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August 17, 2009 | by  | in Film |
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District 9

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Something must have gone horribly wrong with the marketing for this film. As a testosterone‑burdened, socially conscious twenty‑something with a near‑permanent connection to all obligatory forms of media, it came as a mild offence to find that Sony had managed to miss me in their highly‑targeted and pervasive marketing campaign.

Nonetheless, it is always a treat to walk into a good film you know very little about, particularly if you aren’t yet aware it’s good. I had heard various mutterings—including the promising tidbit that District 9 was, in fact, an interesting take on xenophobia posing misleadingly as a Summer Blockbuster.

The opening snatches of documentary‑style interview, for which director Neill Blomkamp is renowned, offer a delightfully uncomfortable view into the racism with which we all eye‑rollingly know still exists. And then proceeds to push it that little bit more—just enough for everybody watching to feel like a big dirty racist. Self‑important smirks slip slowly from faces as mock interviews hit a little close to home. Sharlto Copley does a spot‑on South African Rhys Darby, which only stings that little bit more when his Wikus van der Merwe ramps up the racism.

Despite the initial success of this clever technique, it doesn’t quite work as it might. Perhaps in an effort to stave off cries of ‘jamming it down our throats’, Blomkamp stops short of presenting us with a species we can quite empathise with. The aliens for which we are to feel guilty about having unfounded prejudices against are presented as an aggressive, unreasonable bunch, who want little more than to dine on raw flesh and tyres. Even up until the end of the film, the aliens struggle to display quite enough heart to keep that middle‑class, white guilt flowing—to say nothing of the Nigerians: those notoriously Evil Baddies with no redeeming qualities whatsoever—but I guess someone’s got to be cannon fodder. Thankfully, act three was all tear‑jerkingly satisfying action, and all the better for it.

District 9 is hardly shy about showing off its aliens, and deservedly so. For a film Jackson introduced prior to the screening as a “low‑budget alternative to making Halo”, the effects are as convincing as any of Weta’s previous. Alien characters are imbued with the natural motion‑capture–fuelled movement that Weta perfected with Gollum; explosions are effective without being over the top; and the amount of fake blood wiped from camera lenses between shots is of Jackson’s own special blend.

After Fox’s scrapping of the proposed Red vs. Blue Halo movie three months in, the short‑lived relationship between Peter Jackson and Neill Blomkamp seemed to have trickled to nothing. Fortunately, we’ll never have to wonder what we might have missed. Dealing with the same themes explored in Blomkamp’s short film Alive in Joburg, District 9 is everything the hype promised it would be—and a fair bit more. While at times losing its point in a haze of dust, shells and splatter, District 9 is a fantastic collaboration. Blomkamp’s direction is perfectly suited to his story, and makes it all the more real to watch. Blockbuster or not, District 9 is the truly provocative “South African movie” Jackson describes it as, and has all the racism, blood and B‑Movie brilliance you could hope for.

Thank Fox they didn’t make Halo.

District 9
Directed by Neill Blomkamp
Produced by Peter Jackson
With Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope and Robert Hobbs

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  1. You should write more, sir.

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