If there is any justice in the universe, “District 9” will gross double the box office bank of “Transformers 2.” This is one of the best movies of this summer, it’s also rich enough in backstory and sequel possibilities to insure a continued fan mythos.
As is my way, I avoided spoilers like the plague coming into this movie and it paid off as writer/director Neill Blomkamp brings the viewer right into his own alternate reality where an alien mothership lands over Johannesburg, South Africa in 1989 creating worldwide interest and, apparently, allowing Apartheid to continue unchecked. Thus establishing that humans in this reimagined history will be indifferent to a singular injustice if the welfare of the planet is at stake. So with the threat of an alien invasion at the world’s doorstep, you can just imagine how the leaders of the world gathered and decided that it would be best to let the ruling political party of South Africa deal with the aliens in any way they saw fit. You can also imagine the the Apartheid regime skyrocketing the rents for J’burg office space to all the mutlinationals wanting to get close to the aliens and Sun City enjoying record tourism. Yeah, in “District 9” timeline, the idea of strict borders, undocumented immigration and homeland security is at the highest levels of xenophobic paranoia.
Which, like most great sci-fi morality fables, is not very different from our actual reality.
Back to “District 9” the movie: Blomkamp does a remix of “The Blair Witch Project,” “Alien Nation,” and the classic “The Fly” with some elements of “Battlestar Galactica” to produce a docu-fiction telling us everything we need to know about the aliens (who are not even officially named but nicknamed as “the prawns”) and our history with them. Like a good documentary, it tries to show all the sides of the argument it wants to win. The aliens came but without the heraldry of new technology, world peace or even a good flying car. Worse, they’re ugly. No sexy tights suits, no androgynous sex appeal and no desire to share their deep philosophy. No, they look like big insects who communicate in clicks and gurgles and the first human impulse is to spray em with the biggest can of Raid we can find.
Worse, the alien mothership is parked in earth’s precious sky which (in gov’t mentality) means we have to go, assess their needs and drop em in a ghetto. Multi-National United (MNU) has been put in charge of the aliens relocation needs which amounts to little more than putting the aliens in the most of the way location they can. Blomkamp liberally overlaps South African history here for incredible effect.
All is going well in MNU’s world until Wikus van der Merwe, a mid-level cog in the corporate machine, gets too close to the aliens and inadvertently discovers the next step in both the aliens’ and MNU’s plans. I’ll stop here with the storyline because I hate giving away the film and the strength in Blomkamp’s film isn’t the plot but how he manages to twist our percpetions on what’s right and wrong about survivalism.
The action scenes are amazing with an incredible body count and more gore than you can imagine but without the overwrought soundscape of “Terminator Salvation” and minimal sci-fi exposition. Blomkamp doesn’t inundate us with useless techno-babble or meandering speeches, we know the aliens are here, we know they don’t look like us, and we hate them for it. Period. Now how can we explore that and find out what is really human about us and what, if anything, is really alien about a species that just wants to live their lives.
“District 9” is packed with all the requisite sci-fi shoot-em-up tropes (the Gundam armor is a joy to behold), the alien-human communication foibles (the interactions between Wikus and the aliens effortlessly transforms from overlord to necessary allies to comradery to friendship), and the look at human behavior from the outside in but does so with compassionate acting performance, amazing CGI and a strong storyline that is destined to be our next great myth.