Directed by: Neill Blomkamp
Company: TriStar Pictures / WingNut Films / QED International
Runtime: 112 minutes
The film is about the actions of the South African government to the millions of aliens residing in Johannesburg. Their project is to move the millions of the so-called “prawns” from District 9, a camp established by the government for them place in the city, to a place farther from the city, called District 10, as the prawns started to cause chaos in the city to the humans. One of those prawns is Christopher Johnson, together with his son and a friend. The people want them out. The people want them to go away, as they have stayed in the city for decades, for their mother ship is stranded above the city.
MNU, the Multinational United, is tasked for the alien affairs. Wikus van de Merwe works in there. He was assigned by his father-in-law to be the leader in relocating the prawns by serving eviction notices even if it is in fact illegal. In the process, Wikus accidentally sprays a suspicious liquid in himself. As his exposure to it goes on, he starts to become ill and ultimately, his DNA starts to change, turning it to those of the prawn’s. Due to this, MNU starts to put Wikus into different tests. But he won’t let that happen to him, and he escapes.
His father-in-law, who happens to be an executive, tells to the press that Wikus was infected by an STD from the prawns, together with the pictures to prove it. Soldiers start to hunt and capture him. He meets Christopher and is informed that the liquid will be used to run the mother ship and for him to return to his normal human state. However, the canister that contains the liquid is with the MNU. They decided to get it back from them using alien weapons that they stole from the Nigerian gang leader that victimizes the prawns with their cat food scam.
They were able to get the canister back from the MNU but their biggest challenge comes: to come back to load it to the mother ship.
Whenever I think of this film, the first word that comes in my mind is “fresh”.
The direction is clearly action sci-fi at its best. There is this staggering amount of tension immersed to us in the whole length of the film. It never lets us rest for a moment, it just brings us on the spot. It has the power to make us feel that it is in fact real and it was able to pull it off and create a sociocultural commentary about segregation. The themes of apartheid and discrimination are being underlined in this film, but the direction never makes it ‘in-your-face.’ It attacks the subject with intelligence that you only soon realize, upon later reflection, that it was indeed underlined in the film.
Also, what I praise the most in this film’s direction is that it was able to create this reality that I have never seen in a movie before. It’s hard to make a sci-fi film, but it’s much harder for it to place you in the environment, convey an ‘in-the-place’ feeling, and most importantly, to make you believe in it. The direction speaks of visions coming alive through the style it utilizes for the movie, which is undoubtedly fit for the substance. It didn’t stick of traditional filmmaking techniques, it uses innovations and that’s what pulls me to it. I love this film because it was inventive on how it tackled and on how it captured the whole subject.
The screenplay was also very good. Most of the time, screenplays in action films or sci-fi film or more so, action sci-fi films, are mundane or cliche-filled, focusing more on the technical part of the movie. Some would not even care for it. However, District 9 features a central story that is indeed heartbreaking and affecting. Of course, the lead character is Wikus, who is a somewhat absent-minded person. And the documentary parts of the film, with the interviews of different people, comes as very intelligent and natural for me.
But at the core of the film is the story of Christopher Johnson and his son. Christopher wants to be able to come home with his son. They experience hardships in the earth, but Christopher always protects his son. That is the most important part of the story for me because it is where the emotional part of the movie lies. I wouldn’t care for the film as much as I would if not for the story of the aliens. We are given this story as the backbone of the whole film. They are not just terrifying aliens, they are also with human feelings even if they are not human themselves. Though it is not one of the greatest screenplays ever, it gives this very accomplished movie the shadings of the characters and I love how it was done.
The cinematography is over-all excellent. It uses a lot of different styles in shooting. Sometimes by CCTV camera, sometimes by point-of-view, but it all evokes the sense of being there. There is one shot that I liked the most, and that is Wikus standing in front of the city’s skyline with the mother ship above it. It was able to infuse the whole effect of reality and fantasy together in that one shot. It’s brilliant all around.
The editing is. . . WOW. It is the one of the film’s greater assets. It was unbelievably put together. Right from the start of the film, with the documentary-style part, it totally shakes us with its intensely gripping editing. It must be a very complicated job for the editor. Pretty much, no matter how great the direction or the screenplay or whatever, the film’s strength relies on the editing. It played a very vital role in the film’s power to make this film an experience. It was able to juice out every possible thrilling or nerve-wrecking moment possible without making the film “heartless”. It has a heart, but it also carries the thrills throughout.
The sound is also a very accomplished aspect of the film. The sound of the prawns are very creatively made. Who could have thought of its very different sound? It’s inventive, and the sound is something that will stick in your mind. The music is also helpful for the film. It provides this very thrilling and ethnic feeling to it.
The make-up is the best of they year. Never have I seen such ambitious or even daring make-up work in any film of 2009. There is this slow process of Wikus turning into a prawn and the transformation he undergoes in the length of the film is amazing to watch. The details are so well-paced that you just want to close your eyes whenever you see Wikus’s open cuts bleeding with black blood. Of course it is gross, but again, it is essential and it is so believable you wouldn’t even stop believing it was just make-up. It’s painful to watch, but if you look underneath those, you will see a very fine work that make-up can do to enhance the film’s believability.
The visual effects are stunning to see. Its integration to the reality that makes me love this film. The effects are not those obvious CGI (Avatar or Star Trek), but those which needs to be as real as possible. District 9 achieves that level or reality that you may want to examine the details, but you will still be able to see that it is just masterful craft.
Sharlto Copley leads this one-man show. Technically, it is not really a one-man show, but he carries the film all throughout the film. With almost no experience at acting, he was already able to prove the range that he has in terms of acting. Right from the start, he’s acting somewhat stupid, but he isn’t. Through the next scenes, we learn that he is just a positive thinker, someone who others may claim not fit for such serious job in alien affairs. He gets people agitated, and he’s not absent-minded. Actually, he is smart enough to be able to do his stuff, he just happened to be too positive in his job that those more serious co-workers are irritated by him.
As he progresses in his transformation to a prawn, the terror that he evokes through his character comes as genuine and devastating to see. He almost makes an impression of a very unlikable character, but under it is a character that we will care for. He’s a decent man, he’s a cheerful person. And in terms of how he reacts to the situation of his slow destruction as a human being, he gives a powerful performance oozing with confidence. It’s really hard to believe that this was his film debut, but it was. There is the sense of experience that we feel in him. I think his best scene was his quiet plea of mercy to a soldier that he will not kill him. He’s definitely in the middle of being a human-prawn, and the pain of being one is all in his eyes. He doesn’t say a word, just asks for mercy for the soldier not to kill him. That powerful moment simply counts as one of the best-acted scenes of 2009.
I guess, to sum this up, the film talks about communication and connection. It all happens to us, the problems of communication. And it’s all presented here – man to man, man to alien, alien to alien, man to man-prawn – we all see the realities here. This not only speaks of aliens, but of people. The segregation presented here is a horrifying but completely unmistakable truth we should all give time to see.
This is not only an achievement of filmmaking, or sci-fi filmmaking, or indie filmmaking, it’s an achievement in terms of its way to connect an important message.
For this, the movie gets:
What are your thoughts, dear reader?