Monday, August 31, 2009

Movie Review: District 9 (2009)

District 9

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District 9 is one of the best sci-fi movies to hit our screens for decades. Presented by Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings) and directed by Neill Blomkamp, it moves the genre into new territory in much the same way as Alien did back in the the late '70s.

District 9 begins as a mockumentary summarising the events of the last 20 years in Johannesburg, South Africa, when an enormous alien ship settled in the air over the city followed by a long period of complete inactivity. When no life forms emerged from the ship, the military decided the best approach was to break into the ship. On entry, they found thousands of emaciated, malnourished, aliens close to death.

The aliens were evacuated and located in a massive refugee camp in the middle of Johannesburg. But after 20 years, the detention area has become saturated with crime as a result of the extreme poverty and demoralisation of the population of alien creatures.

The government in Johannesburg has decided to relocate the now 1.8 million alien creatures to a site well away from the city. To do that, a new facility has been built and the aliens now require evicting from their slum. Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley) has been delegated the leadership in the eviction process. We follow him out into the streets of the alien area where, with the help of a private military company, he serves eviction notices. During a visit to one shanty, he discovers a device that sprays him with a black liquid and he becomes infected. From that moment on, Wikus has to work out where he will find help for the consequences of his one mistake.

I'm not going to describe any more of the plot. The less you know the better your experience of the movie will be. Suffice it to say that this movie is as far away from a cliche-ridden Hollywood serving as you can possibly get.

What makes District 9 so good, apart from the brilliant special effects that make you forget they are special effects, is that it is an example of how modern art and culture can make profound contributions to our thinking about contemporary issues. District 9 is clearly a political statement — about apartheid, racism, attitudes towards refugees, detention centres, and humanity's incompetence at handling anyone or anything that is "different". Despite the "message" of the film, the director never preaches to us. We don't feel as th0ugh we are being bludgeoned with the message (like so many cliched "Christian" movies we often see). The message is implicit and genuinely haunts after the final credits roll.

Copley is superbly cast as Wikus, the story is outstandingly fresh, the cinematography lifts the whole narrative to the level of believability. District 9 is not to be missed!


Positive Review
' District 9 is very smart sci-fi, but that's just the beginning; it's also a scathing social satire hidden inside a terrific action thriller teeming with gross aliens and regrettable inter-species conflict. And it's a blast. . . .' - Betsy Sharkey/LA Times

Negative Review
'It's a bad joke that District 9 will be hailed for its "originality."' - Michael Sragow/Baltimore Sun

Content Advice
bloody violence and pervasive language

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