Copyright © 2009 by TriStar Pictures
An alien vessel arrives in 1982 and hovers directly above Johannesburg in South Africa with many alien life forms found in the ship malnourished and sickly. The creatures which are lowly regarded as ‘prawns’, are kept under surveillance in a government camp in the outskirts of Johannesburg known as District 9. Due to the aliens’ unknown origins, the residents of District 9 become increasingly uncomfortable with their presence and the government subsequently employs a private military company called the Multinational United (MNU) to move the aliens to a another confinement camp away from the locals. Leading the operation is Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley), an Afrikaner bureaucrat who is infected with alien technology while raiding of one of the alien’s quarters. As the infection worsens, he is forced to ally with the very same alien, Christopher Johnson (Jason Cope) who found the technology to help him reverse the mutation.
I did not know what to expect from this directorial debut of Neill Blomkamp other than a wave of excellent reviews from professional critics and movie audiences alike and frequent advertisement highlighting ‘Peter Jackson’ as one of the producers for this piece of gem. Nominated for four Oscars including one for ‘Best Picture’, a rarity in the science fiction genre, it successfully blends the mockumentary format when tackling the plight of the oppressed aliens and blockbuster territory during the film’s final act. The recurring theme featured here takes a long and hard look on parallel events that happened in South Africa during the apartheid era, with similarities faced by residents of District 6, an inner-city residential area in Cape Town.
In a not too subtle context, the capitalist reigns supremacy over the weak. The on-going inhumanity and racism that plague in every corner of the world is a reminder that the past is not behind us. We supposedly have evolved to be better people but history keeps telling us otherwise. It is a cautionary tale for one to reflect on the brutalities of what the strong is capable of inflicting. The MNU is a prime example of how a major conglomerate that is financially motivated will stop at nothing to achieve their objectives.
Political standpoint aside, Blomkamp has created a very realistic and bleak atmosphere surrounding the overall feel of the film. Although the hand-held shots utilised do enhance the realism and is becoming extremely popular of late, I personally do not fancy such technique. Many of the shots are used to supposedly heightened the tension in the action scenes but they are headache inducing and diminish said effect. This style does work whenever it is presented as a mockumentary when audiences are introduced to the fictional interviews, news footage and videos from surveillance cameras about the aliens’ descend to Earth which lead to their mistreatment whilst being kept here under close observation.
The cast here are mostly unknowns and Copley turns in a very sympathetic portrayal of the appointed human leader who slowly finds himself transformed into one of the extraterrestrials that he is supposed to relocate. The entire story rests on his shoulders and the bureaucrat ably carries the movie through. The arm revelation in the hospital is unexpected and judging from his look in disbelieve, I would dare say he hoped for something more optimistic as well. Though Wikus’ fate remains ambiguous, Blomkamp has crafted a sure-fire hit that dares to be bold and not afraid to pose hard-hitting questions straight up.
Rated R for bloody violence and pervasive language