Monday, February 8, 2010

Film Review - District 9

Film #17 of 2010 - District 9

No one will ever mistake me for a fan of Science Fiction films. As a matter of fact, I tend to actively avoid them as a matter of course. There have been some exceptions, however; Pitch Black and The Matrix immediately come to mind, but I think those were "different" from most Sci-Fi films. District 9 can definitely be put into that "other" category as well.

Directed by Neill Blomkamp, District 9 is initially filmed in a documentary style, showing the history of the events currently occurring in 2010 Johannesburg, South Africa. Twenty years prior, an alien mother ship descended upon the city, and after the military was finally able to open the door, they found many starving aliens. After putting the aliens in an internment camp called District 9, which was essentially a slum, they were left to their own devices, but still were disenfranchised and not allowed to return to their home planet. Present day, the government has decided to conduct a mass eviction of District 9 and move the aliens out to District 10, which is farther away from the city (and by all accounts, has worse conditions.) Chosen to head up the operation is the son-in-law of the head of the company in charge, Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley) who seems to be amiable enough, but who covers up his lack of experience and confidence with bravado and prejudice. When he is exposed to some of the aliens' biotechnology, he has no choice but to reevaluate his actions and behavior in order to survive.

Though I knew the general conceit of the film and its underlying theme, I had absolutely no idea what to expect when I sat down to watch District 9, which I think is a really good way to experience the film, particularly if, like me, you harbor any kind of prejudice against the Sci-Fi genre. (Yes, I fully admit it, I do.) More an allegory about apartheid and genocide than a traditional Sci-Fi film, District 9 is extremely intelligent while not forgetting action and suspense elements. I loved that this film was thought provoking; that it made me think. I also found it profoundly interesting that regardless of the fact that the aliens were really ugly, and, for the most part, either by nature or because of their environment act somewhat savagely, I felt really sad about their treatment and actually sympathized. (Whereas, one of my film companions expressed confusion over who he thought he should have been feeling for.)

I was surprised to find out that, other than the short film made a few years ago that inspired this film, that District 9 is Sharlto Copley's first feature film, as he did an excellent job conveying the various evolutions his character goes through; clearly this guy is a natural. From a technical perspective, I thought the CGI was nearly flawless; instead of being able to tell that the aliens were completely CGI, I simply assumed they were because of the minimal budget. Though the film was very good, it wasn't without its faults, namely that it kind of descended into a "buddy film" at some points, which kind of went against what I consider the philosophy of the rest of the film to be. There were also just a few small unnecessarily corny moments, usually surrounding the alien kid, but the positives of District 9 far outweigh the negatives, and it is causing me to do something I never thought I would do: not only give a great review of a Sci-Fi film, but also recommend one. With District 9 I do both, whole-heartedly.

4 stars out of 5

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