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District 9: My Review

August 4, 2009

So I mentioned a little in my previous Comic Con report, but I won some tickets for me and my friend (Lynn) to go to the worldwide premiere of District 9 on the Thursday night of the Con. And we left in plenty of time to get to the cinema where we queued with other ticket winners and guests and chatted about what we were about to see. After checking names on a list and providing us with little tickets (which are cool and which I would put online to show you if I were home – might do it later!), we went upstairs to the screen. Before being allowed in, we had to hand over ALL our electronic devices at one desk and then all our bags at another, exchanging them for raffle tickets. We were also wanded as we entered the screen. At that point I think I realised this was the first ever screening of the film in total!!

After noticing a big block of reserved seats (for press and guests), we wandered in and found some fairly central seats. We were in front of a fairly boisterous group who were being a bit obnoxious about Comic Con and saying how they liked the Con as it made them feel better-looking to be around all these geeks. And then went on to say how all the girls fawned after them, and that some of these girls were negatively off the 1-10 scale. A little dumb in an audience made up of Comic Con attendees, but I couldn’t resist and had a look at these sexy beasts. I almost snorted with my heightened sense of derision as they were completely nothing special and had some extremely dodgy haircuts. Satisfied that the group were all talk, I settled into my comfy seat again. And this time listened in as one of Team Bastard sqee’ed in excitement that Dominic Monaghan was in the cinema. Now Lynn can’t resist a celeb spotting, so went up to have a look, and came back and quietly and calmly reported seeing 2 hobbits up near the entrance. Dominic Monaghan may have Lost cred, but he was there with Elijah Wood, which the other group seemed to have not noticed. It again, gave me a small sense of satisfaction.

As did Peter Jackson’s appearance to introduce the film. Mostly because in the queue people were saying he definitely wouldn’t be there, and I was arguing that he would. Yes, I am petty enough to care that I was right! So we were anyway greeted by Peter Jackson, who gave us a little background to the film before introducing the film’s director (Neill Blomkamp) and main star (Sharlo Copley). Both were very sweet and obviously nervous and excited about their film getting its first ‘crowd’ viewing, asked us to be kind and said we could happily say what we wanted about the film and its premiere, as long as we didn’t give away any plot twists. So this is a licensed review, honest!

The film starts with a series of voxpops, introducing our main character Wikus Van De Merwe (looking remarkably more dorky than Sharlo Copley in real life from a few minutes earlier introducing the film). And we learn:

  • Aliens came to Earth by Johannesburg 20 years earlier and were cordoned off in the area called District 9
  • Wikus is a bit of a toady civil servant type
  • He works for MNU (Multi-National United), a corporation that’s come to the forefront of life since the ‘non-humans’ landed, and which deals with technology and security (always a dangerous mix). For another view of MNU, go look at MNU Spreads Lies (a viral site by non-human Christopher)
  • Wikus did something that surprised his work colleagues

And so as the voxpops fade and the story picks up, we know there was some kind of incident, but not sure what it was, and we’re fairly sure it involves Wikus and the non-humans. We see Wikus getting the ‘prime’ job of leading the alien eviction/re-location plan where MNU move them from one shanty town to another, further away from town to avoid upsetting the local populace. They’re destined for District 10, but all is not destined to go well with this ‘simple’ relocation plan. And that’s the basic set-up for the film. And one that I’m not going to go into too much more detail about.

I may not have found many of the plot changes to be actual twists, but in retrospect coming at the film completely fresh is one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much, so truly from the above set-up, you can probably get a good enough picture of a film that hinges around a single incident and how things play out from that point onwards. It’s not just a thriller in that respect though, there’s action, and plenty of violence. And all surrounding the basic premise that we humans would not treat extra-terrestrial visitors well, if we could at all get away with shoving them in disgusting living conditions and plundering their science and tech. The story is engaging, despite many of the characters being fairly despicable. Our main guy, Wikus, certainly expresses enough ‘racist’ ideas to usually discount someone from being a ‘hero’ of a film. Although I cringed every time someone called a non-human a ‘prawn’, I also kind of wanted them to call the non-human kids ‘shrimps’, which they never did! The film gets away with the awkwardness of watching such vehement racism, though, and tempers it with some good old-fashioned violence!

The violence is definitely something you’ll be talking about if you go see the film. I’m not averse to violence, nor do I seek it out in my movies. But there’s something so damn stylish about the fighting in District 9 that even I cheered when guns were fired. It’s like crossing a FPS game with the Matrix while keeping the action believable and fitting within the story. Seriously, I cheered. Multiple times. It’s that exhilarating. And I wouldn’t let it put anyone off seeing it either. It’s mostly gun violence, though there are a couple of seriously icky bits where I think the majority of people cringed or averted their eyes. But the violence serves the story, which is why it deserves the cheers. And the special effects involved certainly look like they cost a lot more than they did (film was allegedly made on $30m and really destroys the effects of many more expensive films).

District 9 is based on a short film called ‘Alive in Joburg’ by the same director and it came about when a Halo film that Blomkamp was contacted about fell through. And having seen the film, he’d definitely make any FPS game into a decent film! Someone on twitter, after viewing the film, commented that hardcore gamers would love it. And there’s definite truth to that. It’s a confident and stylish film that deals with tricky subject matter and comes to an interesting and satisfying conclusion. It’s not a traditional action or alien film, though it has aspects of both, instead it is an intelligent and sometimes scary look at human-alien interaction.

District 9 is due for release on August 14th (possibly just in the US, not sure of UK release date)* and in my opinion is definitely worth watching. It was one of the highlights of my Comic Con week, perhaps because I knew so little about it, but also because I’m not sure it is something I’d usually go see in a cinema, and now I find myself an empassioned ambassador for it, even if I can’t fully articulate why.

*Edit:

  • According to my sister’s copy of Empire it’s due out in the UK on 4th September.
  • I should probably also mention I thought the quality of acting was superb, and it benefitted from not having any big name stars!
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9 comments

  1. Sounds great!


    • I think you would particularly like it,s lots of human condition stuff, and lots of guns…


  2. First I’d heard about this movie – thanks arb’.


  3. Good review, will definitely try and see it when it comes out.

    Out of curiosity, have you seen Alien Nation (the film not the TV series)? If so, how different an idea does this film have? I ask as Alien Nation was an enjoyable film with the basic premise of using human/alien predjudice about aliens as a cypher for discussing human/human predjudice.


    • As was ‘Enemy Mine’ too if I remember it right.


    • I saw a bit of the film, but none of the TV show.


    • All I will say though is if I had to recommend a film to you specifically, this one would be one I’d do without any qualms. Violence, aliens, politics… what’s not to love?


  4. I tend to look at SciFi/Fantasy films as osasis in the desert, meaning that they are so few and infrequent I can’t afford not to go, else I may well die of thirst.

    But it’s always nice when one is decent, that’s always a treat.

    Anyways, enjoying your ComiCon writings.


  5. NO. This is not sci fi at its best. The film did not make me believe it was worth the 18 bucks me and my wife spent to see it. The ‘mocumentary’ type of film is not the correct storytelling choice for a movie advertised as action packed. This story is better off as a traditional film. Could have been a great movie ,but doesn’t deliver. On a positive note, the cast and crew did a great job. Believable characters, except the stereotypical vodoo gang.



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