Sunday, August 23, 2009

District 9 (2009)

Saw this movie last weekend in the theatres. Produced by Peter Jackson and directed by Neill Blomkamp, 'District 9' proved to be surprisingly evocative and emotionally moving.

The basic plot is... an Alien mothership becomes disabled over Johannesberg, South Africa. Unable to return home, the insect like aliens live as refugees alongside humans in a makeshift shantytown known as "District 9". 20 years later, human authorities decide to relocate the Aliens to a new area in order to please disgruntled human citizens. The man in charge is an awkwardly enthusiastic and neurotic public servant named Wikus van der Merwe(played by Sharlto Copley). As Wikus and his militarized force of civil servants descend upon the shanty town chaos ensues. After being sprayed by a mysterious black alien fluid that alters his genetics into that of an alien, Wikus finds himself questioning the 'humanity' of himself, his species, and that of the alien 'prawns' he is charged to relocate.

'District 9' is a social commentary on Apartheid in South Africa but can be applied to any form of caste/race based social inequality. The film is shot in a quasi-documentary style that is somewhat unorthodox and may have some film goers wondering what exactly is going on in terms of storytelling. The overall effect is interesting in that while witnessing the brutal injustices inflicted against the aliens, one is not sure whether to laugh or feel disgusted and sympathetic. Over the course of the film it becomes clear who the humane and inhumane are. In this sense Blomkamp is very clever in humanizing the aliens and taking the audience on the psychological and emotional journey from dehumanizing prejudice to empathy.

The main character of Wikus van der Merwe is endearingly played by Sharlto Copley. An awkward, yet enthusiastic and ambitious servant of the state, Wikus resembles a younger version of the bosses in the British and American TV series "The Office." Except rather than being in charge of paper salesmen, he is in charge of an army of social workers backed by paramilitary comandoes riding in APC carriers and scout helicopters. Because of the awkward comedy of his role, it is easy to overlook the emotional intensity and depth of the situations actor Sharlto Copley must act throughout the movie. There are several painful and traumatic experiences the character Wikus goes through in the movie and Sharlto Copley acts this very convincingly and with much emotional depth and sensitivity. His acting lends a sense of humanity and endearingness to the character that would otherwise be rather annoying.

Another thing that I liked in the movie was the writing. The characters are all very well developed. The use of reverse stereotypes is quite clever, such as the cowardly hero, the civilized alien, and the disabled Nigerian warlord, and the Evil Captain of the soldiers. In a normal Hollywood movie, The captain of soldiers would be played by Bruce Willis and be the hero of the story, The Aliens would be savage monsters, the Nigerian Warlord would be athletic but somewhat idiotic, and Wikus would be a traitorous, and cowardly human who gets eaten by an alien.

The one thing 'District 9' does tackle head on is graphic violence and action. It is quite graphic and grisly as one would expect an alien movie to be and fans of this genre will not be disappointed. Originally intended to be a movie version of Halo, before the project went under, the movie has lots of cool effects and technologies reminiscent of the game. There is a cool action sequence towards the end involving a huge mechanized robotic suit seen in the trailers that is very cool. All said and done this was a very cool film and one of the better one's I've seen in quite a while. Did I mention it was cool?

Just in case you are still on the fence on seeing this one, you might like this movie if you liked:
Aliens, Shawn of the Dead, Spinal Tap, E.T., The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Avatar

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