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District 9

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

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A pretty remarkable movie, and warm welcome in sci-fi. 84%

  • Dec 24, 2012
Rating:
+4
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, and are treated like garbage by both the public and government. The Prawns are forced in a giant slum called District 9, and Multi-National United (MNU) is really interested in getting their hands on the Prawn weapons and engineering them for human use (Prawn weapons won't work on human hands since they're only made to work with Prawns). Wikus van de Merwe, an MNU manager, is putting up eviction notices for the Prawns into District 10, and comes into contact with Prawn fluid that'll turn him into a Prawn himself. He's being hunted down by the MNU and has to make a reluctant alliance with a Prawn named Christopher Johnson if he wants any chance to come back to normal.

CHARACTERS

For the most part, I thought the characters were done really well. Of course, the best character is Wikus (Sharlto Copley). In the beginning, you see him as a mild-mannered jerk (if that makes any sense), and doesn't really care about the Prawns (though he doesn't want Prawns getting killed by MNU troops). The neat part of Wikus is that his character becomes “more human” when his metamorphosis makes him less human, physically-speaking.

The only character that I would say is closer in line to being the more traditional “good guy” would be Christopher Johnson (Jason Cope). Out of the other human and Prawn characters, he's really the only one who doesn't want to fight, but is forced into combat against the MNU near the end of the movie.

The antagonists, such as Colonel Koobus Venter (David James) and Obesandjo (Eugene Khumbanyiwa), are good in their roles. Some may complain that Koobus and Obesandjo lack depth, since they're straight-up maniacs, but I think this works out in their favor since for the former, it would dilute the menacing feeling if he was written to have sympathetic moments. Koobus's menacing vibe is enhanced with his superb tactical skills when in combat, and while he's not going to rival the Terminator in terms of supervillains, he's quite effective as the cold, murderous maniac.

However, I wish that some characters, like Wikus's wife, Tania (Vanessa Haywood), would have been developed a little more.

THEMES/COMMENTARY

District 9 is noted for having quite a few things to say about humanity. As stated earlier, with Wikus, his physical transformation into a Prawn makes him more “human.” Also, this movie takes an interesting stand by showing the aliens in a more sympathetic light than the humans, thought I think the allegories relating to the Apartheid in South Africa are way too obvious. However, I think Neill Blomkamp did a better job at handling the way the humans and Prawns were handled than James Cameron did the humans and Navi in Avatar, since there was some nuance in the characters in D9 to make them more believable. I also applaud Blomkamp for pulling off his message without the use of making the Prawns look like eye candy (more on visuals later).

I also commend Blomkamp for not just portraying the big businesses (MNU) as evil to reflect the “evils of humanity,” but also shows it through the Nigerian warlords (headed by Obesandjo) taking advantage of and brutalizing the Prawns for their advanced weapons.

STORYTELLING

I thought the way D9 was told was pretty interesting, as it's not everyday that you see a sci-fi film with pretty strong action scenes told as a documentary in the beginning and end like one. I thought Blomkamp handled the fusion of documentary-styled film and traditional film well, since I thought the transitions were smooth.

SOUNDTRACK

Clinton Shorter's music for this movie wasn't bad, though I wouldn't put in the same league of the soundtracks in movies like Blade Runner, The Terminator, or Total Recall. However, I'll say that Shorter captured the mood of the gritty settings really well with tribal chanting and other musical elements very fitting to the geographical setting.

CINEMATOGRAPHY

Trent Opaloch's cinematography for District 9 is quite good. The cinematography perfectly captures the gritty and violent atmosphere of the Prawns' lives, and I think the idea of it taking place in South Africa is a neat decision, since it's not everyday that you get a sci-fi movie taking place in this part of the world.

APPEARANCE

What really struck me in a positive way is the look of the Prawn technology, especially their weapons. I love how they don't look like totally outlandish guns more akin to a fantasy story in space, but look more like our weapons with a strong “alien” visual aesthetic to them. This also makes them look pretty nasty compared to other alien weapons in sci-fi (such as the Covenant weapons in the Halo games).

