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Film Review

District 9

Most science fiction films seem to be aimed at 16 year olds, with the usual theme of alien invasions and the threat of annihilation of our species. But a South African director, Neill Blomkamp, has produced an intelligent, provocative film that is a brilliant reversal of that theme and a moral allegory about the fear and hatred of those different from us. The film begins 20 years ago, when a huge alien spaceship has appeared over Johannesburg, where it remains. With no contact from the ship, the government eventually cuts its way into the derelict ship, and discovers aliens who seem to be starving, depressed, and no threat to anyone. They are the last survivors from their planet, and have come to earth for refuge. The aliens are at first sight repulsive, and resemble large upright crustaceans who communicate with a series of clicks. They love scavenging through dumps, and are addicted to cat food. They have been labeled prawns, a derogatory term, and are despised by most humans. They have been ferried from their ship, and placed in a huge concentration camp, called District 9, adjacent to Johannesburg. Their life in this camp is horrible, and they are preyed upon by a Nigerian gang. The first part of the film is told through news clips, television anchors, security cameras, and narrative. Eventually the South African government decides to evict them, and move them all to another camp, out of sight, and far from Johannesburg. Although Apartheid is never mentioned, the analogy is very clear, especially given the location.

A corporation called MNU has been set up to deal with the aliens, and it organizes the evictions. The head of the resettlement operation is Wikus, the son-in-law of the CEO, a silly, preening bureaucrat who has learned to speak the alien language. The cameraman accompanying him on the first day of the eviction takes us into the contemporary part of the film. During the sweep through the camp, Wikus is exposed to a strange liquid, which makes him nauseous, but he quickly recovers. However within hours, he discovers that he is changing into something quite different. One hand becomes replaced with an alien claw. MNU soon discovers this, and realizes that Wikus could be the key to unlocking secrets of alien weaponry, which they have never been able to understand. The pace of the film, already fast and tense, becomes even more so. I don't want to reveal more, and there is much much more that unfolds. The level of tension is almost unbearable. Yet the director succeeds in making the aliens very sympathetic, with more human characteristics than the human characters. The villains are humans.

The final part of District 9 is surprisingly moving, especially for a science fiction film, and sets the stage for what surely will be a sequel. If it is as good as this film, it will be very welcome. The acting, story line, and production values here are uniformly outstanding. The visuals are compelling, and many of the computer generated special effects inventive and brilliant, although often violent. The music, some of it native South African, some pop, is outstanding, and contributes much to the film. If ever a film needed to be seen on a large screen, this is it. I loved District 9, but see this in a theater. Easy to do, as it is playing at the Kabuki, the Marina, and the two AMC's.

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