District 9 (2009)

Title District 9

Written and Directed by Neill Blomkamp

Run Time: 112 minutes

Tagline: You are not welcome here

Peter Jackson’s latest production District 9 is an wonderfully ironic look at man’s inhumanity to man, and man’s inhumanity to inhumanity.

Basically: What if alien refugees sort of, well, parked their spaceship at our planet and couldn’t leave? Yes, we’d toss them into a ghetto and treat them like we treat everybody else we deem “unworthy”: as subhumans.

It turns out that 20 years ago an alien ship came to rest floating above Johannesburg, South Africa. After defying all attempts at contact, the South Africans cut into the ship to find a mass of sick, confused, and now homeless, aliens. In an initial fit of kindness, humans shuttle the aliens down to Earth and place them into a containment area in order to nurse them back to health and more importantly, figure out what the hell to do with them.

Fast forward 20 years later.

The alien camp is now a gigantic, crime-ridden ghetto where our interstellar visitors, now derogatorily referred to as “Prawns” because of their shrimp-like face, scrounge through garbage heaps, deal in black market weapons, and spend their days hopelessly meandering through their refugee camp scouring for their favorite sustenance: cat food. (!)

Enter Wikus Van De Merwe, a clueless, cruel, middle-level bureaucrat who is placed in charge of a massive Prawn relocation project by his big-wig father-in-law. In order to exert his new-found (and undeserved) authority, Wikus tags along with some of the “grunts” on the day of the relocation of over 1 million Prawn refugees from their ghetto outside of the city to a “safe” and “Prawn friendly” camp nearly 200 miles away.

Needless to say, things go a bit awry and Wikus is exposed to a fluid that a Prawn scientist has been secretly working on for the last 2 decades. As the time progresses, Wikus becomes ill and after a day or so winds up in a hospital where doctors discover that his hand has mutated into a Prawn claw. Seeing an obvious military use, Wikus is bagged up and whisked away to a secret military research center where he is put through a series of brutal tests with no regard for his well-being. (“We’re performing the test without anesthetic,” a doctor gloats while Wikus screams as they cut into his arm with a power drill, “because we don’t know how it will react with the alien DNA.” Nice.)

The main motivation behind the experimentation is, duh, military. It turns out that all of the Prawn’s advanced weapons that were scavenged from their ship will function only if held by a creature with Prawn DNA. Sort of a genetic safety switch. When the sp00ks finally force Wikus to fire some of the weapons
(first at dead pigs, then at live, helpless Prawn prisoners), they realize they have a potential goldmine, and quickly strap Wikus down for immediate vivisection.

District 9

Obviously, Wikus manages to escape (or else the movie would be over, right?) and flees to the Prawn ghetto where he takes refuge in, ta da!, the same ramshackle shelter where the black, DNA-mutating goop was spilled on him in the first place. The Prawn scientist who resides in the hut explains that the fluid was in fact fuel that he was planning on using to return to the mother ship so he and his son could skidaddle back to their home planet and eventually save the rest of the Prawns. (Exactly how the Prawn was going to rescue his oppressed, er people, is not clear…most likely come back with a fleet of ships and whip our mother-loving asses.)

The upside for Wikus is that the Prawns could in fact reverse Wikus’s ever-accelerating transformation into an alien.

The downside is that it will take about, oh, 3 years for the Prawn to get back to the home planet, get the necessary medicines, and return to Earth to fix Wikus. Oh, and the state security forces, MNU, have confiscated the only vial of alien-fuel on the planet and has secured it deep inside Evil MNU headquarters. Crap.

To make a long story short, Wikus manages to steal some Prawn weapons from a local band of vicious, black-market Nigerian hoods so that he and his Prawn buddy can make a desperate effort to break into MNU headquarters, retrieve the fuel, escape back to the ghetto, and get the Prawn back to his planet. Naturally, this lengthy action sequence includes a lot of cool Prawn weapons turning humans into what looks like cans of exploding stewed tomatoes.

Anyway, after some pretty cool action scenes, the Prawn makes it back to the mother ship and takes off into outer space. Wikus, seriously wounded after fighting with MNU forces, crawls off into the ghetto where he’s never seen again…or is he?

Will the Prawns come back? When? And the big question is: If they do come back, are they going to treat us as badly as we treated them?

