Friday, 11 September 2009

Film Review: District 9

I saw the trailer for District 9 (2009) a while ago to the exclamation from Mike 'That looks s**t!'. I really didn't think so and I wasn't surprised when we went to see it this week.

Before I start, this film is very hard not to spoil through a review, so if you have a very good imagination or are worried that your viewing may be spoilt by possible (unintentional) hints I'll put a big POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT right here, just in case!

Directed by Peter Jackson, the man behind the The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003) and King Kong (2005), the basic premise is, in a modern day world in which, in 1982, a UFO has decided to come into our atmosphere and grind to a halt above Johannesburg, South Africa. They made no noise, no communication, no contact whatsoever and as the humans flew up to it, it was welded shut. Eventually as we made out way in we found thousands of strange aliens, stranded in this ship, who took a sort of asylum on Earth, in a refugee camps called District 9. We follow the story of a powerful man in the MNU, the organisation who deal with these aliens (affectionately nicknamed, prawns) and, in the present day, start on an operation to move the million or so prawns to a new area (District 10) away from human civilisation. I can't say much about what happens to this man (Wikus van de Merwe, played by Sharlto Copley) but from early on you realise that his story is very important in the history of this world.

The film is done, to begin with in a documentary style: we're shown news reports, interviews (which are set in the present, putting the main storyline in the past), MNU operation footage and other realism based styles. However, s the main plotline begins it eventually moulds into a traditional, Hollywood style film, using a lot of handheld footage, putting you right in the middle of the action. I love this style, reminding me slightly of Cloverfield (2008) which is also a handheld, documentary styled film in which, similarly to District 9, we have no idea as to what is happening in this world changing moment. My favourite part of the film, however, was the way the humans and the aliens were portrayed, and more interestingly, the relationship between them.

The humans, not so much as a race but those in power, are shown as greedy, power hungry, selfish, xenophobic and brutal. This is an interesting juxtaposition to the aliens, who are portrayed as moreso as oafish, stupid, pathetic and overall weak: it seems to me that often in 'first contact' films, this role is reversed with the aliens brutal against the pathetic humans. This comes from the fact that the aliens on this ship seem to be the 'workers' of their race (much like in insect societies) but also that I think this is a very realistic representation of humans. If this happened in todays world, I do think this is how we would react, and it gives to an interesting plot (especially as the two races, both with seperate languages, seem to understand eachother fully, whereas the audience are fed with subtitles). The most interesting thing that comes out of this situation is the apathy you feel for the lead prawn and his child (named by the MNU as Christopher Johnson and seen above being evicted from his house and below lookingly longingly out at the firefight going on around his child).

Christopher seems to be ahead of the other worker aliens, seen by his hightened intelligence, and is integral to the plotline. At first, he seems as some sort of terrorist with lots of technology and searching for things in dumpyards but as soon as you learn what he and his little one are searching for, he begins to seem much more human and he gains much more sympathy, as do the whole race of aliens. There is a moment in the film, which I will not spoil, I think where the whole viewpoint of him,and the prawns, u-turns and makes the climax much more emotional.

District 9 has great style, a great, believable plot line told in a realistic and interesting way and a great cast of unknowns (that includes the CGI aliens!). It touches on important subjects such as immigration, xenophobia, cruelty, moral responsibility, comaradary and freindship. For me, it had on the edge of your seat tension almost throughout, sympathy to characters, both human and prawn and an awesome collection of alien technology (including, as seen in this slightly spoilerific trailer, an amazing robot thing!). I loved it, as did the originally skeptical Mike! Go and see it!

District 9 = 9/10 (could well have got 10 but I refues to give anything a perfect score!)

ps. *SPOILER!!!* As you can see in the trailer I linked at the beginning of this blog, there is some sort of alien interview which is not included in the film. This added to the ambiguous ending, leads me to speculate on a sequel, *spoiler* possibly District 10 (?!) which is, itself, hinted at in the film, and *spoiler* Christopher's promise to return in three years time...