-like shots although the last part of the movie does consist of action scenes echoing a movie like Aliens. The location Johannesburg is also very original as for once the aliens do not enter earth’s atmosphere above a big American city or Paris.
District 9 is an engaging sci-fi movie and it is one of those dream-debuts that happen every once in a while for Neil Blomkamp. I’m wondering what he will come up with next. If it’s as good as District 9 he might be the next Spielberg or Jackson. The movie will probably not be to everybody’s tastes, but then again: what movie is? My girlfriend walked out on it after 20 minutes. Her loss I guess, as District 9 is probably the most engaging sci-fi movie of the year.