District 9 - A Review [Caution, contains spoilers]
I realise this is a string of good reviews, but I'm not kidding when I say this is my tip for film of the year. It was nothing short of brilliant, from start to finish.
To begin , the concept was fantastic. Aliens not as superior beings, but as almost refugees. To the best of my knowledge, there hasn't been a present-day use of such an idea before. And the choice of location (Johannesburg) was perfect. As a sociological metaphor it may be a little blunt, but the similarities between alien segregation and the apartheid which was so brutal in South Africa makes it all the more potent.
The intro and outro of the film as extracts from a documentary is not a new concept, but it has been used before to great effect, and is done so again here. It introduces the situation without feeling utterly contrived, and the hints it gives as to the ending of the film are tantalising, but do not destroy suspense.
It also seems completely realistic. Humanity is not a tolerant race, and the all-accepting humanity depicted in Star Trek, etc, is centuries away if not complete fiction. If there was an arrival of aliens on this planet, then they would have to do us huge favours in regards to technological advances for us to even consider accepting them. An unpalatable conclusion, yes, but I fear it's true, and this film capitalises on that. It is at times very uncomfortable, primarily because it rings so true. The MNU's treatment of the "Prawns" is so similar to the treatment suffered at various points in history by black people/Jews/native Americans/black South Africans and countless other peoples deemed "different". It is also horrific, and undeniably wrong.
As a main character Wikus is perfect for the story. He is, at the beginning, just as guilty of the racism as anyone else, and possibly worse because he thinks he isn't. He is also a weak, and yet fundametally good person. He is realistic as a person intimidated by those overbearing individuals (his father-in-law/boss, and the military commander of the MNU forces) around him. When he is contaminated with the alien "fluid", and he begins to change, the reaction of the MNU is consistent with the most paranoid conspiracy story- complete disregard for him as well as the prawns, int he pursuit of advanced technology and the profits it would bring.
Conversely, the "barbarity" of the prawns is portrayed as being because of a mixture of cultural-difference, their treatment by the humans, and their being the "worker class" of their people. The film states that before they were brought to district 9, they had been trapped aboard their ship for months, making clear that they had known nothing but incarceration for a long time.
The character of "Christopher Johnson" (a good play, in giving the alien a human name, to humanise him, and conversely dehumanise the MNU, to an even greater degree) was everything a hero should be. His only concern, to begin with, is to get himself and his son home. But by the end, he has seen the experiments that humanity has been doing on his people, and wants nothing more than to save them. The selflessness of an alien seems profoundly more human to the audience than the self-centred lack of empathy by its human characters.
But aside from the sociological metaphors, it is a bloody good film. The prawns are brilliantly animated, and the sight of the huge spaceship in all of the wide-angle shots in Johannesburg is a triumph of CGI as a tool of the filmmaker rather than simply the star of the film, as well as a constant reminder of the aliens' presence. In particular the battle in District 9 between Wikus and Christopher, the MNU and the Nigerian criminals, is spectacularly choreographed, with my particular favourite moment being when Wikus- in an alien battle suit- catches an RPG to allow Christopher the time to reach the mothership.
And that's the thing about this film. It checks all boxes. It has the deep and intellectual aspect of the sociological anagolies, it has the action of the chases and gunfights, and it even has the tragically pathetic romance between Wikus and his wife. And it's an incredibly well made film. The whole thing fits perfectly together.
The only jarring moments I encountered were that Wikus seems to revert to a scouse accent when he swears, and that the MNU colonel looks disconcertingly like Bruce Willis.
But overall, the setting in South Africa was the thing I liked most. It wasn't in America, which is very refreshing. I counted one, maybe two, American accents in the whole thing, amid an abundance of South African accents. It was fresh, it was different, it tried something new. And it pulled it off.
If you haven't seen this, go and see it. Now. Do it!
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