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District 9

A 2009 science fiction / action film directed by Neill Blomkamp.

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Great SCI-FI Action Film With Strong Political and Social Overtones

  • Aug 14, 2009

Co-produced by Peter Jackson, the acclaimed director of the “Lord of the Rings” and directed by Neil Blomkamp; ‘DISTRICT 9” screams “Cult Classic”. Blomkamp has adapted his short film called “Alive in Joberg” and has crafted a film loosely inspired by the events of District 6 in South Africa. “District 9” collects some familiar pieces of history, science fiction elements, and some cool action in a tale which is mainly a retelling of man’s nature to condemn someone or something different. While it contains a strong social commentary, the film itself is more of a visually stunning piece of a slick actioner.
Some 20 years ago, a huge alien mother ship becomes stranded in Earth’s atmosphere due to mechanical issues when its power source seemingly disappears. It hovers above the city of Johannesburg, South Africa with about a suffering alien race trapped inside. They are brought down to Earth by local government and forced to live in conditions similar to a refugee camp, which soon becomes a slum called “District 9”. As the aliens, dubbed “Prawns” by the humans who harbor them, become more adaptive to their dwelling, they become more hostile and a little too burdensome since they have grown in number. 

           Sharlto Copley, Mandla Gaduka and Kenneth Nkosi in "District 9."

The task of relocating them falls on a multi-national task force called “MNU” into a concentration camp located 200 km outside Johannesburg. Its chief operative, Wikus (Sharlton Copley) leads a team of mercenaries to go door by door to evict the alien settlers, but the aliens aren’t going quietly as Wikus ends up being exposed to a mysterious black fluid which has provoked several changes in his body. Forced to hide when he finds out that his superiors wish to dissect him, he flees to District 9 where he befriends an alien that he calls “Christopher”. The two embark on a mission to cure Wikus and to return the “prawns” to return to their home world; such action brings them on a collision course with M.N.U.

Part “Alien Nation” and part Cronenberg’s “The Fly” with some touches of a re-examination of the depredation of apartheid with an other-worldly backdrop, the film is more or less a visitation story about an abused race of aliens that are being taken advantaged of, feared but nonetheless the humans are interested in what they could milk from the alien culture. The aliens are separated from the human population with little to no rights bestowed on them. The social and political commentary/overtones are strong in the film’s screenplay most especially in the first half, when the director Blomkamp shoots the proceedings in a style quite similar to a documentary. You see the events unraveling as if everything had already occurred in the past, with some highlights of news reels, interviews and that the viewer is supposed to look forward to whatever future this situation may bring. Its political and social points are brought forward by Blomkamp in a very clever way, as he succeeds in bringing an atmosphere of humiliation and horrific hatred by man towards the aliens. 

        A scene from "District 9."

                        Sharlto Copley in "District 9."
The aliens dubbed “Prawns” (supposed to be a degrading slur, but the actual name of the alien race wasn‘t revealed) are also cleverly developed. While we only see subtle hints of their alien culture, you can see that they are a “people” with intelligence and their own technology. They are intelligent and have their own native language which Wikus had deciphered. Some are criminals; some are just minding their own business while some have ambition, with a longing to return to their world. The “prawns’ addiction to cat food give an impression that they may be marine creatures (cat food has a fishy taste) and that they have become interested in inter-species mating as shown with the Nigerians’ prostitution ring in district 9.
Any culture or group of immigrants has something to offer, and the humans are interested in their technology. We see as to how different people approach this interest, as major corporations are taking a scientific approach while the Nigerians are approaching this from a mystical level. Two human traits are explored and they both involve taking the alien bodies apart. It was curious that the alien weapons can only be used by one of the “prawns”; it is a curious fail safe so that no one can use their weaponry against them. I’d like to think that the aliens are more the peaceful race in the film (since they took no steps in invading the nearby city or will they?) while us humans are more into protecting our interests such as the development of military weapons and to some, for profit.

         A scene from "District 9."

                        Sharlto Copley in "District 9."
Enough about the political overtone, the second half of the film puts its focus on Wikus, when his accident becomes a living nightmare. The scenes when he begins to evolve into something less human could’ve been more icky and gooey but Blomkamp opts to approach the matter with some occasional news reels and the conventional filmmaking. This style may prove to be a bit of challenge to some since the details can easily become confusing that may leave one to wonder if it’s a documentary or a dramatization? But I have to commend the direction, he manages to keep the details together although he doesn‘t give all the answers but gives the viewer something to anticipate in the future, I guess it may also be seen as an attempt to emulate reality because things like this do happen at times in a different manner; such as the nature of humanity.
The accident proves to be the catalyst for the film’s action sequences which mostly occurs in its last 25 minutes. The special effects in the film are nicely done; I really enjoyed the alien weaponry that was brought into bear. While I thought some didn’t seem too advance most of them do pack a mean wallop. I did enjoy the combat between an alien exo-suit piloted by Wikus against the mercenaries; they were visually stunning and quite gritty in their own way. There is quite a lot of rehearsed explosions that displays the wonderment of alien technology that takes the film to an even more violent level. The film also has a good amount of blood and gore especially in the final climactic showdown as bullets fly, missiles are fired and bodies are torn apart in a very disquieting manner.
Granted, “District 9” isn’t a perfect film, its script has several inconsistencies and some plot missteps; it does leave the viewer to fill in the gaps and left to assume at times. Blomkamp may have intentionally left some questions unanswered as the final act asks another question that leaves us with the possibility of a sequel. Personally, I didn’t mind the underdeveloped story; the film had enough intensity and enough ambition to keep me interested. Despite some flaws in the script, its execution was precise. The aliens are cool and Blomkamp exhibits enough filmmaking zest that has me all set for “District 10”.
Highly Recommended! [4- Stars]
Poster mothership Copley as Wikus alien entrance mothership at dusk scene

