Starring: Sharlto Copely, Jason Cope, David James
Directed by: Neill Blomkamp (debut)
Written by: Neill Blomkamp (debut) and Terri Tatchell (debut)
First time director/writer Neill Blomkamp and producer Peter Jackson (“King Kong”) make some bold decisions in the sci-fi film “District 9.” The dangerous game of cinematic Russian roulette starts by releasing the film in the summer when purely mechanical action movies are what always reel in mainstream audiences. Then, they decide not to hire any familiar actors during a season where name recognition is usually vital.
Blame the lack of A-listers on the frugal $30 million budget if you’d like, but “District 9” starring Nicolas Cage just wouldn’t be the same skillfully-crafted movie. Here, Blomkamp and company pull the trigger and unleash an impressive and thought-provoking narrative laced with enough intense action for anyone who thinks they’re only sitting down to see an alien vs. man battle royal.
In “District 9,” Bloomkamp uses faux-documentary style footage and interviews and sets our alien-invasion in Johannesburg, South Africa. While most films would typically place the story in New York or Los Angeles or somewhere with identifiable monuments so they could blow them up, “District 9” – from the very start – lets audiences know that it refuses to follow any pattern.
In Johannesburg, stranded extraterrestrials have been living for 20 years in a segregated part of the city known as District 9 ever since their spaceship stalled in the skyline. When the city’s residents decide they no longer want the aliens living among them, the alien-affairs corporation Multi National United (MNU) steps in to relocate the creatures to a safer environment.
Promoted to lead the transplantation of the almost two million aliens to another camp is Wikus Van De Merwe (non-actor Sharlto Copely, who gives an undeniably striking debut performance), the son-in-law of MNU’s CEO. Eager to take on his new responsibilities, Wikus takes a battalion into the alien slums to have them sign an eviction notice (one of the few cheesy scenes of the film) before they are moved out of their homes.
But when Wikus is infected with an indefinable liquid found in one of the alien’s huts, he slowly becomes the answer to many of the inexplicable issues the human government still has with their longtime tenants. More specifically, Wikus becomes the key to demonstrate how the alien’s powerful weaponry works. He’s also the only hope for an alien named Christopher Johnson (all the prawns have human names so they can be identified) and his Martian child to find a way back to their home planet.
There are some fascinating scenes throughout “District 9” that could be considered metaphors for those viewers who may want to delve deeper into Blomkamp’s motivation to make a film with an underlying message about South Africa’s apartheid, the racial segregation enforced by the South American government for almost 50 years (Blomkamp, who was born in Johannesburg, grew up with it all around him). For those who are not big on the social commentary of “District 9,” the special effects trump those of the other blockbusters this summer and do so in a more refined way. Who says a good summer action movie has to be as brainless as a bag of Autobot bolts? “District 9” proves you don’t have to choose between entertainment value and intelligent filmmaking.