Movie Review: District 9

We’ve already started discussing District 9 down at the Box Office Round-up. Here’s a review and an invitation to continue talking.

Title: District 9

Cast, Crew, and Other Info:

Directed by Neil Blomkamp .
Written by Neil Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell.

Production designer: Philip Ivey
Special Effects Coordinator: David Barkes

Cast

Sharlto Copley as Wikus Van De Merwe
Louis Minnaar as Piet Smit
Jason Cope as Grey Bradnam
William Allen Young as Dirk Michaels
Jed Brophy as James Hope
Greg Melvill-Smith as Interviewer
Nick Blake as Francois Moraneu
Vanessa Haywood as Tania Van De Merwe
Marian Hooman as Sandra Van De Merwe
Vittorio Leonardi as Michael Bloemstein
Mandla Gaduka as Fundiswa Mhlanga
Eugene Khumbanyiwa as Obesandjo
Johan van Schoor as Nicolas Van De Merwe

Full Cast and Crew information is available at the imdb

Premise:

Twenty years ago, an alien spaceship arrived, bringing with it a lost and dying crew. The forced relocation of their Johannesburg ghetto coincides with a critical development by an alien scientist.

High Points:

I really liked the first third, a documentary-style exposé of what oppression does to the oppressors. Sharlto Copley initially plays Wikus Van De Merwe as a cheerily evil bureaucrat with a banal yet profound moral blindness. This man would have matter-of-factly sent people off to the gas chambers or blithely enforced apartheid. The film’s commentary on various manifestations of prejudice, from the casual (“You can’t say they don’t look like that.”) to the genocidal (concentration camps, ghetto social dynamics, and Mengelian experiments) are accurate, if not subtle.

Low Points:

A major plot element involves mad science of the sort I’d accept with a few eye-rolls but few questions in a comic-book movie, but not in something as gritty and real-world-bound as this film. I get both the metaphor and the plot function, but they’re asking us to buy an awful lot.

The Scores:

Originality: 3/6. The basic premises have been handled in SF before, although this film gives its own twist. The most obvious echoes include Alien Nation, Enemy Mine, Alien, Metamorphosis, and even, I suppose, Rambo. (One may also note hints of Elijah Mohammed’s Mothership/Motherplane).

Effects: 6/6. The film features excellent visual effects, which allowed viewers to engage the movie. I spent little time thinking about how the filmmakers achieved any given image.

Story: 4/6. Nemesis has PMS here. The story is compelling, but grows increasingly Hollywood as it goes along, and it does not quite live up to the expectations created by the introduction. My main object: we’ve got a few plot holes which, even given twenty years of unexplored history, require some explaining. For example: given the number of weapons in the District, weapons humans cannot use (and given how devastating they prove to be), why have the aliens not accomplished more?

Acting: 5/6 Sharlto Copley, on whom much of the film hangs, gives an outstanding performance. The film features solid acting with a certain documentary realism. They’ve hired actors who can play their roles, not underwear models. Few characters have been developed, however.

Production: 6/6. District 9 features a strong blend of conventional narrative and faux documentary techniques.

Emotional Response: 5/6.

Overall: 5/6. District 9 goes from SF-as-social-commentary to Kafka-as-comic-book to explosion-filled action movie. It’s a good film, but I felt it could have been so much more.

In total, District 9 receives 34/42.

Additional Comments

So, Our main alien is Spock/Scotty, its kid is Wesley, and the rest of the settlement are Red Shirts or Outer Rim colonists?

12 replies on “Movie Review: District 9”

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  2. zocalo says:

    My take on the main alien protagonists vs the others was that we were seeing two distinct classes of the same alien culture, perhaps deliberately bred that way or maybe just something evolutionary like the hierarchy of things like ants and bees. What seemed the best fit to me was an intelligent command class (Spock/Scotty and Wesley) and a worker/drone class (the Red Shirts) that, given the sizable array of weaponry we saw, were probably military or mercenary in nature.

    I really enjoyed it and was so completely engrossed in the movie that the obvious flaws and plot holes didn’t really get noticed until post-view review, except for the comic book moment with the “liquid” – not bad at all! Basically, “District 9” was pretty much everything that the hype had led be to believe that “Cloverfield” might be, but wasn’t.

    My big concern though is the ending… to say there is room for a sequel is an understatement to say the least, and I can’t see Hollywood passing on that if this is the surprise hit that it’s shaping up to be. Question is, will Tinseltown take their usual heavy handed approach and ruin it, or give us more of the same level of entertainment. If it’s the former, I’ll be taking the “it didn’t happen” approach, but if it’s the latter I’ll be first in the queue on opening night.

    • JD DeLuzio says:

      Agreed. This movie really lends itself to a sequel that would miss the point entirely.

