Neill Blomkamp, USA, 2009, 112 min.
District 9 was the tits! It was absolutely awesome. What’s this? A summer flick that has not only some sweet battle scenes, but also a plot (what the?) and a theme(gasp!)?!?! Don’t Peter Jackson and Neill Blomkamp realize that it’s just a movie and as long as a bunch of shit blows up, the viewer won’t care if the actual plot of the movie is otherwise a festering pile of shit riddled with holes? The part of me that has been dying inside every summer with the proliferation of stupid, unintelligible Michael Bay-ish summer shitfests (I’m looking at you, Transformers and G.I. Joe) rejoiced and was given hope that perhaps, somewhere around the corner, the summer blockbuster will return to its roots of awesomeness instead of continuing the ugly trend of films whose plot exists solely to enable directors and demolitions experts to satiate their pornographic need for explosions.
The plot is relatively simple. Thirty years ago approximately 1 million aliens became stranded on Earth in the city of Johannesburg, South Africa. Unable to cope with vast cultural differences, the aliens were eventually relegated to their own separate slums just outside the city. Presently there are closer to 1.8 million of the aliens, who are now called Prawn because of their relative resemblance to the sea creature. Humans have yet to be able to find a happy balance with the creatures and, due in large part to public outcry, the prawn are to be evicted from their homes and moved to a new “settlement” 200km away from the city.
The movie begins the day before the prawn are scheduled to be evicted as Wikus Van Der Merwe leads a team in charge of serving the prawn their eviction notices. During the process he is exposed to a substance that alters his genetic structure, making him the most sought after and valuable object in Johannesburg and forcing him to choose between fulfilling his own selfish human desires or helping the prawn.
Like I said, this movie is awesome. The first half to three quarters of the movie is shot in a style very reminiscent of Cloverfield, only without the motion sickness inducing shakey-cam. It’s an interesting way to tell the story and lends itself to a peculiar sense of intimacy with the characters. Believe me, if even an emotionless shell like me feels connected with the characters on screen, the technique is doing it’s job.
District 9 also does a great job of relaying its theme. It certainly paints the human race in darker tones than most other films I can think of. I was worried about the possibility of a heavy handed handling of message of the film due to it being set in South Africa and having obvious parallels to apartheid, but those fears proved to be unfounded. While at certain points in the film there is literally not one likeable human character, I can’t say that any of the treatment the prawns received was historically inconsistent with the treatment experienced to this day by different minority groups around the globe. Neill Blomkamp does an excellent job of creating sympathy for this race of seemingly unlikable aliens without stretching the boundaries of reality (well, you know, aside from having them here in the first place).
District 9 rocks out with it’s immeasurably long cock out. It is everything a summer action movie should be (even though it only cost $30 million to make). The writing was tight, the characters were complex and the whole thing just flowed. Nothing felt forced at all. There was an actual causal relationship between the action sequences and other events in the film, it wasn’t just a bunch of “well, I’ve got a couple mill left in the budget, let’s blow some shit up!”.
I really don’t think that’s too much to ask of a summer flick, do you?