Sunday 6 September 2009

Review: District 9

Year: 2009
Director: Neil Blomkamp
Screenplay: Neil Blomkamp
Starring: Sharlto Copley

At times I feel there's an unwritten rule that mainstream films can't be provocative and exciting at the same time. It's not wrong to have a film that's not only smart but also entertaining and yet during the summer Hollywood seems to thrive of films that only wish to insult a person's intelligence. I don't believe that all movies need some sort of message, but it's very distressing that the bigwigs don't seem to believe that people would want to see a movie that is at least a little thoughtful.

So District 9 must be quite a shock to a few peoples system. At a faction of a cost of a Man Utd player, District 9 has a very obvious allegory towards the South African apartheid and the infamous District 6. We are given us a naive and unsympathetic pencil pusher as it's lead, and the actual alien race? well they're neither out to destroy nor help the world; they're merely here.

On paper D9 might not sound that appealing. Aliens land and become a nuisance? Wow, big whoop. Haven't we heard this before? This may ring true, but with this first time debut from director Neil Blomkamp, he clearly wants to show that this ain't your dad's alien film.

Yeah, whatever old fart.

It's great to see a first time director pull off such a strong debut, particularly when many aspects of the film appear to be at odds with recent Hollywood convention. Blomkamp (for those who may not know) was to direct Halo (popular xbox video game saga), but the deal went dead part of the way through. Why? The reasons appear conflicting, but it would be easy to claim that an escalating budget with a young "unproven" director at the helm could have been the reason. District 9 however, clearly shows that Blomkamp is not just an assured special effects guru (director of the Citro├źnAlive with Technology adverts) but a solid teller of story.

Using faux-documentary techniques in the first act of the film. Blomkamp swiftly establishes mood and background. The Aliens have been stuck in Johannesburg for 28 years and have learnt how to communicate with humans. However due to various reasons the aliens are uneducated about human polices, mistreated and segregated. Dumped into an remote location, the aliens are now told to fend with themselves..with no true knowledge of the area they're unfortunately trapped in.

The film also introduces us to Wikus (a superb Sharlto Copley), a simple but well meaning (to a point) agent for a large corporation. We are given a brisk (but not glossed over) view of his life and character (done cleverly with talking heads) and in no time at all we are dropped in the slums with Wikus as he begins his "do-gooding" quest.

Blomkamp appears to be a director who manages to get a point across to the viewer quite quickly. He has to do this because this is an action film, but in a world of Angels and Demons, Fast and Furious and likewise, there seems to be few action directors who are willing to put in the same amount of detail (or in A&D's case fill in too much detail badly). Blomkamps film is full of tin details which work because he is fully immersed with district 9's world, not only from a cinematic point of view, but a realistic one. The film is quick to place forth complex parrells with merely a few shots.

What also makes District 9 stand out is the films setting. By placing D9 in a world far away from the now atypical settings of an American city (read Toronto lol) and lands us the even more volatile setting of Johannesburg. The film feels fresh because the surroundings are so unfamiliar to the majority of those who are watching. It's a great risk, but one worth taking because suddenly the film FEELS different. This along with the allegorical story tells us we're not watching the same old alien invasion.

District 9 is an action adventure movie first and foremost, and as of late me and action films tend not to sit comfortably, not here. The films set pieces despite being obviously derivative of other movies (Aliens being a chief example), they still feel fresh. In fact Blomkamp manages to place a moment that hasn't been seen in a mainstream action feature to my knowledge and in an age were the G.I. Joe movie feels like a reference to Team America, it's nice to see something I haven't seen before. I could go into the ins and outs of the action sequences, but I won't. Lets just say for me they work.

Like I mentioned in a previous blog entry, the political aspects of the film are quite blatant and for all to see, but it doesn't feel forced, nor does it go over your head. But mostly importantly for a film like this, it doesn't get in the way of your enjoyment and that my friends is a good thing.

Note: Sorry about the review being quite late (i watched this ages ago) and quite choppy. It's unfortunately been a busy few weeks and I haven't had time to place my thoughts into a true constructive piece of my reviews are constructive!

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