james debate
james debate

Wednesday 16 September 2009

Directed by Neill Blomkamp
Written by Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell
Produced by Peter Jackson
Starring Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, Robert Hobbs
Release date(s) Out Now
Running time 112 minutes

Peter Jackson produces this picture from debut writer director Neill Blomkamp, based on a film he made in college Alive in Joburg, and the cast doesn't have one recognisable name among it, with the star Sharlto Copley also making his feature film debut. Doesn't sound like blockbuster stuff no? Wrong. Warning, there will be spoilers.

district 9

In what has surely got to be one of the best marketing campaigns of all time, the minds behind District 9 have managed to pull off the difficult task of building a large amount of hype, whilst telling us next to nothing about the actual film's plot. No doubt you've seen these signs all over the place recently, all part of a genius viral campaign.

So what I did know going into the film was that this was based off, as I mentioned before, Blomkamp's short film which told the story of an oppressed group of alien survivors (dubbed 'prawns' by the meanie humans) who are ostracised and crammed into apartheid style concentration camps. Clear parallels are to be drawn with real life humanitarian disasters that inspired some of Blomkamp's earlier works, being a South African native.

How Blomkamp and this project came to be in the first place makes for an interesting story. Peter Jackson, who at the time was working on his film adaption to mega hit video game Halo, was so impressed with the short films Blomkamp had done that he picked him to direct Halo. Naturally the studio was not so thrilled with such a big project being handed to a first time director with no experience, and the project was pretty much killed. So instead, Jackson produced Blomkamp's big screen debut District 9, and let's just say nobody's doubting him now.

A derelict alien spaceship comes to a stand still in the skies above Johannesburg, South Africa, and after weeks of silence the military goes in to find the remnants of a dying alien race. Being the kind people that we are we bring them down onto our planet and build a special settlement for them to live and recover in. But of course real people aren't like this. Real people are xenophobic and greedy and exploitative, and the real genius of this film is acknowledging that.

This District 9 that we stick them in is little more than a ghetto. Shady Government organisations oppress the aliens to gain access to their technology, crime lords set up shop within District 9 to trade with the 'simple' aliens and accomplish the exact same thing. It all has a depressingly frank and brutal grit and realism to it that frankly you don't see in other examples of the genre.

The result is a science fiction movie unlike one you've ever seen before. Unnervingly real, in both the writing and the aesthetics. Indeed particular note must go to the amazing CGI work that's been done here, blending seamlessly with the world around and the human actors. Compare this to the majority of other sci-fi films that boast budgets three times as much as this and look like crap by comparison.

It's truly remarkable, and in a summer where the likes of Terminator: Salvation and Transformers 2 grossed hundreds of millions, this film serves as an important reminder of why you can and should demand more from your summer movies.

However, what I didn't expect was the second half of the film, where inspector Wikus, played very ably with an unlikable panache by Sharlto Copley, teams up with one of the aliens, and the film almost takes a buddy movie turn, complete with some spectacular set pieces.

Nonetheless, the spotlight rests squarely on Blomkamp, who had made a dream debut in cinema, and I think it's safe to say, can pretty much walk his way into any job he pleases now.

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