District 9 (2009), Dir. Neill Blomkamp

Wikus (Sharlto Copley) squares up to 'prawn Christopher Johnson (Jason Cope).

Wikus (Sharlto Copley) squares up to 'prawn' Christopher Johnson (Jason Cope).

Rating: 6/10

If  it weren’t  for the fact that this film was set in South Africa, I may not gone to see this film not being particularly moved by films of the great-special-FX-but-ridiculous-plot-and-dialogue variety. But this film manages to transcend the inane jingoism of blockbusters like Independence Day by the fact that the film acts as a metaphor for the apartheid, and the  continuing poor living conditions and persecution of many black people and immigrants, including the current situation with  Zimbabweans as  David Cox points out.

The film then attempts  to imagine what the reality of aliens landing in South Africa would be like, so instead of seeing smiling goons with cameras and harmonious attempts to understand the other species (as depicted in Close Encounters of the Third Kind), we  see that after  twenty years of rioting (echoes of the Soweto riots here)  relations have become tense to say the least. The story goes that the aliens have been segregated into unsanitary slums in Johannesburg  by corrupt munitions corporation,  the very 21st century Multi-National United (MNU). The proximity of the aliens, or ‘prawns’ as they derisively call them,  does not please the locals and to appease them  the MNU start a large-scale operation  headed by lead protagonist Wikus  Van Der Mur (Sharlto Copley), to move them to a new district, district 10, further away from the city. It is Wikus’ contact with the aliens and in particular an alien bio-fuel which leaves him vulnerable and reliant upon the help of  two ‘prawns’, the strangely and mundanely named Christopher Johnson (Jason Cope-who voices all the aliens) (perhaps the alien names were just a bit difficult to pronounce) and his son who are trying to get back home by making fuel for their underground spaceship.

 We learn also that the aliens when they first arrive our weak and vulnerable, (like so many immigrants that arrive in Britain or France) and are lacking in leadership, the upper echelons of their race having died, thus they are easily exploited by both the MNU and Nigerian gangsters who sell them cat food, “ cat-nip” to them, at extortionate prices and in exchange for their sophisticated weaponry, as well as less believably prostitutes. This background information is told to us effectively in the form of an MNU documentary and in news reports with experts speaking to camera, giving us the sense that these events actually happened.

We are lead through the events of the film by Wikus, and Copley considering he is not a professional actor and improvises all his dialogue, as do all the actors, gives an impressive and engaging performance.  He shows us as a man who is at first smug and cruel, delighting in one scene at the sound like ‘popcorn’ of alien babies being burnt to death, but also someone who learns to accept and then understand and sympathise with the alien’s situation. As he slowly takes on alien features from the biofuel (in scenes that remind one very much of Cronenberg’s The Fly), and is exploited himself by the MNU for his unique ability to handle alien weaponry, and sees at MNU headquarters how they use aliens for medical experiments like lab rats.  He also manages to inject some humour into his role, playing at being nice to the aliens by pretending to be the “sweetie man” and commenting on Christopher’s underground spaceship: “that’s definitely a…fine at least”

The CGI aliens themselves (which is probably to be expected with a film produced by Peter Jackson and utilising the talent of special FX  innovators WETA) are impressively and realistically realised. They  look like a cross between a prawn, a robot and a cricket and able to display surprisingly sophisticated and human-like expressions considering the amount of tentacles they have.  Which is of course vital to our sympathy with their situation. Their weaponry is also quite impressive (not that I’m usually swayed by things like that) particularly the exo-suit that Wikus puts on.

Where the film falls is in the characterisation of the Nigerian gangsters who seems just a bit too outré and two-dimensional as men who think nothing of feasting on the aliens to gain their power, and spend most of the film snarling and looking menacing. But who knows maybe this realistic? The depiction of some of the MNU men seems a little overdone too particularly the character of (David James) who comes up with such villainous lines as “I love watching you prawns die.” I also think the interesting relationship between Christopher and Wikus could’ve been developed as it only took up a small part of the film (well, I guess they had to get those action scenes in as well). But apart from that this is an entertaining film with an interesting concept, it’s also amusing to  hear that Africaan’s word for ‘fuck’ sounds randomly Irish. Oh, and I defy anyone not to come out of this film attempting to do the Africaans accent.


1 Comment

  1. … it’s also amusing to hear that Africaan’s word for ‘fuck’ sounds randomly Irish.

    “fokkin prawns” hehehe.

    I wish there would be a 2nd part, I guess it will be the vice versa of how MNU treats prawns cruelly – the colonization of the prawns.

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