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November 18, 2010
Yeah man this was a reall good one.
January 18, 2010
I like the movie; makes me wonder who are the real villain ;-)
June 07, 2010
I am!! mwahahaha!! where you at? Haven't seen you around much...
June 07, 2010
In Singapore. One gotta make a living!
August 18, 2009
Sorry, I couldn't leave a comment for you yesterday. Anyhow, this review is great and it looks like I'll be seeing this either tomorrow or on thurs. and I'll get on a review for it shortly after that.
August 19, 2009
No probs, bud. I too triggered the anti-spam software and I couldn't comment for a day or so. I will look forward to your review. Can't believe you're ignoring an Akira Kurosawa written screenplay for a movie I reviewed...
August 25, 2009
Huh? Did I miss something? Kurosawa screenplay?
August 27, 2009
check out "The Sea is Watching" the review should be above "District 9"
August 15, 2009
Well, I saw it, and while I liked it a lot, I still can't help feeling as if I just watched two or three movies stuck together with Super Glue. I'm not sure I liked the idea of taking the documentary approach. For one thing it immediately had me asking myself why they were doing it which led me to decide that maybe it was because he wound up helping the aliens escape to their home world--why else would they be doing a documentary about him? Secondly because it suddenly turned into an action film--Ripley meets ROBOCOP meets ALIEN NATION meets THE FLY. And none of it seemed to remember that it had started out as a straight science fiction film dealing on the surface with racial troubles in South Africa, and by extension every society's problems accepting cultural or racial differences. I'm with you on the 4 stars, Woop, but I had hoped to be able to give it more. And I think the male lead was perfect. He reminded me of the guy in DEAD-ALIVE, only more macho.
August 15, 2009
It spent so much time with that at the beginning though that it DID feel like a documentary and a bunch of people started squirming in their seats waiting for something to happen. Sure, I appreciated the new approach but it DID feel like too much of a documentary at first. Perhaps if they had dropped things in more and hadn't spent so much time in that format at the start... Plus they return to it at the end. Nonetheless, it took a bit of the edge off the movie because I did sort of know where it was going again because of the way in which they chose to tell the story. Crap!
August 16, 2009
test...well alright, I can comment again! Glad you liked the film as well, Karen. Funny you mentioned that you didn't like the doco style since I also expected people to be a little disconnected to the way it is shot. But overall, despite its flaws, I found the movie to be quite a rewarding experience. It was curious as to how it changed its pace suddenly. A lot of people are giving it sub-par reviews in amazon because of the fact that they wanted an "Independence Day" like experience. I guess they weren't expecting something more adult-oriented...
August 16, 2009
District 9 is another movie that tries the "humanity's instinct to self-destruction" theory. I thought the doco style was trying to emulate current affairs. After all, humans still prey on humans don't they? (I'm not human LOL)
August 17, 2009
It's not that I didn't like the documentary style, Woop. It's just that I think that it lost them a lot of their audience right from the start, and it did tip off a bit too much of where the film was going for me. If anything, If I disliked anything it was the way it degenerated into a rock 'em sock 'em robot movie at the end.
August 17, 2009
agreed. I rather thought that the way it converted into an action flick and its change in tone in the last part may catch some folks by surprise. Still a very good film despite its flaws; or maybe I have just become jaded with the stupidity that was Transformers 2 among other Hollywood's so-called "crowd-pleasers".
August 17, 2009
I thought at the end it tried to become ROBOCOP or TRANSFORMERS and that was sort of jolting. Like it wanted to make everybody happy at the last minute.
August 15, 2009
I can't even let myself scan this yet since I'm going to catch it in about an hour. But 4 stars from you equal 3 to 5 from me. I can't wait to see which it turns out to be!
August 15, 2009
Woopak you are now my source for movie reviews!  This is a really good review.  I haven't seen the movie yet.  I was kind of skeptical, but I think I'll give it a shot.
August 15, 2009
Thanks, Sean. Coming from you, (who also has diarrhea of keyboard LOL) that means a lot. Give it a shot, but temper your expectations, and put aside the hype it's gotten, it's always the best way to approach a film.
More District 9 reviews
review by . April 22, 2011
Okay, I'm a pretty big sci-fi geek. I watch numerous sci-fi shows and I'm a big fan of most sci-fi films. I enjoy watching science fiction be used as a platform that explores deep personal truths about the human condition. Every good sci-fi movie reveals something deep about ourselves, but amongst the good ones, there are terrible sci-fi movies that never should have seen the light of day. I'm normally an easy reviewer and I'll even give a bad sci-fi film some credit every once in …
review by . December 24, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
District 9 is one of those movies that I bought on DVD (though I soon upgraded to blu-ray) on a whim and wasn't burned by a bad movie. This was one of those times that I wish I watched the movie in theaters, and that when the hype behind a hit movie is largely justified.      STORY      In 1982, a giant alien ship grinds to a halt above Johannesburg, South Africa. The aliens are referred to negatively as “Prawns” for their scavenger-like personalities, …
review by . August 26, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
