These days, it isn’t often that I have the time to go out and see too many movies (nor find the time to write about them when I do actually see one); however, this past weekend I was able to finally check out District 9.
With my nerdy tendencies, Sci-Fi/alien movies, tend to pique my interest. This movie especially was getting my attention before it’s debut from the cryptic trailers and solid reviews coming out. The fact alone one of the previews had an alien saying “We just want to go home” (when does that ever happen in any alien flick?) made me really want to know what the movie was all about.
I must say I was not disappointed in the least.
The basic story of the movie is that some 20 years ago, aliens made their first contact with Earth in quite a strange way — having their space ship literally stall out over Johannesburg in South Africa. After seeing no activity from the ship in weeks, a task force cut their way into the ship to discover thousands upon thousands of malnourished aliens. Originally, the world sought to help their new visitors out, providing food and shelter for the now stranded aliens.
However, an inter-galactic culture/species clash quickly occurs. Violence erupts, human contempt for aliens emerges, and it quickly becomes clear that co-existence is not going to be a walk in the park. Enter a large multi-national corporation, MNU, with deep pockets to solve this little problem: separate humans from aliens. Thus, District 9 was born to house all aliens in Johannesburg, an area where no humans (save for MNU representatives) are allowed in.
Fast forward nearly 20 years into the future, and you have the beginnings of the movie’s storyline.
District 9 has become nothing more than a run down and crime-ridden slum. Aliens are not completely bound by the walls of District 9 either, and contempt is growing yet again for MNU to solve the problem. There solution this time is to build a new “District” and evict all aliens from District 9 to their new location, which they tout as “better and more secure” — yet it’s accommodations look akin to a concentration camp (the main protagonist, Wikus van der Merwe, even says as much later in the film).
From what starts out as something MNU considered as a simple procedure takes a quick turn for the worst. While searching for alien weapons to confiscate, Wikus finds a mysterious tube, the contents of which explode in his face. From that plot twist, we soon learn the true intentions of MNU and the real reason why they will not allow the aliens to leave: their weapons (something hinted at earlier in the movie). While MNU has collected several of the aliens’ weapons, they cannot use them as their technology only seems to respond to their biological makeup — and Wikus’ little accident might just hold the key they’ve been looking for.
I’ll try to leave the summary details at that to prevent spoilers, but your usual action from an alien flick does pick up at this point, and does it very well too. The end of the movie is basically one long action sequence, and for a film of what is rather low budget these days, does a much better job than movies of five times its budget.
What really shines overall is the story. It is deep, well told, and also includes several criticisms on today’s society: racism, greed, and lust for power just to name a few. All of this is far from forced as well. The story is simply played out in front of you and, as you watch, you see the themes pop out without the movie seemingly trying.
The way the story is told is also fantastic. The movie starts mockumentary style as first you get the background of District 9 and then get the chronicling of the eviction process by following Wikus and his team. After Wikus’ “accident”, we switch to a blend of security footage and the “normal” third-person perspective, which really drove home some of the more sinister aspects of MNU. Most of the second half of the movie is told from the familiar third-person perspective and then finally wraps up with the mockumentary close (and one last final quick scene in third-person that ends the movie perfectly). While it may seem like that is a lot of craziness to follow, all of it blends in perfectly and the transitions to each style are seamless. In all honesty, it is hard to imagine this story told any other way.
I would suspect most people would claim the ending is far too open ended and leaves room for a sequel. I highly disagree on that note. I think a sequel would ruin District 9 and the ending. The movie seems to have been made to spark discussion and leaving the future up in the air to the viewer is a perfect way to end such a movie. Debates between viewers can leave far more creativity open than a movie telling us exactly how it happened (which will also easily lead to disappointment for some).
District 9 also seems to have hopped on the viral train like Cloverfield did. You can “monitor” District 9, check out MNU, and read an alien blog about MNU’s lies (which even includes a link to writing in alien font) among other things. Much like Cloverfield, these all blend into the movie and make it more of an overall experience than simply just another movie. However, unlike Cloverfield, District 9 can easily stand on its own. You aren’t lost about what is going on as I felt Cloverfield did — if you didn’t follow all the external sites/fake blogs, you were going to get nothing but question marks above your head. Anyone I have run into that liked Cloverfield would always say the same thing: “You had to follow all the sites before you saw the movie”. That is a ridiculous way to judge a movie, and it is far from a “groundbreaking experience” when one piece of the puzzle is severally lacking.
District 9 does it right. All of the viral links complement the movie and do not define it. I went into the movie having no knowledge of any of the links above, yet I still came out of the movie with a very positive impression. It made digging into the sites more of a fun experience than a chore just so I could figure out what in the hell was going on.
Bottom line: This is a great movie well worth seeing. If you are expecting your normal shoot ’em up alien movie, you likely won’t like it until maybe the end. Unlike previous alien movies before it, the aliens are not some crazy dominate species here to crush the poor little earthlings — they are the oppressed.
Final Grade: A