Sunday, August 16, 2009

Review: District 9

This has got to be the best movie adaptation of a video game never made in the first place. Everything about District 9 begs for a kick ass first person shooter. First, let me be clear. This shouldn't be taken as an insult. The movie reportedly cost about $30 million to make, and since it was filmed in South Africa with local actors, the feel of the film is similar to the lower quality cut scenes that accompany arcade games like Area 51. There is a deliberate mix of shaky-cam documentary, security cam footage, some History Channel-esque interviews, and some traditional camera work to cover the aliens when they're alone, and it's all done in a really cool way. It's not often I say things like "wow, the editing is pretty sweet," but that's what I thought about in the theater. So what's it about?

Set in Johannisberg, a race of aliens derogatorily called "prawns" (we never find out the real name of their race or home planet) landed there 20 years ago and have been living in a makeshift Hoovertown, complete with rubble, garbage, and shacks. I'm not going to go political and make any comparisons to apartheid in South Africa, because who really cares? The cool thing is that this film cleverly presents us with this scenario from 3 different points of view.

Firstly, we have the bureaucracy charged with keeping the peace, led by South Africa's fictional MNU company. These guys are feeling pressure from the people to do something about the prawns living in District 9. They appoint cool guy Wikus to oversee an eviction of all the bugs living in the shanties so that they can move to a concentration camp (not cool). Wikus is training his replacement, and takes us on a tour of the dump, educating us about what the aliens like (cat food), what they don't like (humans), and how to handle them.

Next, we have the alien race. These guys just want to go home, but they are forced to make due in their shanty-town. There is violence, gambling, gangs, and general unrest. We are supposed to sympathize with the bugs.

Finally, there is the military contracted to keep everyone in line. Not only do we have the overly-aggressive government military, but also Nigerian gangs sniffing around. Pretty much, District 9 has developed into a huge mess, and local citizens are sick of it.

So where's the drama? In a nutshell, Wikus gets exposed to alien matter while searching for illegal weapons, and is now able to use their bioweapon technology. This makes him a tasty target for the government. If they are able to capture him and harvest his organs, they t00 can figure out how to utilize the alien technology. Wikus' only hope for help and survival is to team up with prawns.

The plot twists, special effects, characters, and conflicts are all done in a smart and suspenseful way, but again, this would make a hell of a video game. There are rescue missions, storm-the-base missions, and crazy tank missions. The weaponry progresses from standard human guns and grenades to crazy Halo-like alien guns to advanced human cannons to big awesome tank suits. And most importantly, the lead character is really cool. Not enough could be said about whoever this newcomer is, but he owns the movie.

All in all, this is gearing up to be a pretty awesome year for sci-fi. Abrams made Star Trek entertaining again. District 9 is an innovative alien movie that cost pennies to make, and pretty soon, James Cameron will be blowing our minds with Avatar. For now, definitely throw this movie into the FLOBY Best Picture mix, because it is just that good.


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