Some 20 years ago, a space ship fell out of the sky over South Africa. After days of no contact from the aliens, humans board the ship to discover a million sick and dying aliens. The ship is irreparably damaged, they can’t go home and their technology won’t work for us. What do we do with them now?
So begins “District 9,” an ambitious but flawed science-fiction movie.
Twenty years after making first contact, the “Prawns” have been rounded up and placed in an area called District 9, which quickly becomes a haven for crime lords and unsavory types willing to make money off the newcomers. But well, the neighboring towns still don’t feel safe with all those “Others” hanging about, so the South African government decides to move the Prawns to another area, far outside the city.
Before they can do that, they need to show the public they (the humans) are not monsters, and Multinational United, the corporation in charge of the relocation, decides they need the Prawns’ permission to move them, and here’s where we meet our “hero,” Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley). He’s the man in charge on the front lines, and while he’s generally against violence, he can be cruel when he feels like it.
But, well, things take an interesting turn when Wikus, after killing an *unruly* Prawn, finds a hidden canister, gets some black gunk sprayed on him and his arm mutates into an alien form.
Oh, how the mighty fall.
As expected, things don’t work out too well from him after that, but I’ll spare you more plot details.
The good parts of “District 9″ are what science-fiction does best; the film asks the hard questions about humanity and shows what would likely happen in this scenario. Prawns look like monsters, but they’ve got nothing on humans. But (you knew that was coming), while “District 9″ is pretty fearless (and gruesome) in showing the dark side of humanity, the film falls short of being a great movie.
For starters, the faux-documentary technique works for the material, but it lasts for too long. It’s distancing, and works against getting to know the characters we’re spending our two hours with. In line with that, making our protagonist a feckless coward was a brave choice, but it’s really hard to spend the time watching a movie when there is no one to route for. The last 40 minutes of the film take all those interesting ideas about humanity and Apartheid and animal testing and they just congeal into a slow-paced action flick (not a good thing).
What “District 9″ does right it does very, very well. Even the problems I had with the film aren’t necessarily deal breakers, but they all add up to a film that I thought well of, but not one I enjoyed watching (or need to watch again).
Want a different take? Check out Jim’s review.
Directed by Neill Blomkamp
Written by Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell
Starring: Sharlto Copley (Wikus Van De Merwe)