Friday, 4 September 2009

District 9 - Review

The realms of Science Fiction know no bounds, for years all the best examples of the genre are used as metaphors for current political climates or religious themes. From the Christ comparisons in The Day the Earth Stood Still to Communist fearing 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers and most recently, the post 9/11, war on terror displayed in the re imagined Battlestar Galactica. Sci-Fis at their best can be provocative eye opening works of cinematic excellence when pulled off in such manner. This brings us to the latest entry in this selective fold, District 9, presented by the masterful Peter Jackson and directed by Neil Blomkamp in his feature length d├ębut in the director's chair, after his much mooted Halo adaptation was indefinitely put on hold due to budgetary constraints.

The story charts the tale of the arrival of an unknown alien species, who land on Earth during the early 1980s in the unlikely location of Johannesburg, South Africa. As expected, these new visitors to our planet, are not accepted with open arms and thus condemned to the slums of the city, closed off from the rest of the population in the area known simply as District 9. In the first decade of the 21st century, Multinational United (MNU), a military contractor, is placed in charge of policing and relocating the 1.8 million aliens to District 10, a new camp 240 kilometres north-west of Johannesburg. Enter the protagonist of the piece, Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley) who is thrust to the front-line of this ordeal, after being exposed to a strange liquid substance where his life begins to unravel into complete chaos, and must choose a side; fight for a species he has little feeling for or become a victim of a terrifying experiment from his own people. The performance of Copely was for the most part very impressive, considering he improvised most of his lines in the documentary portions of the film, coming across as slightly naive to the whole situation due to his rather obedient nature in his attitude towards his superiors.

The story itself I thought was beautifully told, arguably similar to 2008's Cloverfield, with the fly on the wall/documentary perspective for the majority of the film, truly getting to the heart of the real issues Blomkamp wanted the audience to experience. Arguably more advanced and intelligent than our own human race, these aliens are treated with so much xenophobic abuse and social segregation that reduce them to nothing more than scavengers and horrific savages, with much comparison to how the political climate is on the African continent at this moment in time. Where Blomkamp succeeds with District 9, is his striking balance of a captivating account of moral and civil injustice with some truly ballsy effects laden set pieces on par with such movies as Aliens, Terminator 2, Starship Troopers to name but a few. Which brings us to the deal breaker of any Sci-Fi extravaganza, the special effects; which were frankly outstanding considering the budget was a modest £30 million. Designed by the highly innovative and ground-breaking visual effects artists from the Weta Workshop (Peter Jackson's own special effects company), the aliens themselves were some of the best photo-realistic CG characters I have seen on screen in some time, as well as the cold, gritty exterior of the brooding mother-ship hovering over the metropolis of Johannesburg. The alien weapons are another essential talking point in the film's overall review, and they are simply outstanding, and I'm sure fan-boys throughout the cinema would be drooling at the thought of them ever appearing in a computer game adaptation in the future.

Perhaps it was Blomkamp's intention to keep the aliens as mysterious as possible, but due to this ambiguous nature it became hard to truly feel for this species in the same way as the main alien protagonist Christopher, as the rest of the species was never shown to have any more of a soul as the terrifying bugs present in Starship Troopers. Also though the third act was explosive in every way, it slightly took away from the profound message the director was maybe trying to get across. These criticisms aside however, I thought the film itself played out masterfully, and on a purely cinematic basis, and considering the budget compared to lesser sci-fi blockbusters released this year, Neil Blomkamp shows the world that he is a director who needs to be noticed and with this film alone he displays enough sheer talent and ambition that will no doubt lead him to taking the reigns of more well-known franchises to come, with huge confidence from hardcore fan bases that he will deliver. With heavyweights such as the Star Trek reboot and the wonderful Moon already released on the back of District 9's arrival, this is certainly making 2009 the year Sci-Fi has become genuinely cool and trendy again.

Final Thoughts
District 9 will be regarded by most (and rightly so) as a film that truly gets to the heart of what is fundamentally wrong with the political state of the African continent as a whole. Dealing with such issues as the country under Apartheid, as well as the fierce racism and xenophobia which has reduced the poor to the slums and plagued the country for decades. Neil Blomkamp displays a directorial execution well beyond his years within the industry, which along side Duncan Jones bodes well for new exciting directors in the future. With intensely claustrophobic cinematography and some genuinely stunning visual effects as the backdrop to an edgy highly profound thriller, District 9 could well turn out to be the sleeper hit of the year.


See This if you Liked...
Independence Day, Aliens, Starship Troopers and...(yes bit of an odd one) Blood Diamond

Watch Blomkamp's original short film which laid the foundations for District 9, entitled Alive in Joburg here...

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