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“’District 9’ Is Alienating”

 

Though there is much to admire in the low-budget “District 9”, including a strong lead actor and some remarkable special effects, the film as a whole feels superficial and over the top both in its symbolism and grotesque violence.

 

Several years ago, a large spaceship appeared over Johannesburg, South Africa, hovering with no sign of life.  The government finally drilled into the ship to find millions of dying creatures without leadership.  The ill were brought to earth and eventually became an inconvenience to the humans.  The prawn-like creatures were rounded up and moved to District 9, a slum. When the story opens, a puppet bureaucrat Wikus Va De Merwe (newcomer Sharlto Copley) is evicting the aliens from District 9 into internment camps outside of civilization. The aliens don’t take kindly to the strong-arming and Wikus finds himself in a Kafka-esque situation.

 

Produced by “Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson, “District 9” is an expansion of Neil Blomkamp’s short film “Alive in Joburg,” and that’s the film’s first issue.  What could have been told in six minutes (the length of the original short) has been expanded to two hours with exploding heads and snarling villains to fill the time.  The government killers and leaders are so evil, they almost twirl their dark mustaches and laugh maniacally (One solider actually does perfect that laugh). Though Sci-Fi finds allegories quite useful for subtext, this film telegraphs its anti-apartheid message to the point of hammering over the head. In comparison, it actually makes “Starship Troopers” appear subtle.

 

The gory effects, though lacking the wit found in Quentin Taranino’s bloody films, are visually stunning.  However, once you’ve seen one person explode, another 10 to 15 doesn’t impress more.  The visual effects, including the detailed scales and breathing apparatuses of the sea creature-inspired aliens, are breathtaking, particularly for a low budget.

 

Copley, an acting novice, portrays quite a range for this character’s arc, as he begins as a sniveling, ambitious drone, becomes a Hitchcockian hero on the run, and eventually grows a spine (figuratively and literally).  He grows on the audience, first alienating (no pun) them with his lack of respect for the aliens and eventually evoking pathos.

 

An ambitious, but dry sci-fi/horror film, “District 9” ultimately misses its satirical mark.  Grade: C-

 
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