District 9 Review
“Humans Only”, or so go the signs that pepper Johannesburg, South Africa in the film District 9, the name of a slum in which 1.8 million refugee aliens who apparently ran out of fuel wound up. Our story begins as something of a documentary with a couple seemingly random people explaining this interesting and, perhaps more importantly for the “alien invasion” genre, extremely original back story.
The creatures are derogatorily called “prawns” and obvious parallels to the racist system of Apartheid are drawn. The plot kicks into gear when our hero, Wiklus Van Der Merwe, is hired by the private contracting company MNU to go into District 9 and give every resident an eviction notice and, for some ridiculous reason that makes no sense, make them sign a form to that effect.
Well, naturally, things go wrong. And this actually turns out to be a film in three acts, a rare feat for any movie these days, much less one that the phrase “CGI” could even be tangentially related to. To start the second, our hero comes into contact with a substance that makes him very sick and, before long, start to slowly transform into one of the “prawns.” This makes him very valuable to MNU, as it turns out the creature's weapons are designed to respond only to their DNA. So they capture him, perform some torturous experiments, and then he, naturally, escapes their compound and has to learn how to survive in District 9. This act stretches the imagination a little and even provides some humor when MNU puts out Wanted Ads complete with a doctored photo saying that he has been having unprotected sex with the aliens.
Act 3 is a bit of a decline, but still very worth it. Here, Van Der Merwe has allied with another alien (who didn't see that coming?) who has a plan for escaping as well as transforming him back to human form. So they get some weapons and spend 10 minutes blasting the hell out of the MNU compound. Then they get some more weapons and spend 15 minutes blasting the hell out of the MNU soldiers who follow them to District 9. Ultimately our alien friend “Christopher Johnson” escapes and leaves Van Der Merwe to fully transform into one of the creatures. On a nice, sappy note, he leaves a flower made of slum refuse at the door of his former wife. When the film ends, Johnson has not yet returned and the aliens have been successfully relocated to District 10.
Considering the deserved commercial and critical success of the film as well as the way it ended a sequel seems inevitable and I eagerly await and hope they don't mess up a potential new nerd franchise in the process.
Ultimately, District 9 is something of a “take that” to big budget, small story sci-fi films like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and G.I. Joe. On only 30 million dollars, Peter Jackson and first time film director Neil Blaumkamp managed to turn what would have been one of those (it was originally going to be based on the Halo series of video games) into a movie that is not only entertaining, but actually good.
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- Robert Ebert on District 9
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