District 9 (15)
Cast: Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, David James, Vanessa Haywood, Nathalie Boltt, Sylvaine Strike
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Running time: 112 minutes
If District 9 was a clear-cut ‘aliens invade the earth’ film, I would have screamed so loud you’d have heard it over there as you sipped on your lemongrass tea, tapping away on Facebook thinking no-one was watching you. But, thankfully, it wasn’t. I really don’t have time for films that try to tell you what will happen if aliens were to invade the earth – or if the world was going to end in some other fashion. Post-apocalyptic films are really quite boring now, so I am glad to say that this film was different. Very cleverly so.
Based on the idea in Alien Nation where the aliens are enslaved on the mothership, are found by humans and then co-habited back into our society, Neill Blomkamp (with Peter Jackson’s money) takes his crazy CGI ideas and adapts them to fit our screens perfectly. The effects in this film are so astonishingly done that they seem so underdone. Without wanting to sound like too much of a naysayer, it’s a good thing Halo didn’t see the light of day as this project would never have happened. Be sure not to question too much from the get-go and you’ll find yourself pleasantly flabbergasted. So, here’s the premise: an alien spaceship finds itself hovering over Johannesburg one day, twenty years ago, and stays there – untouched or unmoved, until the humans decide it’s time to go inside it.
Upon discovering several million malnourished aliens, the humans decide that they are able to house them on Earth — in slums in South Africa. Now, I know what you’re thinking… sounds a bit like the apartheid in real life. Well, that’s kind of the point, given that the director is South African. I’m not a fan of over-hyped, sensationalist commentaries on the political aspects of our society, but this does well to ever so lightly tease you with it and then only sort of alludes to it again, after sucking you in with the plot twist.
Our underdog protagonist, Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley), is a government agent that finds himself torn between doing what others want you to, to doing what is actually required of you — through basic human care and compassion. I’ve never felt so much concern for an extra-terrestrial’s plight to want to go home (well, okay, maybe E.T.) and when you find out how hard they’ve worked to try and make it happen, you only want them to succeed. Blomkamp does something amazing with his fictional creations; he gives them life. Despite them being made from a mechanical-crustacean mix, he gives them heart and he allows them to feel. They are not here to destroy us and they are certainly not trying to conquer us. They manage to make us know exactly what they are saying by a few simple clicks of the tongue. That takes a lot of skill from a director.
Soon enough, you stop questioning the why and you start believing the story. The aliens need to be moved from District 9 to District 10 as part of a massive government conspiracy to do tests on them (or, ‘for their own benefit’). It’s simple; we’re human and we destroy things — more than anything else around us. Copley’s portrayal of a confused, dithering loser is second-to-none; which, for a man that’s not actually an actor, is simply hard to believe. He carries himself through this film with the same amount of bewilderment and frightening honesty you would find yourself to be in when having intercourse for the first time. Given that Van de Merwe is also the only person that can help the aliens, your heart absolutely melts for him. It really does.
Of course, if you did want to question the why as mentioned earlier, you’d find yourself having to deal with a few conundrums — why are the aliens so placid? They can tear us to pieces… but they don’t. You also never find out why the ship arrives over South Africa in the first place, but again, a minor detail. Given that District 9 is more of an extension of the short Alive in Joburg that Blomkamp made four years ago, which Jackson loved, it is safe to say he’s passionate about the whole xenophobic issue and sets his argument out well. Albeit in the form of some terrifying and some very loveable aliens. Watch out for the baby alien — he’s darn cute (and surprisingly integral!).
District 9 gets a well-deserved four and a half from me.