Over twenty years ago, aliens made first contact with Earth. Humans waited for the hostile attack, or the giant advances in technology. Neither came. Instead, the aliens were refugees, the last survivors of their home world. The creatures were set up in a makeshift home in South Africa’s District 9 as the world’s nations argued over what to do with them.

Now, patience over the alien situation has run out. Control over the aliens has been contracted out to Multi-National United (MNU), a private company uninterested in the aliens’ welfare – they will receive tremendous profits if they can make the aliens’ awesome weaponry work. So far, they have failed; activation of the weaponry requires alien DNA.

The tension between the aliens and the humans comes to a head when an MNU field operative, Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley), contracts a mysterious virus that begins changing his DNA. Wikus quickly becomes the most hunted man in the world, as well as the most valuable – he is the key to unlocking the secrets of alien technology. Ostracized and friendless, there is only one place left for him to hide: District 9.


Aliens clash with humans in combustible sci-fier.

An enormous alien spaceship deposits 1 million creatures in Johannesburg, where they’re housed in an area called District 9. The camp rapidly becomes a ghetto, sparking riots, crime and friction with the humans.

Twenty years on, authorities decide to shift the extraterrestrial refugees, who resemble king-sized prawns on legs, to a 'Sanctuary Park,’ a euphemism for a prison.

That’s the fascinating premise of the Peter Jackson-produced District 9, an exciting, enjoyable sci-fier which works well until the last reel, when it goes haywire with the arrival of a risible, Transformers-type contraption.

The genesis of the film from first-time director and co-writer Neill Blomkamp was a short mockumentary he shot in a shantytown in his native South Africa a few years ago. Entitled Alive in Jo’burg, it featured interviews with citizens on how they felt about an influx of illegal immigrants from neighbouring countries, revealing a xenophobia which is palpable in this film.

Blomkamp invests District 9 with a faux-documentary feel, using handheld HD camerawork, CNN-like news coverage, plus actual archival footage. The action is told from the viewpoint of Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley), who works for Multi-National United, a sinister corporation hired by the government to control the aliens.

It’s soon clear that MNU’s real motive is make a fortune from the 'prawns’" ultra-powerful weapons, for which they need the aliens’ DNA. A geeky, relentlessly cheerful but under-qualified Wikus gets the job to oversee the move to District 10 thanks to nepotism: his father-in-law runs MNU.

After Wikus gets infected with the aliens’ goo, he becomes a target of both the MNU and a gang of Nigerian thugs who deal in drugs and weapons. Pursued by MNU forces led by Koobus (a bland David James), Wikus team up with smart prawn Christopher Johnson (voiced by Jason Cope), and his kid, Little CJ, to try to save his own skin and help the refugees return to their planet.

It’s all fast-paced fun, action and adventure until the arrival of that Autobot lookalike, which detracts from what should have been a spectacular, kinetic climax. In his first major film role, Copley is terrific as his character changes from a harmless clown to a tortured guy who nearly loses his mind and his life before undergoing a moral awakening.

Designed by Jackson’s WETA workshop combining visual effects and old-fashioned prosthetics, the warrior-like aliens are a marvel. Working on a relatively modest budget of $30 million, the high production values mark Blomkamp as a real talent to watch.

The filmmakers claim the movie isn’t a metaphor for the social and political problems that have plagued South Africa over the years—but it’s not hard to see the parallels between fiction and fact. As Copley puts it, 'In South Africa, we have to deal with issues that generally people around the world try to sweep under the rug."


1 hour 52 min
Wed, 12/30/2009 - 11