14 September 2009 | moviesleuth2
A breath of fresh air in a time of bloated sequels and rip-offs!
Ever since Neill Blomkamp was lined to do the film version of the "Halo" video game, he's become a household name with the fanboys. But as we all know, that project stalled and Blomkamp is no longer on board as a director. After that happened, Peter Jackson gave Blomkamp $30 million to make whatever movie he wanted. Blomkamp made this film, and it is a stunning debut.
Normally I despise remakes, but after viewing Blomkamp's short film, "Alive in Joburg," which served as the inspiration for this movie, I can say that calling "District 9" a remake of the short film is about as untrue as it is unfair. Even saying that Blomkamp used the short film as a jumping off point is pushing it (a lot). "District 9" takes the idea and runs with it, not even remembering to pass "Go" and collect 200 dollars.
South Africa, present day. A spaceship has been hovering over Johannesburg, South Africa, for the past 20 or so years. The aliens were brought down and nourished back to health, but people's apprehension with the new beings caused major clashes, and the visitors, known as "prawns" were moved into a slum called District 9. Today, the shady corporation Multi-National United has decided to move the prawns to District 10, and to make sure that it's handled legally, they enlist Wikus Van Der Merwe (Sharlto Copley) to oversee it. Suffice it to say, things don't go as planned.
"District 9" is not flawless, but it's so good that I'm more than willing to look the other way at any of its "flaws." But the best part of it is that it takes chances. In broad strokes, the story is familiar, but the details and execution are completely new.
One of the best things that I liked is how Blomkamp portrays people reacting to the aliens. Everything that the people do in response to them is completely credible. I don't want to give anything away, but the way that the people "acted" in response to the coming of the prawns is so believable it's almost chilling. "Interviews" with people who worked with Wikus and were involved in the story enhance this effect.
Meanwhile, we have Wikus guiding us through the story. Wikus is eager, but he's not the brightest bulb in the bunch. Sharlto Copley is excellent as Wikus. Copley does a great job playing a poster boy for MNU, but Wikus is also likable, and that's important.
"District 9" is a mixture of a million ideas all thrown together at once. Past movies have done this and sunk because of it, but "District 9" succeeds because they're competently explained and portrayed. A few technical things cause this to get an 8 instead of a 10 (for example, one scene is interesting, but it's out of place, and the film's big transition doesn't go very well), but it's still a highly recommendable film. And for once, the shaking camera is used effectively.
Do I think that Blomkamp should direct "Halo?" While there's no question that he could do it, and make a great movie out of the game, I don't think he's the right man for the job. I don't think "Halo" would look good as a grainy documentary. But that's just me.