Saturday, August 3, 2013

District 9 review

Back in 2009, a first time feature film director named Neill Blomkamp released a small science fiction film that doubled as a metaphor for apartheid, into theaters. Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson was a producer on the film, but still, nobody expected Blomkamp's District 9 to become a hit film. However, the reviews were stellar, and fans loved the bloody, raw thrills of Blomkamp's film. District 9 went on to be nominated for Best Picture, and also made a total of $212 million worldwide on a $30 million budget. Next week is the release of the new Blomkamp picture, Elysium, a big-budget, R-rated sci-fi thrill ride. In preparation for that film, I decided that it was time for me to head to District 9.

District 9 is the story of an alien race that lands over Earth, specifically Johannesburg, South Africa. The government soon puts the alien race, known as prawns by the people, into a special sector after violence between humans and prawns escalates. The sector is known as District 9, which soon becomes a dirty slum, in which the aliens become addicted to cat food, live in shacks, and deal weapons. MNU (Multi-National United), the company in charge of dealing with alien creatures, decides to eventually move the prawns, to a cleaner camp, Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley) is put in charge of evicting the aliens. However, things go terribly wrong when Wikus starts to become an alien thanks to an alien cylinder. Wikus must go on the run as MNU, the District 9 black market and a group of soldiers all want Wikus dead. 

District 9 is one of the most unique science fiction films I have ever seen. It is quite brutal, with exploding bodies, gruesome transformations and ugly alien creatures. It also has a message, albeit, a very apparent one. The special effects are great. The films visual style is cool. The actors do a great job with what they are given. I liked this movie quite a bit. Yet, something didn't quite click for me. After watching the film, I both felt excited and disappointed. Excited because, at times, District 9 is one heck of a ride. But disappointed because the film had been built up by so many people, and it just didn't live up to my expectations. One of my problems lies in the film's level of violence (District 9 is very gory, not my favorite thing in a popcorn movie), the other has to do with the pacing. 

The pacing in this film can be a bit tedious at times. It takes a while to get into the story and it can be a hard road to get there as well. The first ten minutes are instantly gripping. It tells the story effectively of how the aliens got to Earth and it is extremely compelling. The next twenty minutes set up the story nicely. However, it gets a bit tedious once Wikus and his team have gone and knocked on at least ten doors in District 9. The next stage of the plot had to deal with Wikus' transformation, which was handled well but very disturbing. The final stage of the plot is exciting, edge of your seat action that is directed well by Neill Blomkamp. The pacing is good, but for a film to be great, the pacing needs to be better than just good. I think that if Blomkamp could have paced the film slightly better and toned down a bit of the violence, it would have been great. Look, I don't mind violence at all, but Blomkamp takes it to the extreme at times. It's disturbing for sure and not the most fun to watch. District 9 is very good, but not quite the easily digestible popcorn film that you might thing.

However, the action is stunning. There are lots of entertaining sequences in the film. Blomkamp's style of action is extremely entertaining, focusing not as much on the technical wizardry/destruction, but on real stakes. That's one of the things I can't wait for about Elysium. The most entertaining sequence in the film is a raid on MNU and the final battle is shockingly violent/gory. Blomkamp definitely has a talent for action. Another thing that I found to be great about this film is the relationship between Wikus and Christopher, one of the prawns. Blomkamp and his team made me feel for the prawns, even though they're disgusting, ugly creatures.

Overall, District 9 is a stunningly original, action-packed, dazzling ride. It's a really tough film to watch at times, especially during Wikus' transformation, but it's so entertaining that you don't mind. Sharlto Copley is very good, there's emotion among the action, and an interesting message when you look deeper. There are some really interesting themes going on in this film and I think that both action fans and film fans can find something to love in District 9.

THE FINAL GRADE:  B+

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