|By Charlie Goodrich||Monday, 24 Aug 2009|
Political movies that have an obvious message about the struggles of a person or group of people fighting against another are a dime a dozen. They can be intriguing, but in the end they lack any wow factor because they are often based on real events. That’s probably why most movies based around political happenings and social injustice are documentaries and not motion pictures. Luckily, Neill Blomkamp (co-writer and director) does a fantastic job of creating a political movie that has you on the end of your seat. He takes a serious topic, South African apartheid, and adds a (what seems to be random) twist: aliens. I was confused by this premise at first and did not think it would work, however, I was pleasantly surprised that it did. In a summer with less than spectacular action movies, G.I. Joe and Transformers 2, here is perfect example of how a good action movie is made.
The first half of District 9 is done in a documentary style. It uses interviews and news footage to tell the story and build a parallel world set in Johannesburg South Africa. In the 1980s, an alien ship appears over Johannesburg and simply hovers. Eventually humans discover there are aliens on the ship and the humans construct a shanty town, District 9, to house the aliens. The aliens are nicknamed “prawns” due to their prawn like appearance. Like an poverty stricken area you have crime, filth, and of course interspecies prostitution (the only kind of prostitution there is, if you ask me). As the back story is being told, we are introduced to the main character, Wikus. Wikus works for Multinational United (MNU) which is a private contractor that is in charge of District 9. Wikus is your standard business person that does his job and never asks questions. Part of what made Wikus work so well is the neutral feelings I had for him early on. The beginning of this film is fantastic. The presentation of characters and story is unique and well done. It is similar to the Wizard of Oz. The beginning is black and white without any flashy effects until you reach the wonderful land of Oz. The beginning of District 9 is a documentary, but when all hell breaks loose it becomes an action movie with two powerful characters.
The documentary ends when Wikus finds a canister that was being build by a prawn. The canister ejects a black liquid into his face as he examines it and Wikus begins to change in a sci-fi way. I don’t want to reveal too much because it is a gripping story that makes the viewer want to see what will happen next. It can be predictable but there some twists that I didn’t see coming. The non-documentary parts of District 9 are superb. The action is top notch and gets very violent very quick. The special effects blend nicely with the world. There are a few time when the aliens looked out of place but they were well done for being completely computer animated. The growth of the characters is what surprised me the most. I went from not caring about Wikus to empathizing with him, to hating him, to liking him, to hating him, and finally liking him again. He can come across as one dimensional but I found a lot of substance in him. There is also a prawn character who plays a major role. I found myself caring a lot of him by the end of the film. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the main antagonist does a great job of being evil and I wanted him to die a slow painful death.
I know this is a short review and I want it be short. I don’t want to give away too much. Being surprised by everything in this movie and getting wrapped up in the atmosphere it creates was awesome. It is such a unique story that is driven by two strong characters and backed with great effects. If you like sci-fi or action movies and you’ve been let down by the action movies this summer, go see District 9. Apartheid has never been so entertaining.