District 9 review
[FIRST SECTION HAS NO SPOILERS]
District 9 tells the tale of aliens among us. Among the citizens of South Africa to be precise, after a huge alien ship full of refugees becomes stranded above Johannesburg 20 years ago. The story is of the tensions between locals and the huge and growing refugee camp population as they are being forcibly evicted and moved on by the authorities to another camp further away from humans. Some humour, much gore and violence, and a little discomfort ensues as the treatment of the aliens show the humans in a pretty bad light.
The story is told in a docudrama style with excellent realistic effects despite the relatively limited budget. Despite being a bit uneven, particularly toward the end, it holds the attention well enough to be fun. Underneath however is a fairly conventional story of bad guys, Nigerian scammers, cat food, aliens, and redemption. There’s even a cute kid in there.
[THIS PART HAS MINOR SPOILERS]
The new movie produced by Peter Jackson and directed by South African newcomer Neill Blomkamp District 9 has been receiving quite a bit of hype recently ahead of is UK release this week.
It tells the story of a alien refugee camp set up in the outskirts of Johannesburg after the mysterious appearance of a huge alien space ship 20 years ago. It is shot in a documentary style, full of shaky cam, and faux news-reel footage. Interspersed are talking head vox pops from key players in the story reflecting back on events from some future point, hinting at the main events in the unfolding story.
Early on it is clear that there are many tensions between locals and aliens mirroring similar situations during the apartheid era and inevitably trouble ensues. In the middle of this is Wikus Van De Merwe, an employee of MNU – Multi National United, a private militarised organisation who are tasked with a mass eviction and removal of the settlers/refugees to a “safer” new camp located further away from J’burg.
At first Wikus’s actions and attitude as he goes about serving “eviction notices” is reprehensible, but a chance incident changes him and his course of life completely. Later on Wikus is no longer part of the establishment, but now an outsider and a fugitive, and has to turn for help to those he was formerly persecuting.
The effects, despite being a relatively low budget film (only $30M) are excellent, and prove that modernfilmmakers have truly nailed integrating photorealistic CGI into hand held live action (see also Cloverfield). There are a lot of obvious sources that are swiped, or alternatively paid homage to; Robocop, Starship Troopers, Transformers, Independence Day, Minority Report, and any number of console first person shooters with bald space marines and gravity guns.
The style slightly confused me. On the one hand the early scenes seemed somewhat over the top with humour that seemed to point to a Robocop style satire. But later things seem a bit more serious with some thought provoking scenes covering issues of detention, torture, vivisection and governmental and corporate greed.
However in the end it turns into an action-fest complete with a fun but unnecessary battle involving a heavily armoured troops and a giant manga-style exoskelton, and ultimately winds up as a heartwarming but conventional tale of redemption.
I’ll never eat prawns again.