Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Multi-National United (MNU) security force, led by Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley), prepares to evict 1 million space aliens from DISTRICT 9.

DISTRICT 9: The Review... I saw the critically-acclaimed sci-fi film twice this weekend (the first time I watched it was during a midnight screening on opening day last Friday. The second viewing was yesterday), so I think you can guess where this review is going. The movie was AWESOME. First-time feature film director Neill Blomkamp (with the help of Oscar-winning producer Peter Jackson) did a masterful job making a flick that was not only action-packed, but also carried a serious, intelligent message: If living beings from another world came to our planet one day, would we treat them the same way we occasionally treat fellow Earthlings who are completely different from us? With violence and extreme prejudice? District 9 handles this topic with intense and gory results. And I mean that in a positive way.

A prawn in DISTRICT 9.

I’m not gonna do a full synopsis on District 9...since you can just read about the story online (or, um, watch the movie?). The main character, Wikus Van De Merwe, was superbly played by Sharlto Copley...a South African director/producer who made his debut acting performance in a feature film with this flick. If anyone accuses this movie of not having any character development, then that person is, how should I say politely, a friggin’ idiot? Not to spoil anything, but Van De Merwe goes from a bumbling pencil pusher at a shady security organization called MNU (for Multi-National United) to a figure who most decisively has a good reason to relate with the alien creatures—known derisively as prawns for their lobster-like appearances in the movie—whose ship settled over Wikus’ hometown of Johannesburg, South Africa 20 years earlier. Van De Merwe just wants to be a normal person and go home to his hot-ass wife Tania (played by Vanessa Haywood) at the end of the day, but fate has something else in store for him. Van De Merwe eventually has to team up with a prawn that goes by the name of Christopher Johnson, who along with his young son (Little C.J.?) has to recover a mysterious fluid that was responsible for Wikus’turn of fate, and is vital to Johnson saving his people after learning how they were treated by MNU outside the walls of District 9.

Christopher Johnson, a prawn held captive inside an MNU armored truck, gazes out the window to see what's going on in DISTRICT 9.

For a movie with a ‘mere’ $30 million budget, District 9 looked phenomenal. The FX work done on the prawns was well-done, and I just totally dug the scenes where you see the massive alien mothership hovering silently and ominously over the city of Johannesburg. I don’t want this to sound awkward, but am I the only one here who thought Little C.J. was, um...adorable? If you thought like I did, then you would feel more sympathy for Christopher Johnson (I’ll call him C.J. from this point on) because of his smart and heroic son who helped him on his plan to reactivate the mothership and start the process of freeing his people from their current predicament outside of Johannesburg. The rich characterization by C.J. and Little C.J. is testimony to the hard work done by several FX houses, including Peter Jackson’s own company Weta Digital...which also did the epic special effects for Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy. If I would have to take a wild guess for the Oscars next year, I would have to say that District 9 should be vying for the Best Visual FX award...along with Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and, um, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra? HAHAHAHA! Just kidding about that last one.

Wikus Van De Merwe prepares to attack the organization that betrayed him.

Besides the alien creatures and the mothership, I also dug the FX work done on (Spoilers ahead) that robotic exosuit that Van De Merwe dons during the climax of the film...when he has to protect C.J. as he makes his way to his son and that alien shuttle that will take them up to the mothership. That suit reminded me of ED-209 from the first Robocop film, and the mech suits used during the 'Battle of Zion' sequence in The Matrix Revolutions. Speaking of Robocop, and Paul Verhoeven’s other smart action satire, Starship Troopers, District 9 had a lot of gory scenes like these two films. Most of that is attributed to the numerous shots of humans exploding whenever they were blasted by alien weaponry. The prawns are made to look pathetic as they wander around their squalid home in District 9, but me thinks that if they were in their home environment, with each of them armed with those large cannons that they casually exchanged for cat food during the film, then they would be to the humans what U.S. forces were to the Taliban in 2001. I’m talking about the war in Afghanistan, of course.

Wikus Van De Merwe inside an alien exosuit.

One last note before I end this review, the music in District 9 was pretty cool. But I think the African chant used by Hans Zimmer in Black Hawk Down (which you can clearly compare Neill Blomkamp’s film to, in a complimentary way) sounded a lot more unique. That is all. Along with The Hurt Locker, District 9 is the second best film I’ve seen this far.

The prawns' mothership looms high above the alien exosuit manned by Wikus Van De Merwe.

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