'District 9' Cheat Sheet: Everything You Need To Know

Learn how a failed 'Halo' movie paved the way for what could be the sleeper sci-fi hit of the summer.

What do drunk, absent-minded, middle-age men have in common with outer-space aliens stranded on Earth? If you don't have an answer, well, you haven't been paying attention to Hollywood's summer of 2009.

Currently rolling out into theaters nationwide is "District 9," a film related to "The Hangover" in several key ways. Both movies are original stories made with no stars, for a low budget and filmed outside the magnifying glass applied to productions like "The Dark Knight" or "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen." Both built huge buzz over the final few weeks before release by screening for critics, bloggers and other key tastemakers. Oh, and both films have one last thing in common: They're really freakin' good.

Over here at MTV News, we try to keep our eyes open for the next big thing before it becomes exactly that — and we've been all over "District 9" for some time. So before you head out to the theater to get your mind blown by the sci-fi sleeper hit, be sure to educate yourself with our cheat sheet:

The Fellowship of the Flick

Our story begins in 2005, when "Lord of the Rings" director Peter Jackson partnered with Microsoft to make a blockbuster movie out of the immensely popular game "Halo." As he began staffing up in early 2008, Jackson picked South African filmmaker Neill Blomkamp out of relative obscurity to direct the film, and he spent "five months working on it, 24 hours a day." After that project was killed, Jackson recalled at Comic-Con, he felt so bad that he was determined to find another film to shoot with Blomkamp.

Neill's Do-Over

That film became "District 9," a modern-day fable based on the premise that aliens invaded our planet 20 years ago in an "Independence Day"-like massive spaceship but were too dumb, undernourished and exhausted to mount much of an attack. Extended largely from Blomkamp's dazzling 2005 short "Alive in Joburg," Jackson helped steer the director to create special effects that looked like a $200 million Michael Bay movie — all for only $30 million.

The Rookie

"District 9" stars a special-effects-artist-turned-actor named Sharlto Copley, an old friend of Blomkamp's who ad-libbed virtually every line in the movie. As Jackson explained to us, the whole film "is very original, which today is very rare." Also quite original was the ad campaign for the film, which picked up its notion of aliens treated like a repressed minority in a series of bus bench ads and billboards urging people to report sightings of "non-humans."

The Sci-Fi Sleeper of the Summer?

Like "The Hangover" before it, the people behind "District 9" knew they had something special, so they've been talking it up quite a bit. Peter Jackson is referring to it as an unlikely mix between "Cloverfield" and "The Constant Gardener," and clips have been released displaying Copley's impressive acting and the film's handheld creepy-"Cops" look. A kick-ass trailer always helps, and the movie is now in theaters. Much like "Hangover," audiences seem likely to enjoy the party.

Check out everything we've got on "District 9."

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