District 9

2009 / 112m - South Africa
Sci-fi, Action
District 9 poster

District 9 is without a doubt the media hype of 2009. Through clever internet marketing and by shrouding the film in a veil of mystery many have been eagerly anticipating the film for quite a while. It just opened in Belgian theaters and even though I didn't expect all that much from it, it seems that their marketing department did their job well. The most obvious question is of course whether the hype was worth it.

screen cap of District 9

When I first watched the District 9 trailer I immediately turned it off after spotting the alien creature. I'm not a big fan of spoiler-heavy trailers, but this particular one made me wonder why they would reveal this much, this plainly, so early on. It could only mean there would be more to the film than simple alien appeal. Luckily there was.

The premise of the film is quite interesting, featuring a shipload of aliens stranded on Earth. Rather than taking the typical "alien flick" road, these particular aliens get a pretty rough deal as they are shipped away to a slum district on the edge of Johannesburg, controlled by military forces. The slum develops as most slums would, proving a perfect breeding ground for crime, violence, and even interspecies prostitution. This is all presented in a news-like/documentary fashion with short interviews and typical news station fragments in between.

Cool stuff, but that's about all there is to the film. Beyond the interesting premise, it's still very much a typical blockbuster film, as the developing story quickly illustrates. It doesn't take long before the main character becomes infected with alien genes, turns into the prime target of international concern, and goes into hiding trying to save himself. Standard stuff.

screen cap of District 9

Visually District 9 is something else though. The typical documentary visuals don't sound like too much of a graphical treat but seeing how tremendously believable the CG is integrated it becomes almost unsettling to watch. Alien movement is still a little shaky, but apart from that everything feels solid, real, and actually "there". The action-filled ending is amazing, featuring lush mech designs and awesome firepower without ever only slightly resembling something coming from a gaming console.

CG is often applied in a manner where the camera follows a pretty slick and premeditated path to improve the blend of CG. It gives it a fake dimension which is difficult to ignore. District 9 takes the Cloverfield approach and cleverly builds on that. The only real downer is the alien design, which is quite uninspired and dull compared to the rest. The soundtrack is decent enough but is rather secondary. The only remarkable thing there is the alien language which comes off as quite developed and original. Nice little touch.

screen cap of District 9

As the film progresses the premise is mostly forgotten and all that matters is action, explosions, and alien gear. People expecting a more intelligent approach might be disappointed, I on the other hand wasn't expecting anything at all and felt that there wasn't much more to be done with the premise anyway. Throw in some comedic interludes at regular times and you have a pretty basic blockbuster outline, but presented in such a way that the experience is completely different.

I liked District 9. A lot. It's a blockbuster, as a blockbuster should be. Near perfect use of CG, superb mech designs, great action scenes, some funny moments, and a premise interesting enough to kick-start the whole thing. Add some popcorn and you're gone for a good 100 minutes of alien fun. Hollywood should take notice, it's pretty amazing what Blomkamp achieved with the relatively low budget (compared to regular blockbuster budgets that is).