A Galazy of PrawnsDistrict 9 Review

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I'm selling these fine leather jackets...

HEAVY SPOILER ALERT

As you all know, District 9 has been my must see movie of the year ever since I first saw the teaser trailer a few months back. Every year there’s usually one or two movies I get really, really pumped for, i.e. obsessed with- last year it was Cloverfield and The Dark Knight, this year it’s D9 and before it Star Trek. As is always the case with these films, I spend the entire day before seeing it buzzing like a little kid before Christmas, and D9 was no exception. I always get to the theater very early, and this time I was a bit nervous about my choice- the United Artists Court Street Stadium 12, which is a bit of a… don’t really know of any other way to put this… ghetto theater (there were armed police officers on multiple floors, no idea why). Fortunately it was a good crowd, and even more fortunate, the film met, and surpassed all of my expectations.

This movie is badass. Straight up killer. It kicks all other “docu-style” or found footage action films firmly in the balls. Like, Cloverfield looks like such a piece of shit in comparison. And I haven’t even seen Quarantine, its Spanish-language original REC, or the poorly received George Romero outing Diary of the Dead. But I bet they all look like Cloud 9 from Outer Space against D9. The film is just a perfect blend of so many of my favorite movie elements. It does feature docu-style and found footage, but when the action really kicks in, it throws that out the window and goes to a third-person camera so you can see all the exploding soldiers in glorious, gory detail.

I’m not kidding about those exploding soldiers. About twenty guys, at least, just vaporize into blood and guts. It’s AWESOME. And it never got old, no matter how many times it happened. That right there is an example of one of the many different elements D9 has going on, and one that it nails. Lots of critics have made comparisons to 1980s sci-fi and horror films, namely those of John Carpenter and Paul Verhoeven. I definitely see the resemblance, especially to the Verhoeven films RoboCop and Starship Troopers. District 9 is similarly gory and dark, but also has a sense of humor, and while it has many layers of moral and social undertones, it never beats you over the head with them. The big worry I had going in is that the Apartheid themes would be too heavy-handed, but in actuality the filmmakers don’t really pay attention to them at all. There’s obvious allusions- the shantytown, the police brutality, the forced relocation, etc. But the film never says, “Look!! They’re treating the Prawns just as badly as they did the blacks!!” It just tells the plot, and the themes just rise naturally from it.

Getting back to the film’s cinematography and shooting style, I want to explain why District 9 is miles above a film like Cloverfield. For starters, it actually has a plot. Also, while presented like a BBC documentary or something similar, the film doesn’t stick religiously to the style. It incorporates interviews with “experts,” file footage, news footage, security feeds, and straight-up documentary footage. For the first act or two, protagonist Wikus Van De Merwe (a.k.a. guy with most Afrikaaner name ever, played by an actor with a similarly South African-sounding name, Sharlto Copley) is followed around by an unseen cameraman character. But once the shit hits the fan, the movie starts treating action scenes like they’re action scenes, and only occasionally cuts to a news helicopter, or CCTV feed. I think part of why Cloverfield didn’t achieve the greatness of D9, in addition to having no plot, is that it stuck to rigidly to its found-footage style. The entire movie comes from one POV, from one camera, shot by one guy, who’s face you only see a couple of times, and happens to be the most likable character in the film. While I thought it worked for the monster movie, and definitely achieved what J.J. Abrams and Matthew Vaughn were going for- cinematography that resembled home videos of September 11th- it often stunted the action scenes. Sometimes I wished we could cut to a different POV, get a broader idea of the destruction the monster was causing. Cloverfield also didn’t feature any score, which again, worked for the (lack of) story they were trying to tell, but I think D9’s director Neill Blomkamp and producer Peter Jackson realized that their film was much more cinematic, and thus required all the elements that make a film dramatic, including a score.

In addition to having some icky horror elements, including direct homages to David Cronenberg’s The Fly (fingernails come off, teeth fall out), District 9 also features action scenes that put Optimus Prime and his racist robot buddies to shame, and even some heartfelt emotion and romance. The Prawns were very well-designed- they’re both menacing and cute. They’re seven foot tall crustaceans capable of ripping you apart with their bare hands, but they’ve got big, puppy-dog eyes that allow them to emote and make you empathize with them when they’re getting the shit kicked out of them. It was definitely a good move introducing a more prominent Prawn character, the generically-named Christopher Johnson, who happens to be the only intelligent Prawn (they’re described as an uneducated worker class). He also has an adorable little Prawn baby, so when the two are in peril you definitely feel for them.

Wikus is a bit of an odd protagonist, but I liked that he wasn’t your classic action hero. For the majority of the film, he’s a bit of a dick to be honest. He’s pretty racist and nasty to the Prawns, and spends most of the movie trying to save his own skin, going so far as to screw over Christopher Johnson on multiple occasions. Yet, Blomkamp does a good job of getting you to empathize with him as well; when someone’s body is falling apart and transforming into something bizarre and horrible (a la Jeff Goldblum in The Fly), you feel for them no matter what. He does redeem himself in the end, and becomes quite the badass as he pounces through District 9, blowing away MNU agents with his sweet mech-warrior suit.

At times, I actually got a slight Halo vibe, and got the impression that Blomkamp came up with some of the ideas for District 9 while working on the now-canned Halo movie. Probably my favorite sequence in the film is when Wikus and Christopher Johnson raid MNU headquarters with their kickass alien rifles. Something about an awesome human/alien fighting team- like Master Chief and the Arbiter, or Han Solo and Chewbacca- really resonates with me. That scene also featured one of the funniest moments (of many) in the film: when Wikus first vaporizes someone with the alien rifle, it cuts to Christopher Johnson looking really surprised and in subtitles he exclaims: “FUCK!!” Hilarious.

I could go on and on about this film, but needless to say it is a near perfect movie. If there’s any criticism I can give, it would be that the Prawn-eating Nigerians were a little over-the-top. I liked them, I liked the idea that there was a human gang that lived in District 9 and profited off the Prawns’ suffering. As one of the fake experts says in her fake interview, wherever there’s a slum, there’s someone looking to profit off of it. It was a good move to have more than one faction jockeying to capture Wikus, and the Nigerian warlord was very menacing. I just thought that them eating Prawns was just a tad too much. It came off like a necessary plot device- the Nigerians need a reason to hunt Wikus, and it is somewhat true to real life as crazy African warlords have been known to consume the flesh of their fallen foes. But still…

But trust me, this movie is amazing. If you like science fiction, social commentary, horror or action films, then go out this instant and SEE THIS MOVIE. It’s great, and you won’t be disappointed. District 9 is a very rare kind of film, one that’s doing so many different things, and getting so many of them right.

SCORE: 9.8

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~ by TheHil on August 15, 2009.

One Response to “A Galazy of PrawnsDistrict 9 Review”

  1. […] Read my review. […]

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