As you may know young director Neill Blomkamp and Peter Jackson were in talks to adapt the million-dollar video game franchise ‘Halo’ but, after that didn’t work out developed ‘District 9’ instead. While there is definitely some ‘Halo’ influence in District 9, I don’t think a film adaptation of the game franchise would have been nearly as deep and well thought out as this.
The film starts off with a documentary style package that is maybe the most gripping piece of film I have ever seen. The gist; 20 years ago an alien spaceship arrived on our planet. Not over New York City or Washington D.C. but over Johannesburg, South Africa. After months went by with no contact (and no hostile attack) the people took it upon themselves to break into the aircraft only to find hundreds of malnutricious aliens, disdainfully called “prawns,” occupying the ship which are later transferred to South Africa’s District 9 (the slums).
After more than two decades dealing with the crime and nuisance of the visitors, patience has run out. Multi-National United (MNU) field operative Wikus van der Merwe (played brilliantly by first time actor Sharlto Copley) sets things in motion after he contracts an alien virus. Details and spoilers aside, he becomes the most hunted man on the planet.
Unlike other Alien invasion movies District 9’s story is anchored around human behavior and a well thought out character arch rather than fancy special effects (although the effects are pretty amazing.) The situation the aliens are in mirrors obvious real world problems, and its documentary style story telling explores both sides of the dilemma without blatantly villainizing either one.
In a lot of ways District 9 is like nothing I have ever seen before. Its unique quasi-documentary style leaves you on the edge of your seat throughout the entire film. Wikus’ character is extremely layered as is Christopher’s, the alien who later becomes the focal point of Wikus’ story. Because of this the audiences alliance feels like it is constantly shifting back and forth. A villain certainly does emerge towards the end the story but the alien vs. human dynamic is far from black and white.
As far as aliens go, these are probably the most “realistic” ones ever created for film. They are not blatantly evil (ALIEN/Every other Alien invastion movie) or overly adorable (E.T.) They just, are. And their CG performances should not be overlooked.
One viewing is not enough to totally understand everything ‘District 9’ has to offer. In fact, it may just become one of those movies that will be studied in film theory classrooms for years to come.
But who knows.