Having been a professional animator and visual-effects artist since he was 16 years old, director Neill Blomkamp survived the indignity of having his first studio film taken away from him by turning t...
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Twenty-eight years ago an enormous alien spaceship arrived on Earth and marooned itself in the sky above Johannesburg South Africa bringing with it hordes of starved emaciated refugees from a distant dying planet. After efforts to assimilate them into South African society failed the vast population of “prawns” — a derogatory nickname inspired their crustacean-like features — were herded en masse into District 9 a massive hastily-constructed refugee camp on the edge of the city that quickly devolved into a shantytown rife with violence prostitution and substance abuse.
The present-day South African government under pressure from its increasingly fed-up human citizens has decided to abandon District 9 and hand over control of the aliens to Multi-National United (MNU) a government security contractor/weapons manufacturer charged with relocating the refugees to a new camp in a more remote area.
In truth the relocation is only a secondary priority to the executives at MNU; their real goal is to unlock the secret of the aliens’ advanced weaponry and use it to reap untold profits in the arms trade. MNU’s efforts have heretofore been thwarted by a design feature on the weapons that restricts their usage to those possessing alien DNA rendering them inoperable by — and thus useless to — humans.
Tasked with leading MNU’s forced migration of the District 9's prawns is Wikus van de Merwe a well-meaning middle manager unaware of the company's true motivations. That changes abruptly however when he's unwittingly exposed to a mysterious DNA-altering substance during a routine sweep of the alien refuge camp. When Wikus begins to undergo a grotesque Fly-like transformation he suddenly finds himself hunted by his former colleagues at MNU who now see him as the key to cracking the code of the prawns’ powerful weapons. Shunned by human society and left with nowhere else to turn he heads back into District 9 where he forms an unlikely alliance with the creatures he’d once worked so hard to marginalize.
WHO’S IN IT?
Nobody you’d recognize unless you happen to be a devotee of South African cinema. District 9’s Johannesburg-born director Neill Blomkamp opted to use a cast composed entirely of actors from his home country with mostly excellent results. Leading the way is newcomer Sharlto Copley lending wit and pathos to the role of overwhelmed corporate whipping boy Wikus van de Merwe. Reminiscent of both The Office’s Michael Scott and Flight of the Conchords’ Murray Hewitt Wikus is the unlikeliest of sci-fi heroes which is one of the reasons why the film is such an unexpected delight.
District 9 takes an attractive premise and approaches it from an unconventional angle resulting in a wildly entertaining sci-fi satire that melds bits and pieces of The Fly Midnight Run Starship Troopers Enemy Mine Alien Nation and TV’s Cops. It’s a disparate combination to say the least yet somehow it works.
With the help of producer Peter Jackson and the many visual effects artisans at his disposal director Blomkamp packs the modestly-budgeted District 9 with an impressive mix of CGI and creature effects — especially during the film’s balls-out climax a mind-blowing blood-soaked battle sequence that will have audiences simultaneously cheering and cringing.
There’s little subtlety to District 9’s political commentary — a presumably deliberate artistic decision given the film’s satirical bent. Nevertheless it can get a tad annoying at times. The plot features an abundance of wild tonal shifts some of which are pulled off more successfully than others. In the lead role Copley occasionally betrays his acting inexperience by overdoing it with his delivery.
The climactic battle scene in which Wikus dons a massive Halo-esque battle suit and turns the tables on his pursuers is absolutely nuts — in a good way. However younger views and those with delicate stomachs may find the carnage-filled sequence rife with exploding heads and severed limbs somewhat unsettling.
According to producer Jackson District 9 cost around $30 million to make — a paltry sum by today’s action-movie standards. The production budget of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra in comparison came in at a reported $175 million.
Who the hell is Neill Blomkamp? That was the response of many a movie fan (including myself) when it was first announced that Blomkamp would be directing Peter Jackson’s big-budget adaptation of the blockbuster videogame Halo. As the story goes, Halo never made it out of the script stage, collapsing under the combined weight of studio politics and Microsoft’s intransigence, and Master Chief’s big-screen debut was placed on the shelf indefinitely.
