Movie Review: District 9


It was a few months ago that I first saw the previews to the film, District 9. I was intrigued by the preview but did not become really motivated to see the movie at that time. However, as time passed and I heard bits here and there I became more interested in this project until finally I was committed to seeing it on the opening weekend.

District 9 is produced by Peter Jackson best known for his Lord Of The Rings films, and was directed by Neill Blomkamp in his feature film directorial debut.  My understanding for the history of this film ties back the proposed HALO movie. Peter Jackson and his company Wingnut films had obtained the rights to make a movie base on the popular video game franchise HALO. Jackson had selected Blomkamp as the person to direct the HALO movie. Sadly, due to constant downward revisions in the budget by the studio, Jackson was forced to abandon the HALO project. Jackson and Blomkamp then raised the money to make a feature film out of a short subject Blomkamp has directed in 2005, Alive in Joburg. District 9 was the result.

The setup for District 9 is more of an alternate history than a near-future science fiction. Twenty years ago an alien spaceship enters Earth’s atmosphere and come to rest hovering above the South African city of Johannesburg. Eventually the aliens are settled on the ground in a special area, District 9, which becomes an alien slum. The film takes place twenty-some years after the arrival and after a great deal of human alien interaction had been established.

I am not going to delve into the plot of the film because to talk about it in even general terms will be spoiler-like. It is not that the film’s plot is totally new and unheard of, but rather the style with which the film is made makes this a very fresh way to approach the plot.

The production design on this film is just fantastic. For many years the look of science-fiction films had been sterile white affairs. In 1977 George Lucas gave us Star Wars in which he presented a lived in universe. A universe where things looked old, beat-up, and dirty. (It’s a shame he lost this when he revisited the series. Everything looked just made in the last three films.) Between Star Wars and Ridley Scott‘s Alien, SF films became dirtiy and more rough looking. District 9 takes this to a whole new level. Shot in a documentary style the production design of District 9 is one of total realism.  It’s not just lived in, the production looks real, as though Blomkamp simply walked into District 9 and started filming with a handheld camera.

The special effects are truly mind blowing when you think about them. And you have to think about them to remember that they are special effects. Gollum in the Lord Of The Rings was an impressive achievement as a digital character. The aliens in District 9 are to Gollum as Gollum was to digital characters before him. There was no moment in the film where I thought to myself, that’s pretty good but it doesn’t really sell me. By the use of puppets and digital characters and attention to detail in the sound department these aliens have become the most credible cinematic aliens yet filmed.

It is a shame that Blomkamp never got to make his HALO movie. He showed me here that he would have brought a vision and talent to the film that would have surprised the world. I’ll be following this man’s career and look forward to his next movie.