The MNU's personnel and equipment were made perfectly in this movie, since they're a potent military force that also reflects the fact that they're a private military entity. This is reflected in the fact that the personnel have a more “casual” look to them than official military personnel and that they don't have access to really powerful weapons like tanks and gunships.

The looks of the Nigerian warlords were done really well for the movie as well. They're shown as more “rag-tag” through their dilapidated vehicles and dwellings.

SPECIAL EFFECTS

The special effects done by Weta Workshop are marvelous. The movie combines “traditional” special effects with CGI, and you hardly even notice that the effects are, well, effects. The mutations on Wikus's body are very convincing (these were make-up effects), and the same can be said with how the Prawns look (the Prawns were made by CGI). I think it's funny that despite the very convincing effects in the movie, the pricetag for them was drastically lower than what was needed to make everything in Avatar.

ACTION SCENES

Despite the fact that District 9 is often labeled as an “action” movie along with its sci-fi tag, there really isn't that much action that goes on. However, the action that does take place is done very well. The movie decides to build up to the action near the end, which I thought was a good thing since it gave them more power.

I thought the scene where Wikus and Christopher storm the MNU building was awesome, as it showed the two armed with Prawn weapons and dishing out some unique deaths to the MNU mercenaries in the building (such as the arc gun making its targets blow up in a shower of blood).

The final action scene near the end was pretty amazing. The MNU and the Nigerian warlords are after Wikus, and donning a Prawn combat exosuit, dishes out some awesome damage against the enemies. The exosuit even uses a magnetic force to collect all the incoming bullets and uses them as lethal projectiles against those trying to harm Wikus, and even fires a mini bomb into someone's head. In one scene, he uses the suit's graviton device to pick up a pig and uses it as a projectile against an MNU mercenary. That scene was one of the most unintentionally funny things I've ever seen. I wish this Prawn exosuit was real, because I'd like to have this thing for home security.

MATURE CONTENT

This is not a movie for the kids since there's a good deal of gore and bad language throughout. There's scenes with both humans and Prawns getting dismembered, blown up, and shot at with plenty of bloodshed. One of the hardest to watch was actually against a Prawn, since MNU scientists start conducting experiments on Wikus's abilities to interact with Prawn weapons, and Wikus is forced into killing a Prawn with one of the guns (which is highlighted by Wikus begging to shoot at the pig carcasses instead).

FINAL WORD

While I wouldn't say that this is quite in the same league of movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien, or Total Recall, this was a really solid sci-fi movie. In terms of sci-fi movies that came out in 2009, this runs rings around Avatar since it had much better character development and storytelling, not to mention better action scenes. I strongly suggest you at least rent this.

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December 28, 2012
I really liked this movie and my brother straight loved it, excellent review.
December 28, 2012
Thanks, man.
 
December 26, 2012
Great review. Also hope this film gets a sequel. (The pig carcass scene was one of the few film scenes that actually made me quite uncomfortable. I believe a few Halo weapons make an appearance in one shootout scene)
December 26, 2012
Thanks. This is a movie that's begging for a sequel, since this was one of the few moments in film where one can really expand upon the first movie's universe.
 
December 24, 2012
I wonder if this will ever get a sequel as originally planned
December 24, 2012
I hope it does.
 
December 24, 2012
Thanks for sharing.
December 24, 2012
You're welcome.
 
1
More District 9 reviews
review by . April 22, 2011
posted in Forbidden Planet
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 . August 14, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
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   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 …
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
posted in Forbidden Planet
  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
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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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David Kozak ()
Ranked #27
I'm a morbid cynic who thinks very, very differently from most other people. Chances are, if the majority says X is the greatest in its category, I'll disagree with that notion, because I tend … more
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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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Details

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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