Sunday, August 16, 2009

Review - District 9

For the past 20 years an extraterrestrial race has been forced to live as refugees in slum-like conditions after there spaceship made first contact over Johannesburg South Africa. Over time alien and human relations have become extremely tense, leaving the South African government to contract a private company, Multi-National United to deal with relocating the alien race. When a MNU agent becomes infected from alien biotechnology he quickly becomes the most wanted man in District 9.

"District 9" breaks the mold with what you have seen in SciFi movies. Filmed in a groundbreaking style that comes together both as a documentary and a action-packed thrill-ride, "District 9" grabs a hold of you and never lets go. It is ingeniously intricate while also being thrilling to no end with a multi-layered story and a thought provoking concept. Neil Bomkamp created a magnificent story that despite a few question marks, is the best science fiction film I have seen in years!

Unlike anything I have ever seen before, Neil Bomkamp created a truly unique and inspiring way of interlacing a detailed back story within "District 9," while also telling a complex action story that is moving forward. Bomkamp utilizes a quasi-documentary vision to weave the rising tensions between human and alien relations over the 20 years since the extraterrestrials first contact in Johannesburg. This element is also used to chronicle the lead character, Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley), as he leads other MNU field operatives to relocate the alien race. The film shifts back and forth between a straight up action film and this quasi-documentary and the result is stunning.

The action in "District 9" is remarkable. There is nothing all that groundbreaking here, but instead just outstanding and unapologetic violence that is brutal, bloody and in your face. There is no doubt that "District 9" received it's R-rating from the amount of violence, because other than gore, the adult themes are very minimal. Granted, I never noticed much bad language, but I never do when people are shooting weapons and desperately trying to avert death. That said, the film is not a complete action-fest. "District 9" is really a three-arc story transitioning between the informative back story on the aliens, a chase to hunt down the infected MNU field operative Wikur and finally a compassionate story between two unlikely species. What makes the film so impressive is Neil Blomkamp's ability to structure and polish each various story-arch into one overall masterpiece.

I can't give praise to all of the thrilling action without honoring the invigorating cinematography by Trent Opaloch. Everything from the vivid steady cam work, the startling MNU network camera accounts, or the documentary/reality television-esque shots and finally the more traditional camera angles were extraordinary. We have seen strong reality and first-person camera work done in the past, but here in "District 9" it is so flawlessly orchestrated that Trent Opaloch and director Neil Blomkamp deserve very high praise indeed.

The aliens, derogatorily referred to as Prawns, were well thought out and masterly depicted in "District 9." Their design is both inventive and absolutely precise. Blomkamp created a unique race of aliens who are just as diverse as humans while also being just as complex. The various kinds of Prawns were engaging and elusive. This helped to keep "District 9" fresh, especially while the MNU operatives are evicting various Prawns from their make-shift shacks. You really did not know what to expect with each new Prawn they encountered.

"District 9" goes the extra mile to make sure the story, characters and situations are all authentic. What is remarkable, is the ability to make such an impressive and realistic depiction on such a small budget of only $30 million. All of the CGI looks pristine, especially the decimation the Prawn weaponry possess. Kudos to Blomkamp's ability to individualize the Prawns, never having them all look to similar or having all the same characteristics. Much of the high quality CGI can be accredited to both Blomkamp, who has been a 3D animator dating back into the 1990's and Peter Jackson's WETA workshop who played a major hand in the creation of District 9 and it's unique inhabitants.

"District 9" isn't just a electrifying science fiction story and a inspiring action film but, it also has stark insight into segregation and apartheid throughout the world. Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell's story depicts with aliens, what has been going on in South Africa and around the world for generations. The scifi film also has unexpected heart that bleeds out through the final two acts of the film. Heart that has you falling in love with the scavenger Prawns and their plight. The result is a cinema going experience that will easily have your mind racing for hours after the showing.

The performances throughout "District 9" all deserve a ton of credit. Sharlto Copley is staggering as Wikus Van De Merwe. His transformation in "District 9" is without a doubt the driving force in the film and he powerfully carries the scifi fantasy all the way through the climax. Copley has instant charm from the opening and ultimately drags you into his character with a captivating performance. Every character in fact, becomes extremely luring leaving you routing either for or against them. More than not, you are routing against the Nigerian gangsters and MNU mercenaries as they try to capture Wikus. Specifically, Den Antonakas as the lead MNU guard, who is endlessly vicious and ruthless in his pursuit. Eugene Khumbanyiwa is also merciless as Obesandjo 7, the leader of Nigerian mafia who live amongst and exploit the Prawns in District 9.

The animators at WETA behind the Prawns, did a amazing job creating vile creatures that in the end, leave you emotionally attached to their conflict. The central Prawn, Christopher who forms an agreement with Wikus after his exposure to the alien biotechnology, is one of the most endearing extraterrestrials since E.T. His son is also entertaining and reminds us that lovable characters do not have to be attractive, over-the-top or for that matter speak the same language. The young Prawn's interaction with his father and Wikus is a perfect example of how intricate and well thought out Blomkamp and Tatchell's script was. Lastly, relationships that are formed between this threesome are subtle and overall give "District 9" most of it's compassion and added enjoyability.

"District 9" more than anything is a powerhouse of a movie. It grabs a hold of you with it's exceptional storytelling and doesn't let go in the slightest with well paced action sequences that are brutal and grandly entertaining. Like any great science fiction film, "District 9" leaves room for speculation on a few aspects to the story, but more importantly has you begging for more. Finally, I can't recommend "District 9" enough, it was a blessing in disguise, completely unexpected and now one of my favorite science fiction movies to date.