Friday, August 14, 2009

Movie Review: ‘District 9’

**** 1/2 out of 5
112 minutes
Rated R for bloody violence and pervasive language.
TriStar Pictures

Who can use $30 million better than anyone else in Hollywood? Peter Jackson.

Alien invasion movies are few and far between when it comes to great ones. The best appropriately rely most on story (1951's “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” “2001: A Space Odyssey”), others fall back on delicious atmosphere (“Alien”), some are more concerned with spectacle (“Independence Day”) while the rest are so ridiculous they should never be mentioned in the same breath (2008's “The Day the Earth Stood Still”). I’m sure it’s hard working in sci-fi these days. Yet there’s still some filmmakers who are managing to make everything old new again with complete success.

Peter Jackson Presents and indeed he lives up to this moniker. After bringing us such spectacle as the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and his “King Kong” remake he finally goes back to his roots by bringing us this low-budget, bloody, hilarious and intense “District 9” that owes more to his days of “Bad Taste” and “Dead Alive” than “Heavenly Creatures” or his upcoming adaptation of “The Lovely Bones.” This may be Neill Blomkamp’s first feature film but if this is what he is able to splash onto the screen with a measly $30 million budget and a believing producer then I can only imagine what he’ll be able to bring us with future projects. Being from Johannesburg himself also managed Blomkamp to bring a level of authenticity to the project that Hollywood usually manages to forget about when scripts just happen to take place somewhere.

What started out as a short film (check out "Alive in Joburg" on youtube or JoBlo right now!) has officially blown up to be one of the single best alien creature features in years. Originally this was planned as a film version of the hit video game “Halo” but after production was shut down the team took their original production designs and some of the original production costs and set out to make their own film and boy did they succeed with style. Yes, there are some scenes that heavily recall the video game as there were some instances of the first-person-shooter-POV but that seems like it was used as more of an inside joke than anything. And yes, the main character manages to pull as many useful weapons as possible out of thin air as happens in video games, however, the biggest asset the film has going for it is its huge surprise in the story department.

Twenty-eight years ago an alien ship showed up above Johannesburg, South Africa. There was no immediate contact with Earth made and the human race waited for an attack. It never came. What does happen is the military forces their way onto the mother ship, finds a malnourished gathering of aliens aboard and forces them into the aforementioned District 9. This is basically a concentration camp put in place to restore order after the residents of Johannesburg begin to get tired of dealing with the aliens in their day-to-day biddings. The allusions to homelessness and the Third Reich are pleasantly rib tickling and never really go out of their way at making a jarring point.

Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley) has just been given a promotion and leads MNU (Multi-National United) into District 9 to begin handing out eviction notices to the alien residents within. Inside one of the “homes” Wikus is exposed to an alien fluid that is originally intended to fuel a missing space craft and help it get back up to the mother ship. It’s after Wikus is sprayed in the face that all expectations for the film were thrown out the window and my avoidance of spoilers went full speed ahead and the film began to truly entertain and surprise me.

To say anymore would completely ruin the film's full potential. Most of what you see in the trailers, television commercials and online ads are all set up footage or it's not even used within the context of the film. This is brilliant marketing and I’m sure may have been mostly Peter Jackson’s idea. Huge kudos have to be given to Blomkamp and Jackson for making the most original alien film all their own even if it happened to begin life as just another video game adaptation. So if you’re looking for a great entertainment this weekend, have a strong stomach and can laugh at a blood-stained sight gag then be sure to not miss “District 9.”

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