District 9 is the debut feature-length film from South African director Neil Blomkamp. The film is based off his short film Alive in Joburg. The best way I can describe the film is that it is presented as a documentary and video footage of an alien slum. In the world of District 9 an alien spacecraft ground to a halt over the slums of Johannesburg, South Africa twenty years ago.
Unable to leave as their technology was not compatible with that of Earth’s, the alien beings took to living in the slums. At first, they lived among South Africa’s poor. Human xenophobia took hold and the aliens were pushed further away from human settlements and into an even worse living condition in a slum designated District 9. The film takes place in the present time as new riots and inter-species violence has prompted a large paramilitary company to devise a plan to evict the alien race, referred to in the film derisively as Prawns due to their appearance, to a new settlement far away from human interaction.
The film documents these evictions and the events that follow it. A working class stiff given the opportunity to head these evictions of the Prawn is one Wikus van der Mewre. Wikus is eager to please his boss who happens to be his father-in-law. The poor soul winds up being in the wrong place at the wrong time and becomes the catalyst for a showdown with his corporation and the attempt of a Prawn named Christopher to escape back to his home world.
That’s the best I can explain the narrative without spoiling things. Blomkamp does a fantastic job of creating a believeable world. Blomkamp shows us how ugly we can be when we face the unknown. The film’s effects, done by Peter Jackson’s WETA Studio, add to the believability of the proceedings. It is hard to believe that the film was made for around 30 million dollars. The design of the Prawn and their technology are some of the most inventive I’ve seen in a sci-film.
The pacing of the film is also handled very well. The film is nearly pitch-perfect up until the last ten minutes or so. Blomkamp seems to abandon his vision of presenting a world where everyone is tense and uneasy and either doing their jobs (in the case of Wikus) or trying to survive (in the case of Christopher). Most of the film up until those final minutes really never established Wikus as a protagonist or any of the bureaucrats he worked for as antagonists. The last ten minutes abandon this motif when one random soldier suddenly becomes nearly invulnerable to the violence around him yet his nameless allies are being blown to bits by alien weaponry.
The film has no qualms about the random violence and chaos that exists when two armed groups cannot resolve things rationally. It is this rawness that really makes the film so genuine. It is clear everyone involves believes in what they are making, which is a rare thing in film these days. I thoroughly encourage everyone to see this film. It raises important questions on how we as humans treat that which is different, how military companies can dehumanize so easily, and how human xenophobia continues to cause us grief and despair.
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