There are a few types of Summer blockbusters out there these days. Of course, you’ll have the big “tent pole” films that cost $200 million and make triple that. You’ll also get the ones that cost a fortune and fizzle out fairly quickly. But every once in a while you’ll also get a film that comes virtually out of nowhere and leaves your mouth agape. District 9 is that film.
District 9 takes place in Johannesburg, South Africa, where aliens landed nearly 30 years ago. Since then, they have been subjected to living in slums while their defunct mothership hovers above the city. On the macro level, the world is split between people who wish to embrace the differences of the aliens and people who discriminate against them and wish to kill them. On a micro level, an MNU field operative, Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley), contracts a mysterious virus that begins changing his DNA, making him neither human nor alien.
At it’s core, this film is many things. It’s not just a sci-fi action film. It has some serious undertones from oppression and bigotry to the evil things that man is capable of. It is many things, but if one were to stand out, it would be “smart.” From the first moments of the film where a collection of news and documentary footage helps introduce us to this world where aliens are real and have been inhabiting the planet for some time all the way to the conclusion, this film delivers.
District 9 also throws us plenty of curves. The hero is pretty unlikeable for the majority of the film, up until the final moments, and even when you think the movie is about a bigoted man who learns to care, that gets taken down almost immediately. Between the curveballs during the film and the intense viral marketing that has been going on for over a year, this film can easily be called this year’s Cloverfield.
The effects are also pretty seamless throughout the film. There aren’t any moments where you can pick out what is real and what is CG. There are even times when it’s hard to believe the giant prawn-like creature isn’t a guy in a rubber suit. After the first 30 minutes of the movie, you completely forget that aliens aren’t real and live in South Africa.
With all the praise given to the film, there are a few moments that needed more time and some decisions that needed addressing. The movie is just under 2 hours, yet there could have been an extra 20 minutes of exposition to explain things in more detail. For example, how the humans and the aliens understood each other’s language was a plot hole that needed to be addressed.
Also, the fact that the prawns were given gigantic puppy eyes felt like it was a little too easy. We know that we will care about these creatures so there’s no reason to “warm” them up with gigantic Garfield eyes. Both of these issues could very well have been dictated by the studio, which would make them more understandable.
Overall, the film is innovative, action-packed, creatively violent, and above all else, smart. For Peter Jackson and even moreso for Neil Blomkamp, this is only upward movement. This film will make money worldwide, which it deserves to. The success of this film also means that we are probably that much closer to seeing this team take back for a Halo film, which is great news for the industry. When it comes down to it, District 9 is the leader for sci-fi movie of the summer.