Sunday, August 16, 2009

REVIEW: District 9...

So, one of the best genres of films also happens to be one that needs to be rejuvenated on basically a daily basis. Science-fiction is primarily seen amongst the mass public as a geek genre, left for Trekkies and their ilk. However, with recent additions to the genre such as the stellar Battlestar Galactica series, the genre has not only gotten a boost in respect, but also an increase in quality.

Now we have District 9, the super secret first film from former Halo helmer Neill Blomkamp (more on that later), and produced by Lord of Middle Earth, Peter Jackson. It's been hyped since day one, a year ago at the 2008 Comic-Con, when first mention of this film was released. Through a superb viral marketing campaign, this film has been buzzed about more than possibly any other film this year, when compared to it's change sized 30$ million budget. Does it succeed?

If by being the best film of 2009 is a success, then yes. It 100% does.

District 9 is the first feature length film from Blomkamp, who was originally tapped to helm the now defunct Halo project, and it is based on his brilliant short, Alive in Joburg. Thirty years ago, aliens made first contact with Earth. Humans waited for the hostile attack, or the giant advances in technology. Neither came. Instead, the aliens were refugees, the last survivors of their home world. The creatures were set up in a makeshift home in South Africa's District 9 as the world's nations argued over what to do with them. Now, patience over the alien situation has run out. Control over the aliens has been contracted out to Multi-National United (MNU), a private company uninterested in the aliens' welfare - they will receive tremendous profits if they can make the aliens' awesome weaponry work. So far, they have failed; activation of the weaponry requires alien DNA. The tension between the aliens and the humans comes to a head when an MNU field operative, Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley), contracts a mysterious virus that begins changing his DNA. Wikus quickly becomes the most hunted man in the world, as well as the most valuable - he is the key to unlocking the secrets of alien technology. Ostracized and friendless, there is only one place left for him to hide: District 9.

Making the rounds at this past years Comic-Con, District 9 became the darling of that ball (outside of super secret screenings of Ninja Assassin). Currently holding an 88% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, this film seems to be hitting all demographics, and knocking them out of their seats. At least they did that to me.

With most stellar science fiction, the films are much less campy, and much more creepy. Take films like the Alien franchise for example. This film is no different. There are entire shots within this film, more than a handful to be honest, that will be burned into your brain. Whether it be an alien literally atomizing soldiers, or a run down shack filled with decaying cows, the film not only has an intellectual bent, but is generally a frightening film.

All of this would be for naught if the special effects for the film were less than amazing. That's not a problem however. Peter Jackson's firm WETA takes the reigns here, and for 30$ million, they need to be given SOME award. To be completely honest, I have never seen a more life like and seamless take on the interaction between not only human and alien, but on a cinematic level, there has never been a film to make the interaction between human and computer generated character so flawless. Yes, there are a few bumps in the road (an opening scene of a large group feasting in a field for example), but for such a low budget to have such BRILLIANT effects, this film will be seen as something much more come 10 years.

But the true star here is Blomkamp. The skill he has with his camera in not only setting up a great documentary at the beginning, but then turning that on it's head and making it a truly gritty and action packed chase film is something to be admired. There is no way that even the every day movie goer can't simply get engrossed in this really well made piece. You have phenomenal film making for us cinebuffs, you get an action filled chase film for the guys, and then you get a heartfelt and well handled father son story near the end. The film is set in South Africa, which is far from a normal home for science fiction, which makes the film all the more fresh. It's a rarely shot area, and to throw in this alien race in an already interesting and fiery place, is really intriguing.

Born in South Africa, this seems to be a more personal film for director Blomkamp as well. When it comes to science fiction, not only are the films some of the most original pieces of cinema, but also some of the most intellectually stimulating. Being from South Africa, it comes as no surprise that Blomkamp's first feature would have major themes based in or around Apartheid. Inspired by the District 6 refugee camp set up in Cape Town, South Africa. It's an apparent inspiration for the piece, and yet it's so subtle and really handled well. It's not bashing you in the balls like say Crash does with race, but is the opposite in fact. It's just a science fiction film with more to it than that.

The film doesn't feature many human characters, but the lead that we follow, Wickus, Sharlto Colpey, is brilliant. He is on the run for 90% of the film, and as the film goes, we learn more about what happened to this man. We start off knowing that SOMETHING has happened to him, and the film follows the events leading up to the reveal of what actually did happen to him. Colpey completely sold this character, and when the year ends, don't be surprised if you see him in my top 10 performances. All this leads up to the ending, which is arguably one of the most genuinely moving pieces of cinema this year.

Yes, there are a few flaws however. The biggest flaw that this film has comes in the villain or villains. The film falls flat a little bit when we get into the chase portion, as the bad guys are beyond one note. Saying they have one note is giving them to much credit. They want him, to weaponize what has happened to him. That's all. That's it. Nothing more, nothing less, which for a film that has more going on then just a tale of cops and aliens, it really does no justice. That's about it though. Honestly, if the villains would have been more interesting and more deep, this would have been a perfect piece of cinema. Original, stunning, and moving, District 9 is really the first MUST SEE movie of this mixed summer.

DISTRICT 9 - 9.5/10

Go see something good!

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