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"District 9" {Blu-ray}
Reviewer:
Wayne Klein
Studio: Sony Home Video
Genre:
Sci-Fi
Release Date:
12/29/09
Special Features:

Featurettes, deleted scenes, commentary track by the director

Review:

An entertaining mixture of allegory, satire and science fiction thriller "District 9" uses a combination of the documentary style filmmaking that has become popular over the years (hand held jittery camera moves) as well as static shots of talking heads that you would see in a real documentary along with other cinematic techniques to tell a gritty first contact tale and how our main character manages to rediscover his humanity after interacting with an alien species. The last third delivers on the promise of action but I thought it could have been a bit more imaginative at the end in implementing that section. This is an extremely good movie that manages to pack a variety of elements into its story. ***

Was there considerable hype associated with the movie? Yep. Ignore the hype and judge the movie on its own (if you can) and you'll find an exceptional movie that takes the science fiction theme of first contact adding a very human reaction to it--instead of wonder we get prejudice, anger, persecution and a tale of an unwilling participant who starts off as racist as the other people in the story but gradually changes as he becomes assimiliated to the aliens culture discovering they are nothing more or less than a mirror image of humanity itself as brutal, nasty and "alien" as they are kind, considerate and "human" with the same desire that we have for belonging. ***

Government employee Wilkus Van De Merwe (newcomer Sharlto Copley)is put in charge of evicting and resettling an alien race of creatures that have become stranded on Earth. Forced to live in slums not unlike those that existed during apartheid, the creatures referred to as Prawns (because they resemble shrimp)brought oodles of alien technology with them but humans are unable to use them because the technology only responds to their DNA.The organization he's working for the MNU clearly have their own agenda beyond keeping the aliens and humanity segregated. Merwe's mission goes horribly wrong which puts him on the run and he finds the only sympathy among the aliens that he and other humans find disgusting. Throw in Nigerian arms dealers, a shadowy government agency that is doing things that even Merwe wasn't aware of and you have a strong thriller that has a message that doesn't become too heavy handed. ***

Neill Blomkamp's first feature film packs quite a lot into its 111 minutes; the film is at turns satrical, ironic and while allegorical the director doesn't let the themes of prejudice overwhelm the often moving story at its core. The visual effects done by producer Peter Jackson's WETA studios look marvelous and are well integrated into the story running rings around what many other visual effects houses might have done. As with all science fiction films "District 9" focuses its social commentary on our world today. Substitute the "Prawns" with any number of refugees or cultures misunderstood by others, add in a healthy dose of prejudice and imperialism and you could have a comment on refugees that swarmed into other countries to avoid Nazi little more than pay lip service by codemning him but not taking action) or even the United States with its influx of people persecution during World War II; the Kurds that were brutally murdered by Muammar al-Gaddafi (while the rest of the world didfrom other nations who faced xenophobic violence and fear and you have a film that reflects on our lack of humanity. The strength of Blomkamp's film derives from the perforances and the fact that he's put his social commentary within the context of an entertaining story--it allows enlightenment without an iron fist slapping us with its message. Nevertheless, that message stands front and center in the film as Van De Merme moves from staunch believer in the government policies to denial and then convert as his eyes are opened to the persecution these aliens face because they are "different". He recognizes that they became little more than animals because humanity caged them and created a form of social Darwinism robbing them of their dignity reducing them to their base instincts to survive. ***

Blomkamp's film does borrow a number of motifs from other films including "The Fly, "The Day the Earth Stood Still" (Robert Wise's original film), Robert Towne's pivotal episode of "The Outer Limits" "Changling" and even "Aliens" but he integrates them so well into his story that they aren't distracting. He also tackles a number of themes that have been examined in other science fiction films in the past including "Alien Nation" but grounds the story in reality which gives it a stronger and more believable impact. While "District 9" isn't completely original borrowing as it does from other science fiction films and dramas it does manage to make the parts much greater than the whole. ---

Image & Sound:

Blomkamp keeps his drama rooted in gritty reality by using a variety of film techniques but ultimately what makes the film blossom is the strong performance by Sharlto Copley as a government worker used to looking down on the "prawns" and cheerfully doing whatever he is asked to do. The Blu-ray release looks extremely goo although be aware that it IS very grainy and was meant to look that way. The jittery camerar work that adds the sense of "reality" may be less nausea inducing for those with motion sickness. The approach though works for the film where it establishes a documentary sense of reality at the very beginning. ***

Audio sounds terrific throughout the presentation whether it be the opening "documentary" sequence where the audio recording just adds to the "reality" of the film or later during the explosive action sequences that dominate the last quarter of the film the audio mix does a stand out job of presenting the sound with remarkable clarity. ---

Special Features:

For the Blu-ray/two disc edition are the same (I've only seen the Blu-ray but it appears based on the publicity release they are identical)-Deleted Scenes; Director's Commentary; The Alien Agenda: A Filmmaker's Log - Three-Part Documentary; Metamorphosis: The Transformation of Wikus; Innovation: Acting and Improvisation; Conception and Design: Creating the World of District 9; Alien Generation: Visual Effects. ***

Special features should be designed to enlighten us about the process of conception to completition of the film. This set achieves those goals although I suspect we'll probably see a deluxe double dip at some point in the future this set provides enough extra value to make it worthwhile rather than wait for that potential double-dip. ---

Final Words:

While the final act of "District 9" doesn't quite hold together dramatically as well as the first two-thirds, it holds together well enough to make for a satisfying conclusion. What brings it all home is the moving final five minutes of the film that proves that even if we are stripped of everything visible that indicates our humanity we remain the people that we are despite the adversity around us. Like "Star Trek", "District 9" takes the ambitions of good dramatic mainstream material and injects it into the cliche of the summer blockbuster with exceptional results. Highly recommended.

 

 
 
 
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