Wanna see what Blomkamp’s Halo flick might have looked like? Then check out District 9, the sci-fi epic that he and Jackson plucked from the dead project’s ashes. In an intimate chat with journalists at the Solamar Hotel in San Diego last night, Jackson gave the Halo post-mortem:
“[Neill] had literally moved down to New Zealand to start work on Halo. The timeline’s a little bit fuzzy now, but I think we were working on Halo for maybe three or four months and then then the film died. It fell over due to various politics between Universal and Fox -- it was a co-production between the two studios. We didn’t really see it coming until the last week or two when we just realized that these studios are not gonna be making this film. It wasn’t anything to do with the budget, because we hadn’t finished a screenplay. We were still developing the script. Neill was busy working with WETA doing a lot of creature designs, which were going really well ... we just felt really bad because we’d found this exciting young filmmaker. The idea was to mentor him into a film and what did we do? Three or four months and then this hellish experience happens and the film falls over. So we felt terribly guilty and terribly bad about that.”
So what did Jackson and Blomkamp do? They took Halo lemons and turned them into District 9 lemonade:
“We were literally in the dying Halo moments and, you know, you’re depressed. It’s almost like losing a member of the family -- not that bad, but you’re emotionally committed to the movie and you’ve totally sort of gone there with your heart and soul and feeling terrible and we just thought Well, why don’t we actually take control of the situation and try to get something good happening. So the idea, which was an obvious one in hindsight, is to develop an original film with Neill.”
And lo, District 9 was born.
We’ll be posting more excerpts from our Peter Jackson interview, including updates on The Hobbit and Tin Tin, shortly.
Check out our Comic-Con 2009 page for all the latest news from this year's event.
Filmmaker Peter Jackson is disappointed after Hollywood studios Fox and Universal pulled out of financing video-game movie Halo, reportedly because they are worried at its escalating budget.
Movie bosses had asked executive producer Jackson and computer-game giant Microsoft to reduce their profit margins on the reported $200 million project--a request which both allegedly refused.
The studios were also concerned that the costly film is being made by a first-time director, Neill Blomkamp.
But Jackson spokesman Ken Kamins says, "The only budget the filmmakers ever spoke about was $145 million less the 12.5 percent rebate that you get from shooting in New Zealand, which would put it at about $128 million. That was the only number that was ever discussed."
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Received notice for his sci-fi short, "Alive in Joburg"
Directed the sci-fi film "Elysium"
Began working for animator Copley at the age of sixteen
Made feature directorial debut with the sci-fi film "District 9"; produced by Peter Jackson and co-wrote with Terri Tatchell; earned Golden Globe and Oscar nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay
Worked as a visual effects artist at The Embassy Visual Effects in Vancouver as well as Rainmaker Digital Effects
Having been a professional animator and visual-effects artist since he was 16 years old, director Neill Blomkamp survived the indignity of having his first studio film taken away from him by turning the independently financed sci-fi opus, "District 9" (2009), into a major box-office and critical hit. Born on Sept. 17, 1979 in Johannesburg, South Africa, Blomkamp grew up amidst the social divisiveness and government-approved minority white rule of apartheid, which had a profound and life-changing influence on his later creative vision. Meanwhile, his parents bought him a computer when he was 14, which led to his experimenting with 3-D animation, as well as practical effects and prosthetics. When he was just 16 years old, Blomkamp was hired by television producer Sharlto Copley to be an animator for the production company, Deadtime. Two years later, his family relocated to Vancouver, British Columbia, where he studied film at Vancouver Film School. He also earned some practical experience as a visual effects artist for The Embassy Visual Effects as well as Rainmaker Digital Effects, serving as a lead animator on the Kevin Costner/Kurt Russell vehicle, "3,000 Miles to Graceland" (2001).