Friday, September 18, 2009

District 9

thought i had posted this earlier, I apologize for the lateness.

District 9
A Film About The Way Human Beings Really Are
Even If We Don't Want To Admit It

When I first read the rumblings across the wire about a rumor that the stand out sci fi film of 2009 might come out of South Africa, a film industry not really known for making sci fi films, I at first dismissed it, laughed it off, South Africa is known for its depressing stomp on your throat in a pair of sharpened baseball cleats, and when you think its done, it stomps some more and grinds, then it does it more. Because they're just that depressing. So the idea of them pulling a sci fi film of any note off was a long shot at best. But, I must admit, this film comes dangerously close to hitting the Sci Fi bullseye, which honestly, is a good thing, the kind of good thing that people are just left agape wondering if what they just saw was the closest thing to a religious experience that most of the world will ever have, that is what a film is supposed to do, just leave you wide eyed and open mouthed in wonder. District 9 does not disappoint when it comes to doing that, and you can trust in that.

Here is the plot: The film is done in a faux documentary style, explaining everything and introducing everyone who you will need to know through interviews, that slowly fill in the puzzle of what is going on in this film, its brilliantly done, even if its hard to figure out at first. Thats probably one of my very few problems with the film, its slow somewhat confusing beginning 15 or 20 minutes, though they are needed, given the fact they introduce and set up everything you will need for the film, the main characters, what District 9 is, how the aliens got here, things of that nature, if you need a reference to get what i mean, think the way Jurassic Park started, that slow but important opening. After the slow moving set up, the film's pace quickens once you actually get inside District 9 itself, and see not only the hellhole that it is, but how the humans treat the aliens, or "prawns" as they call them given their likeness to shrimps, you truly see what this film is about. Its really a metaphor for the years of South Africa's Apartheid rule. Once your mind connects the dots, you fully understand what this film is about. its about the struggle for freedom, equality, and the most basic of human rights, the right to not be treated like a lower creature just because you are different.

Through flashbacks and cuts to archival footage, you meet the main players of this film; Wikus van de Merwe; our central character, he works for MNU, a large multinational weapons development and private security force, who oversee District 9, Wikus' job is the head of the Department for Relations with Extraterrestrial Civilizations, a job his father inlaw Piet Smit, a high ranking director at MNU promotes him too on the day Wikus goes into District 9, during this part you also meet Colonel Kobus Venter, the film's main villain, and head of a unit of soldiers despacted to accompany Wikus and his people into District 9. At this point its explained that the aliens are being moved from their hovel town outside of Johannesburg South Africa, to a large place of land many miles away which will be called District 10.

It is at this point we learn how the aliens ended up here in the first place, In 1982, a large alien spaceship stops above Johannesburg, South Africa. Reports suggest that the ship became stranded after a command module separated from the ship and dropped to Earth, nowhere to be found. After cutting their way inside, an exploratory team discovers a large group of unhealthy and leaderless arthropod-like species. These alien creatures, derogatorily referred to as prawns, are taken from the ship and housed in a government camp inside Johannesburg called District 9, which soon turns into a slum. You then, through a series of clip interviews see not only what the average person thinks of the aliens being here, but also you see just how bad things are inside District 9, they talk about the Nigerian gang that runs the illegal businesses, dealing in weapons, food, even interspecies prostitution. You are then told that one of the main things leading to MNU controlling District 9, is that they wanted the weapons and alien tech that the prawns have, even though it has been discovered that the weapons and tech are all bio-locked, meaning if you are not of their genetic make up, you can't use any of it, they mention that at one point before first contact was made, that a small escape pod sized part of the ship fell off, and though no one could find it, they believed that was the key to the ship's control, as well allowing humans to access the weapons. This is also where you discover that the move, is really just a big scam to strip the prawns of all their tech and weapons they brought with them from the ship.

From here you jump back to Wikus, as he and his group, along with the military unit that is their escort, enter District 9. And you can't help but look in awe at just how bad it is, and it makes you wonder, if we ever do make first contact, will we be this bad? will we embrace them at first, and then reject and mistreat them if we discover the aliens aren't what we all dream them to be like, and more so, if they come to us looking for help, will we just try to exploit them for what we can gain from them, then cast them aside to live in hellish squaller. As you move around District 9, you are bombarded with hellish imagery worse then anywhere in the 3rd World, you also see that with out us taking the time to attempt and teach them communication, simple misunderstandings can become deadly, you see one prawn kick a man so hard he not only loses and arm, but his life when he impacts with a wall several feet away, you then see that prawn be killed with out a second thought by the military envoy, you see several situations just like this as the film goes, shootings, brutality, even the burning of a nursery full of babies, it gets to the point where you really start to question if humanity deserves to be in contact with the creatures of another world, or if we truly are as narrow minded, violent and primitive as the film depicts. But I guess that would be the point of it all in the end wouldn't it? At this point you see two aliens in a shack using what looks to be a biological science station, where they are distilling some form of fluid, which is quickly stuffed into a canister and smuggled away when Wikus and his people knock on the door.

