Movie Review Rewind: District 9 (2009)

Brandon Vick flips the calendar back to 2009 for a look at the sci-fi action thriller District 9 on this edition of Movie Review Rewind.

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District 9 will change the way you see aliens in movies forever. Of course, aliens play a huge part in this movie, but done in an intelligent way. They are not things, but they are characters, almost like people. This movie is from Peter Jackson and directed by newcomer Neill Blomkamp. Together they create an original and thrilling movie that you have to see to believe.

District 9 starts out as a mockumentary with interviews of people who are discussing the events that are going on in South Africa. They actually foreshadow the events that will occur. The aliens (aka “Prawns” because of the way they look) have been quarantined in a refugee-like camp as their ship stays right above in the sky in the city of Johannesberg.  At first, people did not know what to expect from these extraterrestrials, but as the years pass nothing happens. After 28 years of the mothership being broken down, the MNU (Multi-National United) are called to take take care of the situation.

Then we get introduced to Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley), the man who is put in charge to transport over a million Prawns to District 10. This is where the trouble begins. A man who can be nice and cruel within a minute or two. Though the situation is different when it is happening to you. These Prawns were found in their ship practically starving and dying. They were put in District 9 and instead of rebelling, they followed orders and rules. They became refugees on a completely different planet than their own. They were punished and mistreated and hooked on cat food. The underground gangs and the MNU want the same thing from them: their technology. They have powerful guns, but the only problem is the guns can only be activated and used by the Prawns own DNA. So they are practically useless to humans. That is before Wikus enters District 9.

As Wikus tries to evict all of the Prawns, he handles some with care and others not so much. He can be sweet to the child Prawns and turn on them as soon as they misbehave or if any of the Prawns ask questions or put up a struggle. But then Wikus opens a container full of Prawn fuel and is sprayed with it. Consequently, he slowly starts to become the one thing he was assigned to dispose of…a Prawn.

From this point on, District 9 turns in to a sci-fi action movie that delivers entertainment and excitement. Wikus starts to know what it feels like to be one of these Prawns. He is sent to a lab and there he is exposed to what they are doing to them. All of the testing, operating, and killing of these aliens are witnessed and exposed. Wikus finds himself needing help from the Prawns and begins a partnership with the sharpest one in town named Christopher and his son, who is quite the little helper.

This unlikely team find themselves wanting to go home. Christopher and his son want to go back to their planet. Their home. And Wikus wants to go back to the way things were before he started to transform in to a Prawn. He wants to return home and be back with his wife. Not only are you rooting for them, but you start to care about these Prawns. No matter how disgusting they look, the Prawns are seen as people who have feelings and emotions.

Neill Blomkamp grew up in South Africa and was exposed to a lot of what he shows here. The fall of a society and the mistreatment of others. But he makes a bigger statement about the world we live in today. Sure he uses Prawns to get the message across, yet the events that occur are relatable to real situations that have taken place in in our history. For example, in one scene District 10 is compared to a concentration camp. Unfortunately, this treatment of refugees and outsiders still continue with the harsh reality of these human beings living in slums and poverty. They may be aliens in District 9, but human beings live like what you see on screen and it’s a shame.

I’m getting off subject because District 9 does send a message about the world we live in, but also delivers in entertainment. The CGI is fantastic, which we knew it would be because it came from the same studio that did CGI for the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Peter Jackson produced the movie, but let Blomkamp have complete control and freedom. He made one hell of a movie, and it was his first movie. But he’s not the only impressive newcomer that is a part of this movie.

Sharlto Copley does an amazing job playing Wikus. This is his first movie as well and he carries the whole thing. His character is driven by several motives and not all of them are good, but he is our hero. He almost has to be. Due to his transformation, he is half-human and half-prawn and this gives him the ability to fire the powerful guns. This becomes a very valuable and important thing when the battle begins.

This movie is unique and original, and full of imagination. Here we have a first time director with no big actors and it is one of the best movies of the year. It proves that you do not need name power in order for it to be a success. It is all about story and it’s delivery. And rarely does a movie deliver so much creativity about a fascinating subject matter. District 9 definitely does and that’s such a rarity and a massive accomplishment.

Brandon Vick is a member of The Music City Film Critics’ Association and the Southeastern Film Critics Association, the resident film critic of the SoBros Network, and the star of The Vick’s Flicks Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @SirBrandonV and be sure to search #VicksFlicks for all of his latest movie reviews.

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