Right from the get go, you know that District 9 is not your typical alien movie. The massive mothership that the visitors arrived in 28 years ago is not a shiny weapon of mass destruction. Its a decrepit junk pile that accidently landed on Earth. It does not settle over New York, or Washington DC, or Chicago, or Paris, or Moscow, or Shanghai, or any other big, easily recognizable, city. Instead, it settles of Johannesburg, South Africa. The aliens themselves are not super powered killing machines, but malnourished, disease ridden, refugees looking for salvation. So, ever since contact was made, humans, led by a nefarious corporation, MNU, have forced the aliens to live in a slum, titled District 9. Tensions have been flaring for quite awhile, leading to riots and increased violence between humans and the "Prawns", as the they are called. So, MNU has devised a operation to move the residents of District 9 from their home to, essentially, a concentration camp of sorts, the purpose of which is to keep the aliens separate from humans. Heading up this operation is Wikus Van De Merwe, a meek little man with no love for the visitors. Something happens to him during the operation, and soon, he goes from being a nobody to the most important man in the world, a man who everyone wants to get their hands on. Writer/director Neill Blomkamp has done a fantastic job crafting this beautifully told and original story. It is unlike anything you have seen before.
Acting wise, District 9 is sublime. Sharlto Copley, as Wikus, is simply superb. He was basically unknown everywhere until, well, until today, but I suspect that he will lead a very profitable and prestigious career from here. As Wikus, he comes in as more comic relief then anything, but emerges in the end as completely different man, a man who is scared and confused with the responsibilities thrown on him, but determined to stay strong and make things right. His character arc is one of the best I have ever seen. He's the only one I'm going to mention, but just so you know, everyone else here is excellent as well, from Wikus' distraught wife, to the supremely evil leader of a group of mercenaries tasked with "keeping the peace" in District 9. Everyone here is worth seeing.
Director Neill Blomkamp, along with producer Peter Jackson, have crafted one terrific film here. Everything here is handled with such loving hands, you can't but marvel at how great the final product is. Blomkamp shoots with primarily handheld cameras, which gives the film a very realistic quality. Indeed, the first thirty or so minutes leading up to Wikus' accident are seen through the eyes of documentary film crew's lens. Interspersed through all this is some surprisingly funny humor, lot's of genuine heart, and really, REALLY, satisfying violence. As the situation in District 9 heats up, and the various sides at odds with each other begin to take up arms, the screen crackles and pops with excitement so visceral, that you will find yourself gripping the arm of the person next to you. I know I did. I was sitting next to a stranger. It was a little awkward. Another thing that bears praising are the special effects. Peter Jackson's team at WETA are notorious for giving us beautiful CGI. The filled the screen with thousands of orcs in Lord of the Rings, made the most realistic giant ape ever in King Kong, and they have done it again with District 9. Every alien is CGI creation, but you don't realize that when you are watching the movie. These aliens are emotive, the move the way you would expect creatures of their stature to move, they behave and react with the environment around them very realistically. The human actors around them also do a great job. They, of course, had to work with a wood doll, or something, but you wouldn't guess that when you see it. WETA have outdone themselves. Gollum is officially old news.
As I'm sure you figured out by reading this, I absolutely love this movie! Usually, this is the spot where I talk about flaws with the project, but, I'll be honest, I can't find any flaws, and that's because District 9 is in a completely different category then anything else I have seen in a good while. It joins the ranks of The Dark Knight, Terminator 2, and The Matrix, in that its a summer blockbuster that tries something new. It takes a risk. It tells a story unlike any we have seen, and it pulls it off with flying colors. From it's unsettling beginning to its heart wrenching ending, District 9 had me! It administers that massive jolt of quality that this summer needed. In a season ruled by anamorphic robots, murderous cyborgs, pissed off mutants, pointy eared Vulcans, living museum pieces, and badass commandos, this summer has had no shortage of science fiction. District 9 blows them all out of the water! See it!A