Directed by:Neill Blomkamp
This debut by South African director Neill Blomkamp manages the nearly impossible, superimposing the concerns of a morality play on a piece of classic science fiction. The results make for one of the most interesting, if decidedly offbeat, movies of the year and will insure Mr. Blomkamp a bigger budget on his next assignment.
The plot is simplicity itself. Aliens become stranded in a spaceship above Johannesburg; they’re brought down into the city but forced to live in a tightly controlled slum from which they aren’t permitted to leave. When they reproduce rapidly and strain the city’s resources, the authorities hire a private security corporation to “relocate” the aliens to a camp 250 miles outside Johannesburg in the velt. The leader of this project is a middle class twerp with the delicious name of Wikus Van De Merwe, (Sharlto Copley) who splashes himself with a mysterious fluid found in one of the alien’s shacks during their forced expulsion. Soon Wikus finds that his body parts are mutating…
Immediately rejected by his family, friends and co-workers, Wikus races to find a cure before his conversion into this alien species is complete; in his desperation, he seeks help from the very beings he’s been paid to suppress. Salvation can only come if he assists their leader in repairing the spaceship so he/it can return to his home planet and bring back a serum which will restore Wikus to human form - - a task which will take three years if the leader keeps his word…
The storyline is accompanied by assortment of grotesque special effects and video-game violence for which the genre is famous, but by locating its action in Soweto, the huge real-life black ghetto of Johannesburg, and employing faux-interviews of the white citizens from that city, the director explores the crass stupidity, discrimination and violence once employed by South Africa in the apartheid era. This certainly isn’t a “message” picture, but it delivers a powerful one just the same.
Blomkamp got his career start in special effects after graduating from Vancouver Film School’s department of 3D animation and visual effects. Although he’s not yet 30, Blomkamp has been associated with creating the special effects of several films and television series since then and he brings a wealth of craft-skills to this fast-paced tribute to the genre, which steals gleefully from predecessors as recent as the man-in-the machine gimmick of Iron Man to the perversely slimy gonzo amphibians of 1954’s Creature from the Black Lagoon. Working with a small army of technicians (the ending credits ran nearly 5 minutes just to list them all) and a cast of local thespians, the director weds hi-tech wizardry to good old fashioned escapism, all capped with a disturbingly realistic examination of just how vicious human discrimination can be.
As the nerdy Wikus, Copley seems nearly as weird in human form as he becomes in his transformation, but the script (co-written by Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell) provides this decidedly un-heroic leading man with a surprising level of sympathetic humanity as he agonizingly morphs into something far removed from his own species. The final scene suggests his fate may just have allowed him to learn the nobler aspects of his race.
Blomkamp’s aliens are a suitably disgusting bunch; speaking in a static-riddled tongue and possessed of considerable physical strength, they’re chaotic in their social orientation and easily addicted to canned cat food. With droopy facial ganglia that faintly resemble the shriveled equivalent of human male genitalia and a penchant for violence, it’s not hard to see why the good citizens of South Africa’s largest city would find them a nuisance - - but the treatment the aliens receive for having committed the simple sin of parking their space ship in the wrong place is out of all proportion to the amount of self-justified punishment to which they’re subjected by their unwilling human hosts. The results are predictable; violence begets violence, allowing Blomkamp’s grisly creatures to become fodder for the blood lust of contemporary audiences for which this type of fare is made. Do modern moviegoers display an appetite for the same kind of brutality cheered by those who watched Roman gladiators fight at The Coliseum? Judged by its solid reception at the box-office, District 9 has shrewdly played on that collective voyeuristic impulse.
The Verdict? An unusually thoughtful if disgusting science fiction flic marking the debut of a major new directorial talent.
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