District 9 is unfairly marginalized and typecast as being merely a science fiction movie. It didn’t help that 2009 was an especially rich year for good movies, leaving District 9 in the dust. And yet, due to the expanded 5 slots afforded to Best Picture at the Oscars, District 9 managed to get nominated for Best Picture, along with three other nominations – it’s still possibly one of the least known nominated films ever. While it’s true that this movie features aliens, CGI, and is prominently “science fiction”, it also transcends all of those.
The premise of District 9 takes its roots from the real-life incidents of District 6 in South Africa. This is basically a retelling of the apartheid regime in South Africa done in an allegorical method utilizing aliens and some pretty cool CGI effects in order to keep people’s attention span focused on the story itself. There’s enough eye candy in this movie to keep those with lesser attention spans pleased, and a rich & deeper story for those aware of apartheid and its effects in South Africa.
Possibly the best literary parallel I can make to District 9 in terms of subject matter (aliens or not) would be JM Coetzee’s brilliant Disgrace. If you wanted to put together a small package to help others understand South Africa’s history (without it being actual history), you could do a lot worse than giving them District 9 and Disgrace. That’s a very high level of competence that not many books or films can match.
The film is shot in a partial documentary style, which was a stylistic choice and enhances the movie’s impact. It would have been rather hard to pack as much explosive speciesism as possible into the narration otherwise, given the film’s focus on aliens and their interaction with humans. There’s a lot of symbolism hidden within the details of the film itself, that certainly were put there intentionally by the writers and director. The general storyline as a whole is an allegory of the apartheid regime, but there are also delicious little tidbits of allegorical notes placed here and there for the discerning viewer.
District 9 was directed by Neill Blomkamp and stars Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, and David James. Not well known by anybody, nor is the rest of the cast particularly known – they’ve combined to craft a great popcorn movie that also happens to have depth behind it. Blomkamp was a visual artist (3D animator) until he directed a few short films which he parlayed into his first feature film – District 9. A stunning debut film for anybody, but for someone who worked as an animator at first – it’s particularly shocking. Blomkamp is also directing the upcoming Elysium (starring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster).
Back to District 9, the story begins with an alien spacecraft basically getting a flat tire above Johannesburg, South Africa in 1982 (Bonus: What year did E.T. come out? Right you are! And there are other small allegories like this throughout the movie.). The humans gain access and find the aliens are basically malnourished, delirious, and sick. A decision is made to house the aliens in South Africa in a refugee camp. Fast forward 20 years, and the refugee camp has basically become a lawless part of Johannesburg society. Signs have been posted everywhere telling the aliens to stick to their own kind and to stay in their camp. District 9 has become a heavily fortified militarized prison camp in which Nigerians have set up a black economy inside of. Junk amasses everywhere. The alien ship has floated in midair, unmoving for the past 20 years. Finally, a global company decides to try to make some money and move all the aliens to another location in order to reclaim the land within Johannesburg and use it for other purposes.
It is at this point that Blomkamp decides to impart the horror of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis into the movie – combined with the fast-paced action of Minority Report, and you’ve got pretty much the lay of the land for most of the second half of the movie. 3D CGI effects reign supreme throughout, as the aliens, weaponry, and other special effects have been rendered amazingly well in District 9, probably owing to the director’s own animating background. The quality of the special effects and the film’s own cinematography shows through very well on the Blu-ray, to the point where it’s nearly reference quality (4.5 out of 5) in my view. The English SDH subtitles are also fantastic.
MPAA Rating: R