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  District 9 Alienated
Year: 2009
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Stars: Sharlto Copley, Jed Brophy, Louis Minaar, Vanessa Haywood, John Sumner, Mandla Gaduka, Stella Steenkamp, Nick Blake, William Allen Young, Marian Hooman, David James, Hlengiwe Madlala, Melt Sieberhagen, Andre Odendaal, Kenneth Nkosi, Vittorio Leonardi
Genre: Action, Science FictionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 4 votes)
Review: In 1982, Earth finally made contact with a race from another world, but it was not the enlightening situation that many had hoped for as a huge spacecraft parked itself over Johannesburg in South Africa and was found, after a couple of weeks of simply hanging in the air, to contain what some assumed were refugees. They were a humanoid race who became known somewhat derogatively as "prawns", as nobody knew what to call them and the name seemed appropriate to their looks and behaviour. Now, three decades later, the decision has been made to move the visitors out of their shanty town beneath the ship...

But it's not going to go peacefully, in this, a sleeper hit across the world from writer (with Terri Tatchell) and director Neill Blomkamp, basing his science fiction on his experiences of growing up under apartheid. There was a take it or leave it attitude to the message contained herein, as you could approach it as a canny exploration of racism using the otherness of space aliens as a metaphor, or sit back and enjoy it as a riproaring adventure with plenty of things blowing up good - blowing up real good. Even if the comparisons went over your head, it's likely you would pick up something of Blomkamp's intentions as in spite of the story turning to crowd pleasing action pretty quickly, they were fairly blatant.

Our hero starts out as a villain, Wikus Van der Merwe, played by Sharlto Copley who had only acted once before, and that was in the short film this movie was based upon. Here he does a great job of transforming himself from a weasely pen-pusher elected to oversee the clearances of the alien ghetto to a man of violence and emphatically raised consciousness, as not once do you think, nah, he'd never react like that. This is down to the extremity of the mess he is landed in when, as the government men force the prawns out of their homes with a complete lack of delicacy, Wikus accidentally gets a small canister of something chemical spilled on him, and starts to develop physical changes as a result.

Yes, there are parts of other sci-fi favourites that contribute to the narrative, from Alien Nation to The Fly, yet crucially District 9 comes across as its own entity thanks to its African setting and a keen sense of the society that it shows. Soon Wikus is throwing up on his promotion party cake and has to be taken into a private military company who begin to experiment on him. Why? They need something from him as he turns into a human-prawn hybrid, and that is the ability to operate the alien weaponry that they brought with them and has been salvaged from the craft, still floating ominously in the skies all these years. Yes, it's the corporations we're booing once again, though here again utilised in a novel manner.

In his aim to escape the authorities, who incidentally have put out a news story that he has a deadly disease thanks to sexual congress with too many extraterrestrials (!), Wikus befriends one of the prawns, who wants to protect his son from the clearances. It is here that the true theme of the film emerges: that old saying that if you want to understand someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes or in this case dash about in their exoskeleton bristling with guns. Wikus certainly gets his fill of life from the other side of the tracks, but if there's a disappointment to this, it's that for the finale it could really be any number of sci-fi action setpieces, with bullets flying and special effects in abundance. All of which is nice to look at, but the decent intentions get drowned out in the noise and are not really recovered by a reflective coda, shot, like the opening, documentary style, though not wrapping much up. Music by Clinton Shorter.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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