The alien that takes the canister is designated for filing and locational reasons, with the name Christopher Johnson, Christopher's young son, one of the few children allowed to grow in District 9, greets Wikus and his people at their door while Christopher hides the canister. As he's asked to leave his shack for means of inspecting, they discover the hundreds of computers linked together inside the shack, all of which are considered contraband and must be taken. During the inspection Wikus finds the canister and is accidentally sprayed in the face with the black fluid inside. Christopher is outside demanding his rights when Wikus comes out looking as if he's doing to be ill. At this point the crew decides its time to leave District 9 for today. Wikus returns home to a surprise party in his honor, only to be taken aside by his father inlaw and told if he doesn't do a better job with the relocation to District 10, he will be fired. Apparent his father inlaw has no idea what the difference between a disciplinary hearing and a surprise party is, it makes you wonder if he really has lived an interesting life or not, but you soon realize you don't really care, because during the party Wikus starts to bleed a black fluid that looks alot like what is in the container he was sprayed with. He is taken to hospital and it is soon discovered that under the skin of his left arm, is the arm of one of the aliens.

Whatever was in that canister is turning Wikus into an alien, and after discovering this he is rushed to a special lab inside the MNU main office where its discovered that that he not only has an arm like one, but also their speed, their agility, and their strength, as well as, and most importantly to his father inlaw, he can operate alien technology and weapons. Wikus screams in horror and fear as they force him to test out alien weapon after weapon at times with a gun to his head, eventually using what appears to be an alien flamethrower on steroids he is forced to kill a prawn, which he protests the action of, screaming how its not right or fair, eventually he uses his alien strength to escape, MNU brands him a fugitive, claiming he had contracted an alien sexually transmitted disease and was in a sense a typhoid marry running loose in the city of Johannesburg, a claim his wife does not believe. Wikus goes to the only place he feels he can get answers, he heads back to District 9, to the home of Christopher Johnson, who upon seeing him and his arm decides to help, in exchange for Wikus' help regaining that canister he took earlier, as Wikus starts to understand the alien's language, Christopher takes him under his shack and explains to him that the module that fell from the ship over 20 years ago, was the command module and that the canister that sprayed wikus was a bio fuel, that powered the alien mothership, and that the fuel will allow the alien ship to leave earth for the first time sene its arrival. Realizing the only way to save himself and the aliens is to help Christopher, Wikus agrees to help him regain the canister, and after gaining some earth and alien tech and weapons from the Nigerian Gang Warlord, they head off to raid the MNU building and regain the canister.

From there the film switches into overdrive for what is possibly the best 45 or so minutes of straight up punch you in the face action you will see in years as Wikus and Christopher fend off not only the MNU Military Compliment head by the insane and sadistic Colonel Kobus Venter, but eventually Nigerian gang members bent on revenge for what Wikus does to them when gaining weapons from them. Its an insanely fast paced, lightening fast version of the shoot outs of the wild west with all three sides going at each other all at once, somewhere in the total chaos, Wikas gains control over an alien battle mech, which he uses while Christopher tries to get the command module into the air, after the Nigerian gang members are delt with, it leaves Wikus to take on Venter and his men while Christopher heads for the ship. It all leads up to a final showdown between Venter and Wikus that just leaves you on the edge of your seats waiting for whats going to happen next, its truly an awesome climatic scene, and one that will leave you happy you came to see this film. I won't spoil the actual ending of the film but it does leave it open for a second one if they see fit, though given that it would be a sort of Judgment Day type situation, I find myself worrying about the idea of a follow up, given that the idea of us being judged for our primative and brutal ways by aliens is so over done. Plus, sometimes a story is best left open ended, where you can write your own ending.

As I said at the start, this film did not let me down, yes, it does have a very slow, but very important to the rest of the film starting point, and its very easy to get yourself mucked up in that and lose interest, but don't, stick with it, because the boring set up is needed for the rest of the film to make sense, and once you get out into the actual District 9, the film picks up speed and just rolls through its run time with compelling and action that if anything will give it the status of a sleeper hit for the year. I whole heartedly recommend this film to anyone that is a fan of brilliant writing, awesome special effects, or super high end well written sci fi. So if you get a chance, seriously, check this out, you will not be disappointed at all.




  1. Man, I think people who saw this and didn't like it are so...not looking for a good movie because again what did you really expect? We got more aliens on screen than I have ever seen in a movie, and we had betrayal, love, honor, and everything else. I swear, I thought Wikus was really gonna kill the little guy when they ran into Christopher. Anyways, hand down my favorite movie this summer, and I want to see it again on the big screen because that mech and the ship were badass

  2. Yeah I agree with you there Eric, people who didn't really get it, just had to not be looking for a good film, but also as i said, the first 20 minutes or so is pretty boring, and most people will either love or hate a movie in that amount of time.

    Also agree about Christopher's son, I saw the kid and how he was acting, and I thought one of them was gonna kill him and that was gonna start a riot, and thats what the film would be about. That would have been great, also, but i am very pleased with what the movie actually turned out to be.

  3. Yeah definitely. Well, I heard from some people Best Sci Fi movie ever, but then I heard from those same people OMG it was so confusing! I was like what? Then when I saw it myself I didn't find it confusing because you could tell it was dry in the beginning to set up the rest. Meh, some people, can't please em all and we all know how we just want everyone to agree with us.