Alien mothership...
   The idea of using science fiction and horror stories as a way of discussing taboo or controversial social, political, and religious themes is nothing new. Since the birth of the horror genre, which came into being after the popularity of 18th century gothic romance took off, and since science fiction was first acknowledged as a genre unto itself in the late 19th century, the two have often dealt with issues that were considered to be of the utmost social importance while disguising …
Quick Tip by . June 01, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
Despite the movie's less-than-subtle messages about humanity, I found this to be a strong film because of the fact that the characters have decent levels of depth to them, which is one of the main deciding factors for why I like District 9.  In particular, I found Wikus's change in character, physically and in terms of personality, the most interesting.  The cool action scenes and visual aesthetics to the Prawn technology are also helping factors with this.      …
review by . April 09, 2011
  District 9 begins when a very large star ship lands in South Africa during 1982. These are aliens called "the prawns" and are initially welcomed by the human race. Now, twenty-eight years after this, the aliens are stuck and mistreated in a beat up, worthless camp called District 9. The Multi-National United, otherwise known as MNU, cares very little for the alien race, but has strong interest in their advanced weapons. An MNU field operative, Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley) …
Quick Tip by . September 07, 2011
I've seen this movie multiple times now, and still haven't managed to review it yet. It's a brilliant look at racism, segregation, and seeing these topics from the other side.
review by . June 07, 2010
The movie started off slow and directed like it was a documentary.  A mothership of aliens comes to Earth and stays hovered over  South Africa.  A military orginazation (NMU) sends a team of helicopters and moves the aliens to live in District 9, a hovel fillled area.  The aliens are called "prawns" and like to eat catfood.  The aliens also bring very advanced weapons that NMU is very interested in.  Unfortunately only the aliens can fire them because the …
review by . December 30, 2009
One of the greatest science fiction films of all time...
I've seen Sci-Fi films that try and fail miserable to get that emotional reaction from audience by telling a recycled story and a dried up plot. But I'm finally happy to report that there is such a Si-Fi film, and this film is called "District 9."          District 9 tells the story of a lone man, who is infected by an alien biotechnology and him and him alone becomes the only hope for the salvation of the aliens. It's a powerful film that resonates with Science …
review by . May 23, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
'District 9' is one of those movies that blindsided me - I had heard a little about it before seeing it, but few specifics. I was excited and hopeful, usually signs that I'm about to be disappointed. Not only did the film not disappoint, it went well beyond any expectations I had of it.    In terms of story, it's a film where very little is as it initially seems. You are presented with a deceptively simple scenario - a large alien craft has sort of broken down over Johannesburg, …
review by . August 20, 2009
movie pic
I went into this movie feeling slightly mislead, but in a good way. I'm not sure why, but I thought this was going to be some shallow, action oriented sci-fi movie that's only really enjoyable in theaters. I left feeling like I had seen one of the better sci-fi movies of the past few years. I could tell my friend was disappointed leaving the theater; he's the kind of person who loves terror, destruction and mayhem...yes, he's evil. I, on the other hand, enjoy a certain level of sophistication …
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A provocative science fiction drama,District 9 boasts an original story that gets a little lost in blow-'em-up mayhem. Set in Johannesburg, South Africa, District 9 begins as a mock documentary about the imminent eviction of extraterrestrials from a pathetic shantytown (called District 9). The creatures, it turns out, have been on Earth for years, having arrived sickly and starving. Initially received by humans with compassion and care, the aliens are now mired in blighted conditions typical of long-term refugee camps unwanted by a hostile, host society. With the creatures' care contracted out to a for-profit corporation, the shantytown has become a violent slum. The aliens sift through massive piles of junk while their minders secretly research weapons technology that arrived on the visitors' spacecraft.

Against this backdrop is a more personal story about a bureaucrat named Wikus (Sharlto Copley) who is accidentally exposed to a DNA-altering substance. As he begins metamorphosing into one of the creatures, Wikus goes on the run from scientists who want to harvest his evolving, new parts and aliens who see him as a threat. When he pairs up with an extraterrestrial secretly planning an escape from Earth, however, what should be a fascinating relationship story becomes a series of firefights and explosions. Nuance is lost to numbing violence, and the more interesting potential of the film is obscured. Yet, for a while District 9 is a ...

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Director: Neill Blomkamp
Genre: Action, Drama, Horror, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Release Date: August 14, 2009
MPAA Rating: R
Screen Writer: Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell
DVD Release Date: December 22, 2009
Runtime: 112 minutes
Studio: Sony Pictures
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