Review: DISTRICT 9 (2009) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Review: DISTRICT 9 (2009)

RATING: 4.5/5

When comes to sci-fi thriller, it's either the one that has to be star-studded or mega-budgeted blockbuster event filled with state-of-the-art special effects extravaganza to lure the audiences. But DISTRICT 9 is one of those genuine rarities that defies the opposite of a sci-fi thriller doesn't have to be both expensive (made at a modest $30 million) and also relying heavily on popular actors to carry a film. It's also a great, once-in-a-blue-moon film that is both original, inventive, compelling, captivating, frequently hilarious and refreshingly out of the norm you normally come to expect from a sci-fi genre. All in all, this is a huge little surprise you never seen it coming. 

For 28 years, the city of Johannesburg, South Africa is distracted by the enormous sight of alien spacecraft came to a standstill. With the spacecraft literally run out of fuel to get back where they belong, the now-exhausted alien inhabitants, referred to as "prawns" -- four-legged insect-like beings that walk upright and speak in grunts and gurgles (with subtitles in English), have no choice but to learn how to survive and adapt to their new world. Local authorities ushered them out of their spacecraft and set them up in District 9, a makeshift refugee camp that quickly became a disgusting and overcrowding slum. Then it doesn't take long before the locals begin to show some protest and want the aliens gone out of their sight. This is where a private firm called MNU (Multi-National United) is involved for an assignment to evict them out of District 9 and relocate them to a rural concentration camp. The task of this mass relocation is conducted by a recently promoted MNU field operative Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley), who is required to go each of the aliens' filthy shack homes in District 9 to deliver eviction notices. While performing his task, he discovers an illegal lab inside the shack run by an intelligent alien named Christopher Johnson (Jason Cope). There, he also discovers a precious black liquid in the canister that accidentally sprayed onto his face. Soon he begins to grow sick and within a short time of period, he feels his entire body completely out of norm. Then one of his hands started to grow into a hideous-looking prawn's claw. It is doubt that his human DNA is increasingly infected by the alien virus. After the MNU finds out about his condition, the scientists want to harvest his organs because his claw is the only valuable thing that can operate state-of-the-art alien weaponry. Of course Wikus ultimately escapes and seeks refuge in the District 9 camp, where he is later forced to cooperate with Christopher in order to find way for reverting his physical changes back to normal. The MNU, in the meantime, quickly dispatches a team of heavily-armed enforcers, lead by the heartless chief-in-charge, Koobus (David James) to locate Wikus at all cost. 

Based on an award-winning short film ALIVE IN JOBURG (2005) by writer-director Neill Blomkamp, this feature-length film version is a daring genre mishmash that combines the best of the elements from E.T. (1982), THE FLY (1986), and ALIEN NATION (1988), shot partly in a faux-documentary style with a keen social commentary about the ever-controversial apartheid and a refreshing look that the alien isn't one of those typical creatures seen as a deadly threat but more of a victim of circumstances that we actually grow to care about them. 

With the help from producer Peter Jackson, who is initially impressed with Blomkamp's savvy filmmaking skills and set him up to direct the much-anticipated HALO film but fell through because of huge budgetry cost, there are also elements that fans will be delighted with Jackson's long-missed trademark of tongue-in-cheek humor and disgustingly over-the-top gore thrown into the mix as well. The result might sounds uneven at first, but Blomkamp is one of those rarities who knows how to blend a genre-bending film with a smartly structured script that grows increasingly interesting and exciting at each passing time. 

The overall cast, all relatively unknown, are surprisingly credible, especially newcomer Sharlto Copley in a likable and emotionally-devastating role as Wikus who is first seen as a cheerful chap to an intense and depressing tortured soul faced in an ugly truth where he has to deal with his grotesque physical transformation that makes him so profoundly human. 

And despite its $30 million budget, Blomkamp also proves that even with that kind of amount of money can still be able to craft a visually compelling experience. Lensed primarily on the revolutionary Red-One camera, the film is no doubt a top-notch result in term of its technical prowness. The special effects, conducted by Weta Digital, is very impressive, especially how the interactions between the aliens (a combo of digital effects and old-fashioned prosthetics) and the humans are handled so convincingly realistic as the one we have seen in the bigger-budgeted TRANSFORMERS films. 

If there's ever a flaw, the third-act action sequence, though eye-popping, goes a bit overlong but that's really minor picking. DISTRICT 9 is one of the best summer films of the year and certainly a must-see for everyone who wants something of an extraordinary experience.

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