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District 9

Blu-ray and Science Fiction & Fantasy movie directed by Neill Blomkamp

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First contact in hell

  • Apr 18, 2010
Most sci-fi movies about first contact with aliens are optimistic about humanity, portraying the event either as a chance for peoples of different nations to make common cause against alien enemies (Independence Day [Blu-ray]) or a moment that inspires us to reach for the stars (Star Trek VIII: First Contact). While fun, most of these movies feel more like fantasy than a probable reality.

District 9, by contrast, takes a different approach. This movies is about a first contact from hell, in which alien refugees are corralled into slums by cynical humans. This is certainly a very, very different portrayal of first contact. The film's approach to humanity, the mix of opportunism and sheer indifference, strike me as jarringly realistic. I know it sounds crazy, but at times I though to myself: yeah, this does seem possible. This could be how it happens.

Part of District 9's success comes from the way it was filmed. Much of the movie is filmed as if it were a documentary. Television crews accompany the hapless bureaucrat Wilkus (Sharlto Copley) as he evicts the aliens from their shacks, giving it the feel of a news report more than sci-fi/fantasy movie. The movie also interviews "experts" in alien biology and sociology, which brings audiences up to speed on the situation. At first, I was skeptical about this cinematographical technique because it sounded a bit corny, but it's actually very effective. It really helps blur the distinction between reality and the movie, allowing viewers to become totally absorbed in the story.

I was a bit disappointed that, midway through the film, it seemed to descend a bit more into a typical action flick. It never quite went too far to spoil the movie. In fact, one of the things I really loved about the movie is how the characters responded. Even during the most intense battles, when other movies would have simply focused on the big fireballs, District 9 has compelling moments when the various characters must make important choices.

I thought everything else in District 9 was superb, from the acting to the soundtrack. The special effects were great. I loved the design of the aliens. These aren't simply giant blue people (a la Avatar). The "prawns" as they're called are alien enough that they look creepy and make you sympathize a bit with the government's decision to quarantine them. However, they also are able to convey emotions and demonstrate their intelligence and humane side.

District 9 is easily one of the most original films I've seen this past decade. It's got the spunk, soul, and plot that films like Avatar simply don't possess. Highly recommended. I hope there's a sequel.

Note: The DVD has some of the best deleted scenes I've ever seen. There is a lot of material not included in the film, including a lecture about the anatomy of the aliens.

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About the reviewer
Dominic J Nardi ()
Ranked #79
I am a recent law school grad with an interest in Southeast Asia legal issues. Unfortunately for my checkbook, ever since high school I have been addicted to good books. I have eclectic tastes, although … more
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A provocative science fiction drama,District 9boasts an original story that gets a little lost in blow-'em-up mayhem. Set in Johannesburg, South Africa,District 9begins 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 powerful movie with a unique tale to tell. ...

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Director: Neill Blomkamp
Genre: Blu-ray, Sci-Fi, Fantasy
Screen Writer: Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell
DVD Release Date: December 22, 2009
Runtime: 112 minutes
Studio: Sony Pictures
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