District 9

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district9.jpg

You are not welcome here.

2009

Genres: Arthouse, Alien, Drama, Action

Starring:
Sharlto Copley, Vanessa Haywood

Summary:
In the 1990s, aliens arrived on Earth with a mysterious large spacecraft that halted directly over Johannesburg. The aliens inside were confused and malnourished and were brought down to Earth for processing.

Several decades later, the aliens live in squalor in a slum outside the city called District 9. Nicknamed 'prawns' due to their appearance, the aliens are a source of both prejudice and righteousness for different social and political groups throughout the world. Officials at Multinational United, a private military company, have been tasked with moving the prawns to an even smaller compound further away from the city to alleviate human concerns about their integration into society. Led by bureaucrat Wikus van de Merwe (Copley), the relocation effort does not go according to plan when van de Merwe suddenly find himself in a situation where the only way he can find safety is by hiding in District 9.

Response:
This movie turns the sterotypical sci-fi image of aliens on its head, and it's a welcome change. The aliens here aren't benevolent mentors, nor are they cruel conquerors. Here, they're refugees battling prejudice, poverty, and enough red tape to impress even the most zealous civil servant. Based on a 2005 short film produced by Copley as well as the history of apartheid in South Africa, District 9 explores intolerance, xenophobia, and bureaucracy in an exciting and unique way.

The special effects were quite impressive, especially considering that half the cast were computer-generated. At first, I was worried that the prawns would be as unbelievable and annoying as other sci-fi digital aliens (yeah, I'm talking about you, Jar-Jar), but I was soon reassured. They were obviously quite alien but still managed to evoke mixed feelings of disgust, pity, and empathy - quite an impressive achievement considering their digital origins. In fact, the most compassionate and emotional scenes arguably involved only these characters. The film-makers also employ more traditional make-up and mechanics for some of the effects; this is particularly effective during van de Merwe's transformation.

Copley is far and away the main non-CGI character in this film, and he carries his role very well. He is annoyingly naive and pedantic in the beginning of the film, moving quickly but believably to utter desperation as his situation worsens. I never really liked the character and he never really became a true hero throughout the movie, but I think this was deliberate and certainly added to the film's realism.

The story is told in the style of a documentary, with footage from the events of interest interspersed with news clips and commentary from 'experts'. At first I found this really exciting and different, but the novelty wore off after around 5 minutes when I realised that this was the style of the whole movie. Fortunately, as the film progressed, I got so engrossed in the plot and characters that I got used to the doco-style and even lost track of when it gradually disappeared into more traditional cinema. It really was an effective way to tell this story because it not only made the sci-fi premise quite realistic, it also allowed some themes on media and sensationalism to be explored, in this respect slightly similar to Starship Troopers.

Point Blank:
Would you like to know more? Click here. Or watch the movie- it's unique, entertaining, and thought-provoking - and about as realistic as you can get with alien sci-fi films.