Monday, September 28, 2009
District 9; science-fiction drama, South Africa / New Zealand / USA, 2009; D: Neill Blomkamp, S: Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, Nathalie Boltt, Vanessa Haywood, David James
One day, a refugee alien spaceship starts hovering over Johannesburg. After months of status quo, people cut a hole inside and find over one million arthropod like aliens stranded there who are transferred to Earth, getting their nickname "Prawns". But due to intolerance, the government puts them in an isolated slum. The MNU organization plans to re-locate them away from Johannesburg, in a camp, but one of their eviction superiors, the clumsy Wikus, gets infected by one of their liquids and slowly starts transforming into a "Prawn" himself. Still half-human, he makes friends with a "Prawn", Christopher, and helps him get enough fuel to escape back to the ship and send help. He himself becomes a "Prawn".
30 million $ was a modest investment into South African cinema, but sufficient for the debut director Neill Blomkamp to craft a spectacular cult science-fiction film, "District 9", that juggles ambitiously with themes of xenophobia, intolerance and specism (as opposed to racism). The first half isn't especially good, but the second one therefor is. At the beginning the director very skillfully conjured up the feeling of a 'mockumentary', incredibly easy "sliding in" the middle of the story from the first scene where Wikus looks into the camera in his office and introduces himself. One of the most refreshing aspects of Wikus is that he is a completely untypical hero - with that moustache, way of talking and clumsy outbursts, he acts sometimes almost as Inspector Clouseau, like in the scene where he wants to "show off" in front of the cameras by bossing around, so he tells one soldier that he "took too much ammunition with him", which of course causes an angry backlash from the Colonel - but the director too often encroached for cheap solutions and 'crude' ideas, which is why at the beginning too much time is wasted on Wikus throwing up and losing his fingernails when he slowly transforms into a "Prawn" or the the way Nigerians in the occult rituals eat the hands of aliens to gain their power, which is misguided.
Luckily, the second half is much better, balanced and poignant because its more oriented towards drama, and much less towards horror, when it nicely portrays how the hero throws away xenophobia and starts understanding the other species - by which the film advocates that life is life, no matter in what form or shape, and as such it's precious. Wikus' friendship and bondage with alien Christopher is the best part of "District 9": such an emotionally strident charge was created that the viewers will actually cheer and cry for the alien Christopher, up to the nail-biting, intensive (action) finale where it's never quite clear if the two human-alien protagonists will make it or not. Some of the action scenes towards the end are virtuoso directed, which is why they compensate for the illogical situations (for instance, since the humans want to get rid of the aliens so badly, why are they trying to stop them from enabling their spaceship again? And since the spaceship has the power to hover above Johannesburg for over 20 years, how come it doesn't have enough power to simply send a signal to their species for help?). All in all, a qualitative film, even though the screenplay could have been writen with more sophistication.