12 comments to District 9 (2009)

  • Guts3d

    Great review, Neill! I saw this at the theater, and a few flaws leapt out at me from the beginning. If there were a spaceship in low Earth Orbit containing fantastically advanced alien technology, it would have been grabbed by American and Soviet governments whose scientists would live on the darn thing, until they unlocked each and every dark secret. The humans also know that there are Prawn weapons around, so I am sure that a millimeter by millimeter search for said weapons would have been conducted on a daily basis, and at least a few Prawns would be brainwashed into becoming the government’s slaves as only Prawns can operate Prawn equipment.

    I highly doubt that a fuel for spaceships just happens to turn human DNA in to Prawn DNA, as they had never seen a human up to that point. If they possessed this magic elixir, they could easily have escaped their ghetto and using a simple toy squirtgun, take over the country. The special effects were top notch, and the acting was, in my opinion, weak. People seemed to do things only to advance the plotline, things they normally wouldn’t do. In the end, the protagonist who up until then hated Prawns becomes one, and sides with his new found bretheren.

    The Nigerian weapons dealer was a nice touch, but I am sure that any advanced technology could be dis-assembled and copied minus the DNA triggering devices. Why didn’t he have a trained Prawn as a bodyguard, fed with daily doses of Cat Chow? Or a dozen? He could own the countryside with those weapons. I just wonder how different this movie would be if the ship hovered over America, and had all the whacko protesters cavorting in front of the gates whining about the admittedly evil government treatment of the Prawns.

  • Yeah, ok, there are of course some flaws:

    “If there were a spaceship in low Earth Orbit containing fantastically advanced alien technology, it would have been grabbed by American and Soviet governments”:

    — Well, they did wait a few months just to see what would happen. And that’s pretty realistic imho.

    Could alien fuel actually cause DNA mutations? Well, maybe. Who knows? It’s Alien! And it advances the plot 🙂

    That’s an interesting point about bribing Prawns with catfood in order to use them as mercanaries/body guards. But then again, it seems like if you gave a weapon to a Prawn, it would just zap you and then take the cat food anyway. It reminds me of that one scene where the Prawns traded that huge battle-suit to the Nigerians for 100 cans of food…well, hell! Why didn’t the Prawns just kill everybody and take ALL the food? Maybe it’s because they feared reprecussions (sp?) for being violent. I don’t know.

    “People only do things to advance the plotline”…isn’t that the point of a movie? 🙂 If they did things that DIDN’T advance the story then we’d yell at them for padding the film with pointless scenes, eh? (But I know what you mean)

  • Sean

    A belated thanks for the review Dennis. I finally caught up with this movie over the holidays. Like Guts3d I wondered about the validity of some of the plot points, but I think the filmmakers deserve a break because they did such a good job of developing their powerful central theme. And the hero’s tragic yet strangely victorious journey. That last shot was haunting. Kudos to Blumkamp, and to lead actor Sharlto Copley, who I thought was brilliant.

    Actually, it’s been a great year for good sci-fi. Speaking of brilliant acting, I recommend checking out Sam Rockwell in Moon. Like District 9 it’s also an examination of man’s inhumanity to man, and what it means to be human.

    Which leads me to Avatar – a huge spectacle that actually works as a movie! And says something about, you guessed it, man’s inhumanity to inhumanity, and the human condition. The way it turns a classic sci-fi theme on it’s head at the end will mark it as a turning point, as well as it’s huge budget.

  • I also really enjoyed Avatar, are you going to review it for us? I’ll double your monthly salary…

  • Sean

    I might do it if you TRIPLE my monthly salary…Oh, and how about a trophy?

  • Yes, I will nominate you for the Monster Shack Martyr Award 2010. Would that do?

  • Sean

    If it means I get a trophy, yes!

  • guts3d

    Just saw Avatar in 3d, it made a big difference! The colors and special effects are breathtaking. All I could think of was blue Smurf American Indians on an alien planet.

  • Guts3d

    Just saw “Moon” and enjoyed it, thanks to Sean for the tip!

  • Sean

    My pleasure! So glad you enjoyed it.

  • guts3d

    I must admit, I re-watched this movie with a non-judgemental mind last night and concentrated o the ma theme of the movie, and I enjoyed it much more than the first viewing. But the fuel – alien transformation thing still sticks in my craw.

  • Guts3d

    Perhaps the humans should get some gasoline and toss it onto the Prawns, then they by reverse logic should turn into humans…

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