District 9 Review: A Refreshingly Original Yet Slightly Flawed Take on the Science Fiction Genre

District 9

The science fiction genre has always been diverse in its explorations in the facets of human nature and understanding, which can successfully dwell on questions relating to morality, humanity, and even the animalistic side of man. Newcomer filmmaker Neil Blomkamp has successfully made a film that indeed uses the slum like racist conditions of South African apartheid to reflect on the importance of life and what it means to be, in the larger sense, human and how that translates into the living experience. Not only does District 9 live up to the science fiction genre of depth but it introduces a refreshing and original story presentation, in the documentary vein of The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield, that makes the film interesting, intimately engaging, and above all entertaining. Where the film lacks in foresight in explanation or overall coherency in plot it makes up for in engaging action sequences, solid acting from our dedicated protagonist, and a well developed message that doesn’t go away despite it being absent in the last half of the film. As summer blockbusters go, District 9 is a refreshing departure from mediocrity and the usual ordinary productions of Hollywood and introduces something original and explores creativity in something new, even if the plot has many flaws that can be easily seen if contemplated on long enough.

District 9 is set in Johannesburg, South Africa which is historically known for its placement of second and third class citizens in an apartheid, which resulted in racism, a rise in crime, and extreme poverty. An alien race has appeared in Johannesburg for no clear reason or no reason that is ever truly explored in the film and these malnourished aliens are forced to live in a slum as a multilateral government organization controls and monitors every aspect of their lives. The alien races sell weapons, that can’t be used by humans, in order to obtain sustenance, which is usually cat food, cow heads, or sometimes rubber from tires. Our protagonist is a government agent from MNU named Wikus Van De Merwe, played by South African actor Sharlto Copely in a very real and encompassing performance, who is a splendidly candid and jovial man who gets a promotion involving the forced eviction of the aliens from their current locations to a sort of concentration camp security facility. As he forcefully explores District 9’s slum he encounters a strange alien object that sprays him with a chemical leading down a path of horrid transformation and eventual alien understanding. Using the aliens as a sub-class to even the most oppressed humans gives a perspective of not only how all humans can be extremely volatile and aggressive in their nature but also that even when these seemingly intelligent and fearful creatures get abused and executed it is done in a way to make you feel uncomfortable. Successfully using a stain on social justice in recent history allows the film to seem relevant and allows its message to be understood clearly with the use of intimate camera set ups and abusive portrayals of violence and experimentation.

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Neil Blomkamp has been known for being experienced in his early years for visual effects and unlike some modern filmmakers who allow their visual effects to dictate the film; Blomkamp allows his film to dictate the progression of his visual effects. There are some heart pounding moments in the film especially in the finale where there are exploding body parts, a human tank drone, rocket and machine gun fire, and even advanced weapon technology. Safe it to say Blomkamp doesn’t negate on the action and his intimate camera work puts you right in the fray of events. All of this excitement is accentuated by the films well developed story that tries to equate the abuse and violence against aliens to that of the suffering of humans. There are medical stations with tortured alien bodies and some close up shots of some executions that make the struggle of the aliens relatable to the audience putting us on the learning route that our protagonist Wikus is also participating in. Anyone looking for an action adventure escape this summer can definitely find it in the unique and refined science fiction thriller that Blomkamp has successfully put together in District 9 and it doesn’t hold back on the brutal action that only a truly intimate technical delivery can make seem realistic and fresh.

Blomkamp’s District 9 is definitely exciting but there are a few minor grievances that when contemplated enough take away from the lasting enjoyment of the film experience. Take for example the aliens themselves who are stronger than humans and have more advanced weaponry than humans yet they are bullied around, manipulated by gangsters, and forced to live in poverty that they could easily fight out from. They trade their weapons for cat food, perhaps a reference to the television series Alf, yet they can eat rubber, which was easily found amongst the garbage pilings around the slum. Our protagonist is sprayed with alien fuel, which apparently for no explained reason, allows for a transformation in human structure and yet the aliens never explain why this happens nor does our protagonist ask. While Wikus’ motivations are evident there are some drastic flaws in the obsession that encompasses the head of the armed forces who seems to not understand that Wikus is worth a lot more alive than he is dead. The same goes for a majority of the cast, the father in law willing to sell out his son in law for experimentation, the wife who is as shape shifting in emotion and dedication as her husband is physically, or even the government partner who risks his livelihood to expose the corruption. These unexplored minor details on essential questions of why, how, and who can be quite distracting for a few who might over think their action movie experience, but a filmmaker who can create a unique and refreshing cinematic experience in visual and story should take into consideration these gaps in character and exposition.

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However, District 9 is not even close to being a dud; in fact, it’s probably one of the best modern takes on the science fiction genre that embraces the depth seeking questions on humanity and morality. The film’s documentary technical feel was an appropriate decision that contributes to the successful personal feel the audience embraces in this new yet historically familiar setting. Some action films tend to replicate one another yet the action and violence in District 9 is quite unique and is more awe inspiring than it is excessively gross. This exciting film has a good story, one that might not have some fully explored parts, and reminds us that despite the usual that is expected from Hollywood there are some films that stand on their own as something refreshing from the ordinary. Neil Blomkamp has a film that doesn’t dwell on it’s flaws and delivers not only a good summer action blockbuster film but also a return to the depth that science fiction is known for and will hopefully inspire more to come.

Grade: B+

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Comments
2 Responses to “District 9 Review: A Refreshingly Original Yet Slightly Flawed Take on the Science Fiction Genre”
  1. Juan C says:

    A good film. I give it a 7 1/2 out of 10.

  2. Rob Greco says:

    I greatly enjoyed this film. For being Blomkamp’s first major piece of directing, it gives me high hopes for the rest of his career.

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