Directed by: Neil Blomkamp
Starring: Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, David James
After a mysterious alien vessel becomes stranded over Johannesburg, South Africa, its inhabitants, known only as “Prawns,” are quickly extracted from said vessel and promptly integrated into society. Almost two decades later, the Prawns have found that they’ve very much outstayed their welcome, and the living conditions inside their own District 9 have deteriorated to an extreme degree. When Multi-National United’s own Wikus van der Merwe is put in charge of evicting the aliens from District 9 in favor of relocating them against their will, the man in question inadvertently comes into contact with an otherworldly substance, setting into motion a series of events that will forever alter the history of mankind.
In the days and weeks leading up to its initial theatrical release, I found myself perpetually intrigued by District 9‘s over-the-top yet refreshingly original ad campaign. Unfortunately, said advertising also managed to successfully raise the amount of skepticism I had about seeing it in the first place, what with Peter Jackson’s involvement being all but promising for several reasons that I’ll leave unmentioned. But, when it came down to it, the question that was raised was this: Can District 9 deliver the goods, or was the aforementioned cleverness characteristic of several teaser trailers and the like just a ploy to potentially make back what was lost after opening day? The verdict: Neil Blomkamp’s low-budget sci-fi epic can safely be considered one of the best to come along within the genre in quite a while, if not one of the most thought-provoking and enjoyable films of this year and then some.
Even though I’ve never really favored heavy amounts of political allegory in any piece of cinema, let alone a science fiction epic of D9‘s stature, fledgling writer Blomkamp managed to effectively thrust this distate from my mind and replace it with a sense of admiration I never thought I’d be capable of showing. Part of the reason why the screenplay works so well in this regard can be attributed to the obvious relevance of the subject matter in relation to its South African setting, but when it comes down to specifics, the film’s concept as a whole is executed wonderfully and possesses an air of originality not present within other recent forays into the science fiction genre. Pair this with a pretty terrific balance between moments of gratuitous violence and a fair amount of emotional poignance, and you have yourself a pretty solid flick to say the least.
What really managed to do it for me in the long run was essentially District 9‘s simply fantastic pacing and overly satisfying conclusion. Without giving too much away, the film sports everything characteristic of a typical sci-fi classic and more, coupling an inventive twist on a tried and true formula with a stylish sort of pseudo-documentary approach in order to help the narrative move along nicely, delivering where it counts during the film’s second and final acts. In fact, the only qualm I had with D9 was essentially my inability to sympathize with Wikus and his plight despite the inevitable worsening of his situation and the emotional hardships he most definitely has to deal with. This can ultimately be attributed to Sharlto Copley’s very respectable, yet utterly inconsistent portrayal of the film’s protagonist, thus forcing me to rely a little more heavily on the film’s action sequences and aura of general intrigue to carry me through to its end.
Copley does manage to come through in the long run, seeing as how the minor flaws present within his efforts as Wikus are forgivable due to his “rising star” status and how wonderful he manages to be during moments of intense dramatic conflict, both intrinsic and extrinsic. Sadly, the same can’t be said for Copley’s human counterparts in regards to the supporting cast, as a majority of these characters seem to exist just to fill the viewer in on what’s happening at that particular moment in time and not much else. Hell, if it makes more sense, the aliens put forth better efforts, which is absurd, yes, but true nonetheless.
District 9 can very well be considered yet another one of my favorite entries into 2009’s already impressive lineup; I’ll even go so far as to call it a sleeper hit, thanks to its ambiguous and utterly ingenious ad campaign. Blomkamp has successfully taken all those elements characteristic of a typical alien invasion-esque science fiction romp and put an incredibly respectable twist on the entire formula, providing us with an ample amount of stylistic flair, ultra-violence, and a hefty dose of political allegory. Unfortunately, my ineptitude in appreciating Copley’s Wikus wholeheartedly only makes the lackluster efforts of the supporting cast members stand out much more, despite the former’s more than admirable efforts in the long run. So, to be frank, District 9 is a much-needed departure from a large amount of mindless big-budget drivel and worth every minute of your time.