      I also think the theory of two classes, suggested by the not-always-accurate academic in the film, has merit. The movie makes it very clear the “prawn” working with “Christopher” and his “son” is fairly clueless about technology. However, they still should have been able to fire a gun.

      • rickyjames says:

        They’re already talking a sequel, District 10, because this one made its budget back the first weekend. I see a mushroom cloud coming. You know, South Africa is the only nuclear weapons power to deliberately disarm, and that’s a fact – the white government didn’t want the blacks to have nukes after power was transferred. But I’ll betcha in this alternate world, they could scrape up the scattered disassembled bomb parts for a little racial, er, species cleanup…

    • zonk3r says:

      Yeah the director said in various interviews (and touched on it very subtly in the film) that the aliens were like ants who lost their queen and no longer had direction. The majority of the ones left were just the worker drone class who weren’t bright enough to do anything on their own.

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  4. octa says:

    Just got out of the theater 20 mins ago. What an excellent movie, sci-fi or otherwise. This is the new Blade Runner; I don’t say that lightly.

    I’ll probably have more thoughts on it tomorrow but just wanted to thank B42 for highlighting this gem.

  5. octa says:

    Major spoilers in this comment.

    Incoming brain dump after letting the movie sink in :)

    I want to know more about the aliens and their motives. The movie didn’t do much to explain anything. That’s not a bad thing per se, the intrigue definitely leaves me wanting more, which I guess is the point. I’d like to see the story expanded in a regular novel rather than a movie sequel.

    The biggest impact on me was the main character’s personality transition. He starts as a quirky individual. Gets along well with his co-workers. Everybody seems to like him, besides the military guys.

    Then we see a deeper side of his character. He doesn’t care about the Prawns, and clearly considers them sub-human. Hell, the guy’s in charge of displacement operations. He lies, swindles and cheats the aliens. When he confronts Christopher, we see him blackmail a clearly intelligent creature.

    He’s spineless, self-absorbed and lacking compassion.

    At this point in the movie, I really hated him. I had hoped Christopher’s friend would rip his head off when he had his altercation. Instead the Prawn was murdered. Then, as the effects of the fluid set in, I was pleased to see his response. The fingernails, teeth, vomitting, and eventually his hand’s mutation. It was great.

    Fast forward, and we have the inhumane treatment he’s put through in the hands of his father-in-law. I began to feel bad. Especially when he didn’t want to shoot the Prawn, and his remorse after discovering the experiments. I was rooting for him when they were about to cut his chest open. I was glad when he got away, and felt sorry for him when everyone in his life turned their back on him. A part of me kept thinking he deserved it.

    Skip to when he meets Christopher again. His character quickly reverts to his old self. He wanted the cure. That’s all. He didn’t care about Christopher and his ‘little one’. Not at all. Again and again, his actions clearly demonstrated that. I loved Christopher and his little kid, but I hated Wikus. Wikus was desperate to help himself, and only himself. Again, I was furious when he began to fly away without Christopher. The only thing that came close to a ‘saving grace’ was when he hopped into the exosuit, and was willing to sacrifice himself in order for Christopher to get back to his child.

    I don’t think you’re supposed to like Wikus. You’re supposed to find him vapid and annoying. You’re supposed to appreciate what he did at the end, his final realization. But as a whole? No. I don’t like him. I like Christopher and the little guy. And I think that’s a real success, to make me feel that way about the protagonist.

    I left the movie hoping, at least a little bit, that they don’t come back.

    • zonk3r says:

      I was incredibly impressed how well they were able to keep a tight lid on the plot for this film. Towards the end I really wasn’t sure which way it would go. The director isn’t very well known so, unlike Spielberg for example where you can almost expect a happy (or mostly happy) ending I had no such expectations here.

      I was also impressed by the visual fx because they were so well done I had no time or reason to think about them that instead I was led down a path the director set steering my emotions several directions. I was tied to Christopher and especially his son.

      I’ve since read up on how they did some of the effects in the movie and 100% of ALL of the creatures were CGI except for the mutilated bodies in the lab, which were lifesize models.

      I think there is an interesting comparison to be made of the effects of this movie to a movie like the Transformers movies or Iron Man. Transformers had amazing effects that blended live action with CGI in a way never done before. D9 was interesting in that the effects were never in your face saying “hey look at this shot, isn’t this cool that we can pull of a shot like this”? Transformers and Iron Man are visual effects porn. D9’s effects are more there to service the story and to draw an emotional attachment out of you that a giant robot or guy in a metal suit could never do.

  6. nitefallz says:

    Trying to skip all spoilers, but is the movie all shaky cam?

    • JD DeLuzio says:

      It’s pretty much all shaky-cam. Good film, but if you have trouble with bigscreen shaky-cam, you should pack the gravol.

    • zonk3r says:

      I wouldn’t put it even close to the Cloverfield category of shaky cam but it does have a lot of handheld camera work if that is what you mean.

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