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Monday, 7 September 2009

Film – District 9 directed by Neill Blomkamp

Star rating - 7/10

This slick sci-fi adventure thriller does more than live up to its billing. A strange but brilliant mix of politics and aliens, it is set in Johannesburg where an enormous alien space ship has been hovering over the city for the past two decades, with no sign of life at all.

District 9 is the part of the city that has become a colony for the thousands of alien refugees that escaped from the mother ship. The film opens in a mockumentary style, with various figures from the sinister Multi National United (MNU), relating what happened when they were tasked with relocating the aliens to a refugee style camp far away from the city. The actors are relative unknowns, so this does work quite well. It later switches to more of a straight drama style, which is also very effective.

The way that the aliens, commonly referred to in a very disparaging way as ‘prawns’ are treated by the humans is pretty sickening. It conjures up both images of both apartheid South Africa, and also the way asylum seekers are still treated in many Western countries today. They are fed cans of cat food by the humans, which seem to have an effect on them similar to that of crack cocaine. They are exploited by Nigerian gangsters, who believe that alien body parts of lucky talismans. The political message is not a clear one, but then it doesn't have to be.

The fall guy for MNU, who is given the unenviable task of emptying out District 9, is called Wikus van der Merwe (played very believably by Sharlto Copley). He has obviously not been picked for the task due to his leadership skills, but does play the role in an affable way, except when he is tricking the aliens into signing away their rights (do aliens have right?) and homes.

But tragedy strikes for Wikus, as he accidentally sprays himself with a liquid that the aliens have manufactured to enable them to restart their space ship and escape from this alien hell. He starts to mutate into an alien, and is swiftly dropped like a stone by his MNU colleagues and family alike. Some fantastic shoot outs follow – helped by the fact that Wikus can now use the powerful alien weapons with his alien hand/claw. The action is disturbing and thrilling at the same time. He stands up for himself at last as a half man half alien, through a performance that is genuinely moving.

Peter Jackson’s production is familiar from his other work, although none the less very effective here. The digital effects are fantastic. The film raises some very interesting moral and political questions, and not just the obvious issue of apartheid, but it is not really trying to answer them. A very exciting movie which will appeal to many more film lovers than just the standard sci fi thriller audience.

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