Over twenty years ago, aliens made first contact with Earth. Humans waited for the hostile attack, or the giant advances in technology. Neither came. Instead, the aliens were refugees, the last survivors of a distant world. The aliens were set up in a makeshift home in South Africa’s District 9 as the world’s nations argued over what to do with them. Now, patience over the alien situation has run out and they must be moved on to a new home. The tension between the aliens and the humans comes to a head when a human field operative, Wikus van der Merwe, contracts a mysterious virus that begins changing his DNA. Wikus quickly becomes the most hunted man in the world, as well as the most valuable – he is the key to unlocking the secrets of alien technology. Ostracised and friendless, there is only one place left for him to hide: District 9.
The Good: It’s creativity run-amok, it is fresh, vibrant and it came upon us without the heralded fanfare that accompanies the usual blockbuster fare. The internet and viral marketing was ingenious, a textbook case of how the less the audience know the more they want to. It references countless sci-fi classics but manages to stand firmly on it’s own feet and that’s down in no small part to the central performance of Sharlto Copley. Copley’s transformation in both the physical and emotional planes are the anchor of the story, from bumbling bureaucrat at the beginning to mecha-equipped freedom fighter at the end. His grudging acceptance and reliance on the aliens mirrors our own understanding and awareness of the aliens and their predicament. These are not hostile invading hordes but helpless, socially conscious creatures who are only looking out for their families. That these aliens are not welcome in a post-Apartheid South Africa adds weight to their struggle, rather than being a cheap plot point. The documentary and news footage style gives the audience a palpable sense of realness and the look and design of the aliens, their homes and weapons is minimalistic but never looks cheap. At heart it’s a thriller, with a dash of sci-fi and a splash of morality. For 30 million director Neil Blomkamp has done something Michael Bay couldn’t with 10 times that amount, create believable and epic sci-fi.
The Bad: Okay it’s not original, with it’s part Alien Nation, part E.T., part Fly, part Robocop look and design. The shaky-cam raw footage deal is getting old and the faux news footage angle is a tad jaded too. And the humans as the evil ones and the aliens as the misunderstood family creatures too is nothing new. The third act suffers from a wild-west shoot-out feel and doesn’t sit quite right with what goes before. The aliens while accessible are still frightening and loathsome things. There are gaping plot-holes, especially the ease at which Wikus breaks into corporate head-quarters, that need a stretch of the imagination. The documentary angle is dropped and picked up with no clear reason or explanation, and a large amount of the ancillary characters are just broad stereotypes. Ultimately though you’re having such a whale of a time that you forget all these in an instant.
The Bottom Line: A sci-fi film for non-sci-fi fans, a suspenseful, action packed, multi-layered and rewarding movie experience. The most exciting, inventive and breath-taking movie of 2009.