Judge David Johnson vacationed in District 9. It's no District 8, but a whole lot nicer than Districts 1, 3, 5, 15, 53, and 322.
Our review of District 9, published December 22nd, 2009, is also available.
You are not welcome here.
First-time feature filmmaker Neill Blomkamp gets a nice pat on the back by producer Peter Jackson and unveils one of the finest sci-fi adventures in years.
Facts of the Case
Earth's first contact with aliens wasn't nearly as majestic or incredible as most people had hoped. Twenty years ago, a giant alien craft appeared in the skies of Johannesburg, South Africa and who should occupy it but a whole bunch of insect-like extraterrestrials that would eventually be labeled with the derogatory name "prawns."
Not sure what to do with these wayward travelers, the government handed their care over to the UN-like corporation MNU, which promptly stuffed them into a ghetto. Now, "District 9" has become a crime-ridden slum, populated by ruthless gangs, filthy despondent aliens, and lots and lots of dead pigs, which are thankfully used as improvised weapons. Mid-level bureaucrat Wikus Can De Merwe (Sharlto Copley) finds himself caught in the middle of the exploding tensions, and will undergo major transformations, both figurative and literal.
I'm a big fan of this film and only Star Trek edges it out as Most Entertaining Movie of 2009 That Involves Space Lasers. Blomkamp developed his feature debut from a short film and proves he's the real deal. District 9 is both smart and badass, a perfect melding of original storytelling and truly eye-popping, white-knuckle action sequences. Basically, it's the antidote to Transformers 2, which broke new ground in the realm of brain-torching stupidity.
District 9 even competes with Michael Bay's orgasm of visual effects, with some impressive CGI work, at a fraction of the budget. The aliens are completely believable, rendered in that motion-capture approach which has become all the rage. They were real participants in the world and the two prominent "prawns" involved with the plot were so flawlessly realized I never once doubted their existence. I don't know, maybe it's the earthy, gritty tone of the film that lends more credibility to the computer effects, but District 9 features perhaps the best-ever integration of real-world actors and locales with completely fabricated CGI characters.
Of course none of this would make any difference if the story sucked. Thankfully, the tale Blomkamp weaves and the characters who populate it are arguably the greatest assets of the film. Wikus is one the most unlikely heroes you'll ever see, a sniveling douchebag who travels an arc the breadth of the Pacific. This guy isn't root-worthy until the finale, but when he does finally man up, the payoff is extraordinary. And it just so happens to coincide with the action centerpiece of the film, a frantic shoot-out filmed like Black Hawk Down with Japanese mechs. It's a thrilling excursion, made even weightier by the time invested in Wikus, his allies, and the stakes of the battle. This is a textbook example of how to make effects-laden action moments genuinely gripping.
There's a temptation to assign metaphors to the aliens-in-the-slum scenario that Blomkamp cooks up. Truthfully, I fail to see it. In the bonus feature interviews, Blomkamp says he's not trying to get political, but merely seeking to entertain. What jumped out at me were the broader statements on humanity's capacity for general awfulness. The MNU, the Nigerian gangs, even the "man on the street" interviewees in the faux documentary setup, are all douchebags and certainly don't fall into an easy category. In short, this is a film about a reluctant hero, some super-shifty mercenary types, a gentle alien, and guns that make people blow up in explosions of blood and pancreas.
Sony has given us a nice high-def release, starting with a gorgeous 1.85:1 1080p transfer that makes the CGI look even better in boosted resolution. The color palate is still gun-metal gray, contrasted with the occasional alien, but what the visuals may lack in a rainbow assault, more than compensate with on-the-money clarity. The terrific picture quality is bolstered by an aggressive, enveloping DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix that absolutely pounds during the finale's big action offensive.
Extras lead off with an interactive map of District 9 and other locales in the film, which may sound good on paper, but is really just a whole lot of text. Other bonus materials include commentary from Blomkamp; a robust "filmmaker's log," which details the making-of; and featurettes on Wikus' make-up effects, the motion capture process, visual effects, and the conception/design of the film. All of these are worth your time and presented in high definition. Finally, you get some disposable deleted scenes, a digital copy, the movieIQ BD-Live feature, and a playable God of War III demo for your PS3…which, by the way, looks like ten pounds of awesome.
District 9 is the bee's knees, and the Blu-ray delivers. Go get it.
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