District 9 (2009)
US (dir. Neill Blomkamp)
Cast: Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, David James, Mandla Gaduka, William Allen Young, Vanessa Haywood, Kenneth Nkosi, Devlin Brown
Synopsis: An extraterrestrial race forced to live in slum-like conditions on Earth suddenly find a kindred spirit in a government agent that is exposed to their biotechnology.
Review: “District 9” was a movie that relied very heavily on its marketing campaign for promotion. “Advertisements” (which were pretty much non-informative “For Humans Only” signs) for this movie were everywhere, the trailer was minimalistic, and there was quite a shroud of secrecy surrounding the film’s premise. This “less is more” approach to the movie worked well for the most part (well enough to convince me to see it), but then came along the radio ads (after the release date) and the preliminary reviews which over-hyped the movie to the point where any reasonable person would think, “Wow, I’d be a fucking IDIOT if I didn’t go watch this movie!”. They pretty much started making the film sound like the most epic alien movie to come out in the past quarter century, and I felt that that detracted significantly from the inital marketing campaign that wasn’t spoon shoving the public with how Biblically epic the movie was going to be.
Regardless of the marketing bullshit, the film was a bit of a disappointment. I say disappointment because:
#1: I had high expectations
#2: I felt there could have been “more” given to the story
#3: The aliens weren’t particularily scary
I was pleased, however, to see significant amounts of splattery gore, but more on that later.
“District 9” starts off as a mockumentary type film, almost like “Cloverfield” – but with an actual cameracrew filming the events and not some guy with shaky hands and a digital camcorder. The mockumentary idea was going pretty well for the most part, it was captivating, gave some interesting insight into the history of the aliens’ arrival on Earth and actually looked very realistic (like something you would see on “The Passionate Eye” or “The Fifth Estate”). The mockumentary even contained some typical everyday people responding to the District 9 situation; this added greatly to the realism. The mockumentary switches over to regular third person viewer style as we are introduced to the film’s antagonist/protagonist, a bumbling, gawky, jerk, a-typical corporate shill who you really love to hate. His name alone is annoying (Wilkus) and he pretty much sucks at life. Wilkus has the super awesome job of relocating the aliens from their original refugee style camp, to an even crappier refugee camp (for some reason this reminded me of those poor Hurricane Katrina survivors and the piss-poor way FEMA arranged their re-location – particularily the people in the Ninth Ward).
On the day of the evictions from District 9, Wilkus encounters a slight problem when some of the aliens’ biotechnology explodes in his hands, spreading weird black goo all over his face. He thinks little of it, and returns to kicking alien refugee ass. Afterwards, he discovers the alien goo inconveniently begins mutating his own DNA and causes him to turn into human/alien hybrid. The evil corporation Wilus works for (MNU – run by his father-in-law) discovers this hybridization, and jumps at the chance to utilize Wilkus in exploring the potential usage of the aliens’ biotech weaponry (the weapons only work when they react with the living tissue of aliens). MNU kidnapps Wilkus and subjects to rather terrible experimentation where he is forced to murder an alien and be subjected to various painful physical procedures. MNU later decides to harvest his body parts, so Wilkus boots it. The only place he really can hide (ironically) is within District 9. He encounters an unlikely ally (a father and son who Wilkus had earlier threatened with eviciton) who promises to restore Wilkus to his human body if he helps the alien race get back to their spacecraft and repair the ship. Wilkus begins to live like an alien in the slum-like conditions of District 9 and we get to see one of the most shocking things ever seen in a modern motion picture – character development!!! Wilkus evolves from a general asshole, to a compassionate, understanding human being (albeit with a few flaws). He risks life and limb to help Chris (the alien) and his son return to their ship (yeah the alien’s name is Chris…).
While I didn’t downright hate the movie, I didn’t exactly fall in love with it either. It had some excellent moments (i.e. Wilkus begging MNU to not force him to kill an alien, Chris sadly staring at his dead friends in the MNU labs, Wilkus reflecting on how much he loves his wife etc.) but it also had some silly parts that made the movie seem juvenile (mainly the whole Wilkus had sex with an alien conspiracy and the cat food stuff). I also thought the aliens were more cutesy than evil and scary looking. The ending wasn’t spectacular – Wilkus ends up turning into an alien and having to wait several years until Chris comes back with a cure (if he ever even does) and we discover all the aliens were evicted and sent to District 10. So really, the humans don’t even learn how to coexist with the alien refugees and the aliens are forced back into even worse slum conditons. I would have liked it if Wilkus had become a sort of spokesperson for the aliens and became their “saviour” so to speak, but sadly (as is true for most of human history) the humans never change – only gradually become more destructive. So in the end, “District 9” is along the lines of a “Hey humanity! You suck!” type of story. Not terribly great, but not terribly bad either. Hope to see more from you soon Neill Blomkamp!