There has always been a special place science fiction has held in my life. Like so many other lifelong Sci-Fi aficionados this was the first genre in literature and subsequently film that became a favorite of mine. One reason there are so many of us out there is the sheer versatility of the genre in telling a story. A well crafted Sci-Fi can work on a myriad of levels. Topics that might be considered too sensitive, controversial or otherwise in opposition to the conventional norm can be readily clocked in a fictional tale involving alien monsters or robotic menaces. Because of this there are many examples of old films, novels and even television episodes that can be revisited with each time revealing a new previously unappreciated dimension. The old ‘Twilight Zone’ and ‘Outer Limits’ TV anthology series were famous for tackling emotionally charged subjects in an entertaining format. In films ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers appeared on the surface to be about an alien invasion while actually presenting an indictment of the growing fears of communism. Fortunately, this time honored tradition is still alive and going strong. ‘District 9’ from South African film maker Neill Blomkamp may look like just another special effects driven monster flick that considers pertinent social issues including xenophobia, prejudice and ghetto separation. These are topics that have been part of the human experience throughout history nut recently has had a resurgence most particularly after the tragic events of 9-11. with thanks to an innovative viral campaign the filmed managed to recoup more than its rather modest $30 million budget in its limited opening weekend going on to accumulate a modest financial success. This is quite an accomplishment considering most recent Science Fictions movies allocate more than the entire budget here just for incidentals. There are numerous technical flaws evident in the presentation but I found that they only made the film more realistic and on point with achieving it objectives. A movie like this is helped by a gritty, tough around the edges feel and would lose much of its inherent message if made too polished.
When a film’s writer and director pull from personal experience the result is almost always a significant contribution to the overall success of the film. In the case here the writer/director Neill Blomkamp as born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa where the government brutally enforced apartheid structure for almost half a century. Events horribly close to those depicted here were applied with draconian measures against human beings. The allegory employed in this film is a rather thin veneer but the point is made nicely wrapped in an entertaining story; an expression of the very essence of the genre. Blomkamp’s background is in 3D animation which is perfect for a movie like this providing him with the ability to visualize the complex elements required to build a realistic shot. This is a visually stunning movie that surrounds you in an atmospheric world of fear, distrust and exploitation.
Utilizing a documentary style the film chronicles how a space containing over s million arthropod-like extraterrestrials set adrift from their mother ship. In some ways this is a variation of the Sci-Fi classic ‘Alien Nation’ except instead of ant movement towards incorporating the aliens into our society the nations of the earth quickly move to isolate the inter planetary refugees in an section of South Africa designated ‘District 9’. The ghetto is restricted; not allowing humans in or aliens to leave. The conditions are deployable but no one is concerned about extending human treatment to the new lowest caste of non-humans called by the pejorative term ‘prawns’. The human race has always felt the need for one group to feel superior to another and now the perfect scapegoat has literally dropped in our laps. The area where the aliens are located degrades into slum ad their numbers increase far too rapidly for the comfort of the nearby humans. The thankless task of securing the aliens is out sourced to a large corporate concern, Multinational United (MNU). Basically they are able to act with little if any government oversight or those pesky restrictions. The corporate executives mandate a forced relocation assigning the job to one of their top field agents; Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley).while evicting some alien families Wikus comes across an alien weapon and terminates the eggs in the residence. The military has been interested in the use of the alien technology especially the weapons but they are keyed to their DNA precluding their use by human beings. In a subsequent eviction utilizing flame throwers Wikus is contaminated by a strange liquid that begins to alter his arm. The change to his genetic make-up allows Wikus to use the weapons so the company slates him for vivisection. Naturally Wikus escapes going into hiding. It turns out the alien from that shack has been gathering for twenty years and it will be able to re-activate the mother ship and conquering the earth. All of this begins to have s profound effect on Wikus changing his view point of the aliens and how they have been treated.
After so many poorly made Sci-Fi flicks one like this that is tightly and intelligently written is a refreshing experience that brought me back to why this was the first genre that hooked me. The pseudo documentary style and mostly unknown cast greatly enhances the sense of reality for the film in a very natural fashion with no feel of the situation being contrived. For once a film pushed with viral marketing actually lives up to the hype. The movie is available in both DVD and Blu-ray but with the high definition edition the level of detail is remarkable. The DTS-HD MA 5.1lossless audio pulls you right into the middle of the action.