District 9 is not for a squeamish. A political science fiction allegory that depicts the ugly truth of political activities and brings the hypocrisy, deceit and dirty manipulations of the media controlled by the powers to the light of skepticism of inquisitive minds to unravel the truth.
Telegraph UK's Review:
"Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 proves that science fiction can tell us as much about the world we live in as any social documentary."
"District 9 is that modern rarity: an adventure thriller that’s even better than its advertising campaign. For years now, ever since the Alive in Joburg short on which it’s based was released, there has been lots of industry chatter about director Neill Blomkamp’s fantastic premise for an ultra-modern science fiction film; so much so that Peter Jackson of Lord of the Rings fame signed on to produce it in lieu of his adaptation of the Halo videogame.
For months now, its cinema trailer - featuring a huge space ship hovering mysteriously over the South African mega-city while a torrent of anxious newscasters and reporters speculate about its genesis — had had hardened filmgoers, many of them used to mediocre upcoming releases being trumpeted as the holy grail, wowing in unison. For weeks now, its viral marketers, who have festooned bus benches around the country with 'for humans only’ signs, have whetted appetites.
How they’ve been sated! District 9 is the most imaginative, resonant and dramatically turbo-charged work of science fiction for many a moon. A hybrid of political allegory and B-movie kicks, it reboots motifs from classic extra-terrestrial and urban catastrophe movies such as Silent Running and Planet of the Apes, and transposes them to the contemporary ghetto context that in recent years has given urgency and kinetic charge to the likes of Slumdog Millionaire and City of God. Its tacit message to JJ Abrams, director of Cloverfeld and Star Trek, is simple: game on.
Set in present-day Johannesburg, District 9 takes its name from a refugee colony that, for the previous twenty years, has been populated by, goo-gushing, croak- and click-uttering, springy by extra-terrestrial creatures fleeing from their dying planet and disgorged by an enormous spaceship that, for reasons unknown and unprobed, still hangs in the air above their Bantustan.
They’re reviled as bottom-feeders by locals, nicknamed 'prawns’, and fed cans of cat-food. In an opening sequence whose flurry of faux-reportage and breaking news recalls that in last year’s Cloverfield, one long-term resident of the city even claims: “They take my wife away.” An appropriately evil-sounding corporation called Multi-National United is in charge of relocating the prawns to a new camp outside the city. The man entrusted to execute the transfer is Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley), an affable bureaucrat who’s a cross between The Office’s David Brent and Blakey from On The Buses, and who has been appointed mainly because his father in law (Louis Minnaar) is head of MNU.
Much of the first half of the film takes the form of a travelogue documentary as Wikus journeys into District 9 dishing out eviction notices to prawn shack-dwellers (a quaint touch: real refugees are usually turfed out of their abodes much more peremptorily). He mugs to camera, calls out “I’m a sweetie man” to placate the younger aliens, and, when attacked by irate prawns, yells: “Don’t point your fockin’ tentacles at me!”
Blomfeld and his fellow screenwriter Terri Tatchell depict in fascinating, often funny detail the way the colony has evolved into a ramshackle mix of frontier capitalism, secret technology and pre-modern rituals: among the rutted paths and corrugated shelters, the prawns have not only become addicted to cat food, but attracted the attention of Nigerian gangsters who believe their body parts bring good luck and who have set up shanty-brothels where inter-species prostitution takes place.
One of them though, Christopher (Jason Cope), has managed to horde, reconfigure and hook up banks of gadgets and old computers with which he plans to engineer an aerial exodus for his fellow crustaceans.
He’s rumbled by Wikus, but Wikus is soon in trouble himself: he’s been sprayed with prawn goo and has started to morph into one of them. His mutant DNA makes him hugely coveted by the high-ups at MNU because it allows him to operate devastatingly powerful alien weaponry that normal humans can’t. They plan to harvest his tissue and body parts in the name of R&D: he has to scram.
This is the point at which District 9 itself mutates into a bunch of different films: the gore-splat frenzies of early Peter Jackson movies such as Bad Taste (1987) and Braindead (1992); the bodyshock horror of classic Cronenburg as Wikus, suppurating and disfigured, develops claws which, at one hands-in-front-of-eyes moment of self-mutilation, he tries to chop off; the hi-tech blow outs of Transformers.
Blomfeld surrenders some originality in the course of this transformation, but he handles the chase scenes and machinic mayhem with unusual skill. He’s helped by cinematographer Trent Opaloch and a brilliant special-effects team that renders the prawns as plausibly as any weird creatures that have ever appeared on screen. The sound technicians too, without anthropomorphizing the aliens, make their voices at least if not more attractive than the Afrikaans-speaking military commanders gunning for Wikus.
Sharlto Copley makes the most of the main human role. He’s twitchy and nerdy at first, a preening bureaucrat wedded to an unattractive company. Eventually, he shape-shifts — a human into a prawn, a white-collar pen pusher into a muddy-faced scavenger forced to eat cat food, a geeky representative of a racist system into an ally of dispossessed and maligned outcasts.
His fall from grace is a liberation: it allows him to see through the façade of civil society, the evil of its economics. Becoming an alien and embracing alienation are, the film suggests, key starting points for any political revolution.
In one of the opening scenes of District 9, a reporter, commenting on the spaceship above Johannesburg, likens the situation to a movie. “It’s the kind of thing you’d expect in Manhattan,” she says.
What makes Blomfeld’s film so radical is the clarity and force with which it proves that science fiction can tell us as much about the world we live in as any social documentary. It shows too the wealth of epic, extreme and immensely populist stories that exist to be told about the non-Atlantic world. Who needs Manhattan when there are so many megalopolises and sprawling slum-republics about which brilliant films like District 9 can be be made?"