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.
Nearly 30 years after an infectious plague ravaged Scotland and forced the closing of the nation’s borders the plague recurs in London--prompting the government to send a crack team of commandos into Scotland to locate and retrieve the cure if indeed there is one. Of course it’s not as simple as all that. The hordes of crazed and in some cases cannibalistic survivors of the plague are more than willing to give a (very) warm welcome to these interlopers led by the foxy and fierce Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra). Meanwhile back in Merrye Olde England the virus is continuing to spread but some of the powers-that-be don’t seem altogether concerned about that being more preoccupied with protecting their image sullied as it already is. In short it’s every man and woman for himself and herself--survival of the fittest 21st-century style. It’s also derivative and not necessarily in a negative way of such sci-fi classics as John Carpenter’s Escape from New York and George Miller’s Mad Max trilogy--replete with appropriate nods and in-jokes from Marshall who clearly has a great respect and affection for those who came before. Sigourney Weaver may not lose any sleep but Milla Jovovich might. As the one-eyed two-fisted ferociously fit action heroine Eden Sinclair Mitra stakes her claim to become the next cult heroine and there’s plenty of room left here to accommodate Eden’s potential future adventures. It’s always nice having Bob Hoskins around even if only for an extended cameo appearance as Eden’s down-to-earth boss Bill Nelson. Hoskins has played some heavies in his time but here he’s one of the good guys. Alexander Siddig no stranger to science-fiction given his Star Trek: Deep Space Nine stint plays the (rightly) worried Prime Minister and the ever-scowling David O'Hara plays his ruthless aide-de-camp amusingly and ironically named Canaris (World War II buffs will get the reference) who really is the power behind the throne. Adrian Lester Nora-Jane Noone Darren Morfitt and reliable Sean Pertwee play members of Eden’s assault team--shades of James Cameron’s Aliens--although few of them are in one piece by the end credits. Such are the perils of being an actor in this sort of film. Another “old-school” favorite Malcolm McDowell provides expository narration (a lot of it) and his own brand of tasty British ham (sliced just right) to his role of the scientist Kane who has forsaken science--and society--for a more medieval motif in a world gone wild. Like Hoskins McDowell hasn’t much time onscreen but there’s something pleasing about having him here. This is a film that favors style over substance but there are opportunities for the actors to strut their stuff in spirited fashion. As bruised bloodied or beheaded as the actors get they all seem to be having fun.
Without question Neil Marshall is one of the fast-rising talents in the fantasy genre--a genre he has clearly studied well. He brings a keen insight and manages to “borrow” elements and inspiration from other films in a way that doesn’t insult those films doesn’t diminish his own work and--more importantly--doesn’t insult the audience some of whom will surely recognize those inspirations and nods (Doomsday is filled with them). This is however one of the more cold-blooded efforts of Marshall’s young career. It’s about an inhumane future and the film is suffused with that emotional resonance--or lack thereof. The humor such as it is is blunt and bloody and the irony no less smoothly rendered. Nevertheless this promises slam-bang action and it certainly delivers. In an era where so many horror and science-fiction films are cut to achieve a PG-13 rating often to the detriment of the end result Doomsday is bloody proud to go for that R rating!