Friday, August 14, 2009

'District 9' has terrific action, thought provoking script

By Steve Crum

While a couple of its sequences echo Transformers and Independence Day, District 9 is much, much more. Here is a sci-fi film with bold nuance, triggering multiple blasts at social mores, politics, genetics, mass media, conspiracy, trust, and oppression. District 9’s savvy script, co-written by its director Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell, encompasses a load of thought provoking issues, yet never seems bogged down or labored. The story moves briskly from frame one, and maintains interest consistently. District 9 is a fascinating and exciting movie, the most original of its genre since 1998’s Dark City.
Blomkamp’s strong visual effects, including the creatures, weaponry and realistic violence, were influenced by his background as animator for TV’s Dark Angel and Smallville. Co-directing the short Crossing the Line with fantasy film legend Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings trilogy) undoubtedly helped too. Their collaboration continues; Jackson produced District 9.

The title refers to the ghetto area in which 1.8 million alien refugees, and we are talking outer space types, reside. Incarcerated is the apt term. The story goes that nearly three decades ago, the creatures were found starving inside a huge space vehicle (think the Independence Day mother ship). Evidently the refugees were the last survivors of their unnamed planet. The ship had been hovering over Johannesburg, South Africa for a long time before it was decided to forcefully cut into the hull for entry. Since the tall, wiry, squid-faced beings preferred garbage over gourmet human food, they were nicknamed “prauns,” denoting their bottom feeding ways. In long shot action sequences and close-up, the CGI generated creatures are stunningly realistic. Incidentally, the prauns crave canned cat food, which turns out to be an interesting plot element.

Now, 20 years later, the prauns still live in their designated District 9, but their numbers have grown. Governments worldwide are tired of dealing with them, and decide to hire a private company, Multi-National United (MNU), to gather up the prauns, and move them to another larger, more comfortable facility. Or so they are told. Mercenary types with tanks, helicopters, missiles and machine guns move in with authorized media coverage. The main TV newsman is South African personality Wikus Van De Menwe (Sharlto Copley), who treats the live, on-air event as a lark. But that is what he is paid to do, to put a spin on the negatives of the occasion. And there are many negatives. Prauns, which speak in their tongue only (with English subtitles), are given to violence. So are the MNU forces. Death and destruction occur, but Wikus laughs it off.

His flippant, condescending manner is tested when he accidentally exposes himself to an alien virus, followed by vomiting and extreme skin reactions. When his body begins to change, Wikus is on the run from the pursuing MNU, who want to literally cut him up for experimentation. It all has to do with extraterrestrial DNA and praun weapons. (Their weapons can only be activated by prauns.) A sub-plot involves Nigerian con men who reside within the praun community, and who trade the creatures cat food for their weapons. They are also pursuing poor Wikus, but for reasons--and religion--cannibalistic. See it to believe it.

Meanwhile, in hiding, Wikus befriends a praun scientist and his son whose literally underground plan is to return to their home planet. Homage to E.T. indeed. Then there is a grand finale that includes a Transformer-reminiscent sequence.

It is becoming more difficult for any science fiction film to be entirely free from including creatures and technology reminiscent of those found in previous sci-fi films. If anything, District 9’s inclusions refine and improve. The whole of the film is fresh and original. Plaudits should include the no name cast, particularly Copley. His days of anonymity are now past. For that matter, send another great script to director Blomkamp. Or have him write it himself.

If sensitive, intelligent, and cat food craving creatures whose heads look like transplants from the Star Wars cantina scene is by itself not enough to pique your interest to see District 9, then wherefore art thou?

On an A to F Grade Scale: A
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3 comments:

  1. Have to agree, fresh and original Sci-Fi. Great use of the quasi "docu" style.

    Blair Witch Project was a good "personal docu" style fright film with bouncing action camera effect. D9 as a docu style film uses live action moving camera shots with the feel of a war cameraman style so Dramamine is not required to enjoy D9.

    The storyline flowed very well from scene to scene. The plot build and storyline dilemma resolution moved along very convincingly. Early character build scenes of Wikus seemed to be annoying, but it was just good acting on Copley's part creating a distasteful bureaucratic (possibly naive) Dweeb.
    Like any film wanting to cash in on sequels D9 Left the door open.---To those who have seen the film I would imagine seeing the sequel, say in "3 years"?

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  2. I agree with you. Normally, shaky camera bothers me because it is overused. It is used sparingly in District 9, and to good effect since, as you say, this is done in quasi-documentary style. Early on, I wrote in my notes (which I take during the screening) that Wikus was a jerk. But then the worm turns, and he is pretty heroic by the end. I think they should leave this one alone for any sequel. It's what they call an instant classic. ~Steve

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