Clever marketing is just one of District 9's many strengths
WARNING MILD SPOILERS DO NOT CROSS LINE....
When this popped up on Sky the other week, I was reminded of just how impressive a movie it is, especially when you take its comparatively tiny budget into account! Using the now much-imitated 'hand-held camera' and 'found footage' techniques, at least at first, it has a similar theme to Alien Nation and V, but uses the idea of 'aliens among us' to create something fresh and fiercely new. Best of all, there are no giant smurfs. This is a much harder, heartfelt slab of sci-fi straight out of the 1980s, but with far superior special effects.
It begins assuming we already know the situation, which draws us in and keeps us curious about the unfolding events. Opening on a jumble of interview excerpts with specialists and members of a team, we gradually learn that someone called Wikus has caused a lot of trouble for the authorities in Johannesburg, where an alien spaceship arrived in the early 1980s. The leaderless aliens inside it have been refugees in South Africa ever since they were found, eventually condemned to live in a walled-off shanty town, the eponymous 'District 9'.
Wikus (Sharlto Copely) is an employee of Multinational United (MNU) who are charged with guarding District 9. Wikus appears on more found-footage from some time back, as he explains there is a plan to move the aliens to a new District, whether they want to go or not. He's a cheerful, somewhat naive fella, and clearly a loving husband to his boss's daughter. But what has he done to upset so many people?
What unfolds is a strong contender for someone's worst day ever. Jack Bauer never had to cope with the kind of thing poor, hapless Wikus goes through, and he handles it like every hapless 80s hero would - by getting some truly impressive weaponry and using it on the soldiers who put him in this position. It's the reaction of a man pushed to extremes! The inhumanity of the military and the businessmen is pure Aliens, and it's fantastic to see a film get how that ensures that the alien 'prawns' in District 9 are much more sympathetic.
The aliens look fantastic, and surprisingly easy to tell apart considering how insectoid they appear. They seamlessly merge with the run down shanty town scenery, and here you're amongst the dirt and the squalor, soaking up the heat and stink while the homeless aliens try to live and not get eaten my the distinctly more predatory local gangs. Obviously this situation refers heavily to the evils visited on people living in real shanty towns, making the aliens the underdogs manipulated by humans on all sides.When Wikus joins these ranks, he has to re-evaluate his position concerning the aliens and his own fight for survival. Will he ever get back to his wife?
Made with obvious love and care, this is a remarkable movie that channels the best of the Verhoeven-esque, muscular 80s sci fi movies with a hard edge but a big heart. It is possible to cry at the end, just a little, and that means it's worked brilliantly.
Fantastic aliens, big guns and a poignant finish.
Will the aliens beat us up in the sequel? Can't wait to find out!