District 9

The clash of styles is distracting, but there's a decent amount of entertainment to be had.

Released in 2009, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 22 Aug 2011 by Scott Morris
District 9 image

I have, of late, started to get very worried when films launch with innovative, edgy marketing or gather any sort of 'internet buzz', as history teaches us to then prepare for a crushing disappointment. Hearing that, Stateside at least, this Peter Jackson produced, Neill Blomkamp directed sci-fi affair was gathering points in both of these categories proved troublesome. Calling it a crushing disappointment would be a trifle harsh on the poor little film, but I'm left slightly non-plussed by the general rapture aimed in its direction.

It starts off promisingly enough, at least. Presented as an after-the-fact documentary, it deals with the surprising sudden appearance of a massive alien spacecraft over Johannesberg. After a period of it hovering there doing nothing particularly interesting, inquisitive humans bust out the cutting tools and crack it open. To their surprise, although admittedly the situation is hardly lacking in surprise from the outset, they find a horde of aimless, starving insectoid alien workers dossing around in their own filth, the "leader" class apparently missing.

Seeing as the aliens don't appear to be able to fend for themselves, us benevolent humans set up a refugee camp for our Star Brothers. Or more accurately, they're kept segregated in a prison formed from slums, where humans quickly begin to fear and loathe them.

District 9 follows Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley) as he heads up an operation of borderline legality to shift 'the prawns' to a camp further from the center of Jo'Burg by any means necessary, humans sentiment finally reaching a tipping point where they want these aliens taken out of sight, and out of mind. Most would probably prefer simply taking them out. Wikus is something of an unlovable loser, but he hasn't had time to fully alienate (hoho!) the audience before plot develops onto him.

Exposed to an alien toxin/virus/thingy designed by seemingly the only intelligent alien amongst the 'fugees, Christopher, Wikus starts to go through "the change". Not the menopause in this case, as he begins a transmogrification into a human-alien hybrid. Going on the run from the authorities, who declare him a dangerous public enemy, Wikus must work out how to reverse what's happened to him before his ex-employers harvest him for science and weapons research.

So starts a prolonged chase structure, in this case tricked out with the optional 'mindless violence' sports kit. It is, I suppose, entertaining enough, but this seems to be another film that's sold us a dummy. It's marketed as having a more thoughtful take on the situation, paralleling the many social issues caused by immigration and segregation, and indeed that's how it starts, with the faux-documentary trappings giving it a relatively convincing sheen.

Then it develops something of a multiple personality disorder when it throws all of that out of the window and becomes a Big Dumb Action film, that occasionally lapses back into the TV style presentation gimmick as something of an afterthought. I like thoughtful sci-fi concepts, and I like Big Dumb Action films, but only rarely do these combine into something great.

District 9 doesn't quite manage to combine them into something great. It would stand a decent chance at doing either of these styles very, very well independent of each other, but the whole here is less than the sum of its parts. Not, you understand, that it's a bad film. Aside from jarring clash of styles, the only other major point I can come up with against it is that Sharlto Copley and his character isn't interesting enough to really carry the film. Oh, and I could go a very long time without hearing that Afrikaans pronunciation of 'fooking' and be happy. This becomes less of an issue as things head into the final act.

Yes, the end of it is just CG shit blowing up, but it does it about as well as anything else. It's just not what I expected it to be doing, so I left a little non-plussed by it. I couldn't find anything to engage in it, and viewed at arms length the dents in the bodywork are all too noticeable. If you can embrace it I'm sure you'll have a better ride than I did.

Neill Blomkamp
Cast list:
Sharlto Copley (Wikus Van De Merwe)