District 9: An Intelligent and Gritty Take on Alien Invasion
Unlike a majority of alien films, where aliens invade earth and leads to a doomsday scenario, the movie ventures into a different spectrum of filmmaking with camerawork, acting and technical elements.
District 9 opens with a faux documentary style introduction with officials and individuals talking about the stranded alien ship and the ‘prawns’ who have found home below them. Unlike a majority of alien films, where aliens invade earth and leads to a doomsday scenario, the movie ventures into a different spectrum of filmmaking with camerawork, acting and technical elements.
As the first full length feature of director Neil Blomkamp, District 9 is an essentially an extension of his short film, Alive in Johburg. Using a similar documentary style, Blomkamp has taken an extravagant approach in the use of CGi, yet the movie feels incredibly real. For instance, the spaceship that parks itself over the city due to some malfunction is given a hazy, out of focus view of the handheld camera while the ‘prawns,’ in the midst of humans never seem out of place.
Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley) plays a middle-manager for a corporation, whose aim is to relocate the immigrant aliens to a better camp a.k.a concentration camp. As a debutant actor Sharlto Copey is at his natural best as a naïve officer whose only task is to get the aliens sign a consent form. He is cautious, confident and slightly sympathetic which leads to him to human-like aliens Christopher Johnson and son, who are subtly humanized with bigger eyes and a body language like humans. In the process, Wikus encounters the humane side of aliens and sets out for their cause and for his own selfish reason.
The sci-fi movie with its gritty undertones touches upon political ideologies in South Africa. There is a glaring reference at the existence of concentration camps created by the British during the Boer war (1900-1902) and District 9 captures its essence through the unwanted visitors who seek home. There is plenty of action, grand display of alien weapons and its impact on humans. Several sequences lend out a strong impact in the movie, where Nigerians exploit the aliens by bribing them with cat food while Wikus becomes a middleman between his organization and the aliens.
Though the handheld type of camera work can be a bit tiring, the movie is crisp and realistic, making it feel as realistic as possible. Though the film fails to answer why the spaceship entered earth or why the aliens were malnourished, Neil explores the survival aspect of refugees in a sci-fi format and delivers it brilliantly. The production design department has done a credible job of blending the CGI aliens and alien weaponry with the slum locale in Johannesburg. Canadian composer Clinton Shorter has given a dark music score with a South African touch using taiko drums and synthesized instruments.
At the end of the movie, District 9 delves into the question of human empathy, politics and the society. From a short film to a 92-minute full length movie, District 9 is a genre-defying sci-fi movie that grows on its ideas with a terrific acting performance from the Sharlto Copey, the central character and the attention to detail in terms of the aliens and the treatment on their arrival.