DVD Review: DISTRICT 9

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Release date: Dec 22nd, 2009
MSRP: $28.96

Starring Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope and Robert Hobbs.
Directed by Neill Blomkamp
Produced by Peter Jackson.
Written and Directed by Neill Blomkamp & Terri Tatchell (based on ALIVE IN JOBURG, a 2005 short directed by Blomkamp and written by Copley).

The film uses a documentary style, which is somewhat pedagogical at times. Its usage keeps the audience up to speed, however. I never floundered in following the chain of events and there is something to be said for that.

Plot: Aliens have been stranded on earth for twenty years. Their spaceship still hovers overhead in Johannesburg. Humans entered the craft after months of speculation about the intentions of its residents. The “rescued” aliens, who resemble insects, are called “prawns” and are consigned to District Nine. District Nine is soon a slum and the aliens must forage for food and other necessities. They are policed by a military contractor, much like some prisons in the US today. As the film opens, the aliens are about to be transported to a district further from the city center. They’ve become a nuisance, a blight on the landscape. The bureaucrat assigned to the task of relocating the aliens is contaminated through contact, and most of the film hereafter concerns his plight. The audience can more easily empathize with a human face. Kafka’s Metamorphosis meets ET, in effect.

Of course, this film turns earlier movies about aliens on their ear by making the aliens, though annoying and repulsive to humans, the victims rather than the oppressors. The bureaucrat makes a transition from being a government mouthpiece to becoming a hero, at least on his own behalf. There are some good effects and actions scenes, perhaps too many of the later. But the film excels in demonstrating how outsiders are treated by our society.

The film is inspired, if that’s the right word, by the treatment of black South Africans under apartheid. District Six in South African was relocated when it became a “whites only” area. Sixty thousand people were relocated in 1966.

There was definitely a “gag” factor in watching this film. The women in our group watched much of it through splayed fingers. Gore doesn’t bother me as much as overt violence though. At first the aliens seem fairly unintelligent but as the movie progresses, as we get to see them take action in their own environment, we come to appreciate that being stranded in an alien culture has this effect.

There are a few too many dull scenes of exchanges of gunfire toward the end without any particular originality. Secondary parts are not played that well. The muscle acts like muscle in a million other movies. But on the whole, the message is so strong, the effects done so well, we can’t help but be caught up in it. Its greatest strength is its original concept—that we, with greater numbers and on our home planet, are the ones to be feared. I can’t think of any reason not to see this film.

Extras: The deleted scenes are all fairly short and offer no major changes. I would say it is likely each was a victim of time restrictions. Nothing earth-shattering, but interesting and worth watching.

The Alien Agenda: A Filmmaker’s Log is about 34 minutes long. Because of the style of the film, this is fairly interesting. Broken into three parts, this features interviews with director Neill Blomkamp, producer Peter Jackson as well as a number of folks from effects.

Lastly, Blomkamp offers up a nice commentary track. He talks about the back story and how the final feature film came to be. Also discussed is the experience of filming in the slums of South Africa. Well worth listening to.