District 9 ***1/2 (out of ****)

Director: Neill Blomkamp
Writers: Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell
Cast: Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, David James, Vanessa Haywood, Mandla Gaduka, Kenneth Nkosi
Rating: R (bloody violence and pervasive language)
Running Time: 111 min
Release Date: 8/14/09

District 9 beings as a mock documentary of the aftermath of the arrival on Earth of a very large alien spacecraft. Rather than land it hovers near Johannesburg, South Africa. The “why” of this is just one of many unanswered questions in this film. The best answer is that the director and co-writer is South African. One also gets the impression that you would get more of the humor elements interspersed through if you were South African.

The documentary part tells us that humans after a few months cut their way in to the giant craft and found very large numbers of starving aliens known to humans the “Prawns” after their rather repulsive (to humans) appearance. The serious subtest of the film has to due with prejudice and the horrible things take can come from it. One considers that no matter how grotesque the aliens may appear to us, they do come form a civilization that must have exceed ours greatly.

Confined to District 9, the Prawns live squalid shanty town conditions similar to the poorest native South Africans during apartheid. What was once intended as a refuge becomes a concentration camp during the 20 years they have been here. Their population grows to 1.8 million and they become unruly. Eventually it is decided that they will be moved to a new camp 200 miles to the north to minimize the conflicts with humans. It is the job of Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley), who works for the company hired by the government manage District 9, to serve eviction notices to the Prawns.

Here is one of the weakest conceptually and yet the most comical parts of the film. Wikus and this small team go from shack to shack serving eviction notices to rather large and irate Prawns. The aliens make clicking sounds that the Wikus and his men understand. The men of Team Wikus respond in English which the aliens understand. How this works is unexplained. Also, it is hard to see how this small team could ever server notices to all 1.8 million Prawns.

Quickly this situation escalates as Team Wikus finds Prawn arms caches which seem to be mostly AK-47s with a few alien “direct energy” weapons to boot. The plot advances when we learn that no human can fire the alien weapons and the company for which Wikus works sees a lot of money in finding out. Meanwhile searching another shack, Wikus discovers a mysterious cylinder and gets sprayed in the face while inspecting it. Soon his left arms slowly turning into a Prawn arm. And then Wikus is kidnapped and taken to a weapons lab.

Human treatment of the Prawns turns increasingly violent. We see that Nigerian gangsters exploit the Prawns. Wikus escapes from the lab to prevent his body for being harvested to extract the alien DNA and is forced to hide in District 9 to escape for the companies shock troops. Wikus finally meets a Prawn known as “Christopher” who seems intelligent enough to come from a starship. He has worked for 20 years to collect the mysterious liquid in the cylinder. In spite of their mutual mistrust, they are forced to ultimately join forces in a very action packed finale as Wikus seeks a way to reverse his transformation to a Prawn while Christopher wants his cylinder in order return home.

One overarching problem exists from start to finish and this is the why these Prawns who come in an awesome starship are for the most part rather ignorant and quarrelsome? With the exception of Christopher and his son the rests seem to be clueless. I’ll give my theory since there is talk of a sequel. Perhaps the Prawns have a policy of exiling dangerous criminals on other planets. The large spacecraft is in fact a prison ship and the lack of “civilized” Prawns is due to riot that broke on the ship in which most of crew had been killed. “Christopher” escaped in the small landing craft which we see in one of the documentary scenes. That’s my two cents.

District 9 combines many elements. It is has distinct comical undercurrents, it has strong action elements, and at the same address the nature of racial prejudice. District 9 is one of the most memorable films of the 2009 summer season.

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