One day in 1982 a giant spaceship arrives over Johannesburg. There is no glorious meeting of cultures or violent conflict. It just arrives and hovers there. After a couple months, first contact is made when humans discover that the ship is full of malnourished aliens, so they are brought down to the Earth. They recover, but it seems that the aliens are just worker drones. They can’t really do anything for the human race. Unable to leave the planet, they become mankind’s burden.
This is the setup of this feature-length debut from Neill Blomkamp, and it certainly is an interesting one. Indeed, the first half of this film is one of the most unique I’ve seen all year. Blomkamp brings us into this world by using documentary style techniques, which work really well. He follows the life of Wikus van der Merwe as he gets his big promotion to run the move of the alien population from District 9 to District 10. At first the movie is heavily steeped in references to apartheid, racism and social equity (after all, it is based on the real events of District Six, Cape Town) until something happens to Wikus.
From that point on, District 9 becomes an action movie. A heavily cliched action movie, if you think about it, with some pretty well-worn lines of dialogue put into use. But you know what? I’m fine with that when the action is so genuinely visceral and exciting. The special effects on display here are top-notch, you really do buy into the CGI aliens as real characters after a while. This is the longest I’ve been on the edge of my seat in a movie for quite some time.
I’d like to throw some props to Sharlto Copley for his portrayal of Wikus, a character that is at times pretty hard to get behind. He does some pretty nasty things, but at the end of the day you can always relate with the man, and that does not all live on the written page.
So save that G.I. Joe money you weren’t trying to spend and go check out this interesting little piece of sci fi action. As for me? I’ll be waiting to see what’s next for Mr. Blomkamp.