Review: District 9 Doesn't Conform -- And That's a Good Thing

"A fun Friday night, a solid guy's outing."

 

District 9 has two huge factors going for it. First off, the CGI used here is immersive, engaging, and seamless. Secondly, Peter Jackson and Neill Blomkamp are attempting something ambitious and innovative on the relative cheap -- this is a movie that looks far better than feature films that cost three to four times as much to create. Unfortunately, the film does have a few flaws, first and foremost being the plodding plot structure. So it's a bit of a mixed bag in that respect, but a mixed bag I expect many people will have a great time with.

Sharlto Copley is Wikus Van De Merwe, the MNU agent charged with moving aliens from District 9 to District 10. Aliens? Yep, aliens. They came to Earth 20 years ago in a giant mother ship which loomed over Johannesburg until humans busted in to find a decrepit race of aliens unable to feed themselves. The aliens are portrayed as toddler-like, prone to using cat food (as a drug) and constantly getting into mischief. The aliens, pejoratively called "prawns," are cordoned off from the rest of Joburg to fend for themselves. But the humans are becoming fed up with the entire population, which is why they've elected to set up "relocation camps" a few hundred kilometers outside of the city. Eviction notices are served, a camera crew follows Wikus around documentary-style, and the action unfolds from there.

Much of the fun around District 9 comes from seeing it blind, without knowing where the narrative will lead, so I'm going to keep that experience intact for you. Sharlto's acting is very good, especially given this is his first lead role. Any problems I had with the material don't stem from his work; he's believable and on point as a man beset from all sides.

No, my problem with District 9 is that it's purely an action film, pretty much divorced from any larger concepts that could have been explored.

Now then, evidently the story is a commentary on race relations in South Africa during Apartheid. This may be true, but having little knowledge of that subject I'm not in a position to critique whether it's effective or not on that front. The only thing I can say for certain is District 9 ignores (to its own detriment) many of the initial concepts it presents to keep the pedal to the metal. Subjugation and the notion of an inferior alien race are swept aside to keep the bullets flying, and what could have been a once-in-a-decade film turns into a "decent for August" style production. Ah, unclaimed potential, how elusive you are.</>

Still, you should check out District 9. The action is top-notch, the concepts are intriguing, and the special effects could be considered a how-to for young filmmakers. Though I'm that odd duck that always wants a better movie you shouldn't let my high standards infect you. A fun Friday night, a solid guy's outing, an enjoyable sugary treat -- District 9 deserves a little love. Just not a full-fledged love affair.

Grade: B-