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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/8/2009 (3893 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
LIKE the giant spaceship that appears and hovers over the city of Johannesburg, the movie District 9 arrives with little fanfare, but makes an awe-inspiring impression.
South African-born, Vancouver-based filmmaker Neill Blomkamp announces himself with a gritty science-fiction film that features a population of humanoid crustacean-alien creatures (dubbed "prawns"), yet is far more grounded in reality than any of the current rom-coms currently unspooling in your neighbourhood multiplex.
In old news footage, the "prawns" -- more than a million of them -- are discovered holed up in a crippled spaceship, dirty, starved and in need of medical attention.
The governments of the world agree to let the creatures live in a makeshift refugee camp in Johannesburg. But the prawn population lives in a state of neglect and poverty and after 20 years regresses to a state of violence and criminality in which the aliens form a black market arrangement with the city's ruthless human underworld.
Using the multiple devices of a documentary film, archival footage and security camera tapes, Blomkamp (who co-wrote the script with Terri Tatchell) reveals that the presence of the aliens remains a mystery even two decades after first contact. The key is the fact the aliens have weapons technology coveted by shady government forces, but it can only be used by those who have alien DNA.
The situation reaches a crisis in Johannesburg and the government employs a sinister multinational corporation to move the alien refugees from their homes to a tent city. Picked to oversee the exodus is out-of-his-league petty bureaucrat Wikus (Sharlto Copley), chosen because he happens to be married to the daughter of a powerful government functionary.
Compared to the brutal mercenary forces enforcing the operation, Wikus is benign (although he has no moral qualms about destroying prawn babies in their eggs). But when he is infected by an alien substance, he himself turns fugitive and learns to walk a mile in the alien's shell.
Wikus may be the most doltish hero ever seen in a non-comedy film. But Copley (in his first starring role) manages to elicit sympathy anyway as his character wises up to the harsh reality of the human-alien divide.
It's a good thing too. Director Blomkamp, in his first feature, expertly weaves grungy realism with fantastic elements to create a stirring allegory of a nation dived by genus instead of race. But the film is so relentlessly abrasive, ugly and violent that it gets a little challenging to endure.
Even so, I'd rather watch this a dozen more times than subject myself to a second viewing of a slick, vapid, wholly pointless alien invasion movie along the lines of Transformers 2.
Selected excerpts from reviews of District 9.
No true fan of science fiction -- or, for that matter, cinema -- can help but thrill to the action, high stakes and suspense built around a very original chase movie.
-- Kirk Honeycutt, Hollywood Reporter
This grossly engrossing speculative fiction bears Jackson's blood-splattered fingerprints but also heralds first-time feature director Neill Blomkamp as a nimble talent to watch.
-- Justin Chang, Variety
This film really has everything: thrills, gross-outs... amazing special effects, a love story, xenophobia, with the shadow of apartheid looming like that stalled spaceship.
-- Sarah Vilkomerson, New York Observer
In many ways, District 9 is a refreshing subversion of the usual sci-fi tropes. Its relentless portrayal of human viciousness will be off-putting to many moviegoers raised on Hollywood's sanitized extravaganzas, but it reflects reality honestly. For action fans, the creature effects and climactic shoot-'em-up will be worth the price of admission.
-- Kerry Lengel, The Arizona Republic
-- Compiled by Canwest News Service
Starring Sharlto Copley
Grant Park, Polo Park, St. Vital, Towne.
3 1/2 out of 5 stars
In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.