Review by J.T. Johnson
When aliens arrive on Earth, they are not here to destroy us or attempt to declare peace or even to save the planet. They’re just stuck here with no way of getting home. “District 9” is a feature-length adaptation of a short film that director Neill Blomkamp made which caught the eye of filmmaker and producer Peter Jackson.
The film opens by explaining that the Prawns arrived on Earth twenty years ago and that their ship started hovering over Johannesburg. Soon after discovering that the aliens were inexplicably stuck there, it was decided to build a community to house the new alien species. The community became known as District 9.
Oversight of District 9 has been given to Multi-National United (MNU), a private company who is more interested in finding out how the aliens’ weapons work than the Prawn’s welfare. The only thing that can make the alien weapons work, however, is alien DNA. In addition to this, the people of Johannesburg want the aliens gone and a new relocation effort has begun and is being headed by MNU field operative, Wikus van der Merwe (Copley).
Due to an incident, he is infected with a mysterious virus that begins transforming his DNA. MNU discovers that he can now use the aliens’ weaponry. This effectively makes him the most hunted man in the world.
The first thing that is noteworthy about this film is the originality behind the story. It provides a look into our darker nature and the fear we have at the unknown. It shows that the humans want the aliens to leave simply because they fear them. The aliens only show hostility when they are being forced into action. They have no desire to harm us and want to get off our planet just as fast as humanity does.
There is a strong parallel between the aliens and illegal immigrants as well as slavery. They are in Johannesburg and the people want them to completely be removed from the country. They have built a wall around District 9 but it is not enough.
The aliens are also forced to stay in District 9 and, because we don’t know their real names, they are given names by the humans such as Christopher, an alien that Merwe begins to interact with. What is good about the messages contained in the film is that Blomkamp doesn’t make the audience feel like they are being preached to.
Another great aspect of the film is the main character. Wikus van der Merwe is an average guy. He is not a macho badass who is going to save the world. He is pretty much a loser when we meet him. Merwe is only put in charge of the relocation effort because he is married to the boss’ daughter, the only person beyond Merwe’s mother that actually cares about him.
What is also great about the character is that he does not go through an immediate change when he finally sees what MNU’s intentions are and his DNA begins to change. Through most of the film, all he really wants is for his mutation to be reversed so he can go back to living his life. Unfortunately, he needs to accept his shortcomings and try to do something about them.
With all of the good things to say about the film, there are a few small problems. The first thirty minutes of the film, in particular, are the film’s weakest. This is because it feels like the filmmakers did not know whether they wanted to make a Cloverfield-like mocumentary or simply tell the story in a more traditional manner.
The only other thing that stalled the story is something that is also contained within that first thirty minutes. When the film is acting like “Cloverfield”, the aliens can come off as unintentionally being funny. I am not talking about a couple of scenes that are intentionally funny such as seeing one of the aliens pee on a wall but there are other scenes that just makes the audience want to laugh for no real reason.
One other little note is that the film is very gory. While this did not bother me, it may detract other viewers who have weak stomachs. The alien weaponry, for example, does not just kill, they make everything including humans explode and send blood flying in every direction. Weaker viewers have been advised.
All problems aside, though, “District 9” proves to be a winner this summer with a film that has a great story to tell with a genuine protagonist. If audiences can get past the first thirty minutes, they are going to be in for one hell of a movie.