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Bitter Balcony inspects District 9 and likes what it finds!!!

 

District 9

BEWARE: There are some plot points revealed in this review that could be considered spoilers.

Illegal Immigration is one of the polarizing and conflicting social-political issues facing the world. How does a country face the coming of people of a different race and economic circumstances and to what degree does that country balance the integration of foreigners while looking after it's own interests? And for these immigrants, to survive in a land that refrains to accept them in the lowest of conditions, to what extent can their self preservation be tried? In Peter Jackson's latest project, District 9, these and many questions are raised under the pretense of a gripping, raw, action/sci-fi faux-documentary directed by Neill Blomkamp. District 9 feels so uncomfortably real that you could imagine Anderson Cooper roaming around for some CNN special report.

Blomkamp presents a contemporary future set in 2010 where aliens, who are derogatorily named prawns, have been occupying the barricaded District 9 located in Johannesburg, South Africa. Their Mothership remains stranded in mid-air since a key piece of it's operating function fell into the ground and has not been found for more that two decades. Since their arrival in 1982, the Multi-National United, also known as the MNU, have been in charge of handing this polemic situation by creating this district in order to separate the aliens from the natives, whose scornful disapproval of these insect looking extraterrestrials is so profound the last find you will find in District 9 is a trail of Reese's Pieces.

Years of horrifying treatment and in barely livable surroundings, the prawns have managed to strike a definitive nerve with the escalating growth of criminal activities inside their enigmatic community. Nigerian crimelords, lead by Obesandjo, have brought interspecies prostitution and gang warfare into Prawn society. The gangs also trick the prawns into trading alien weaponry for decomposing meat and the very high prawn commodity, cat food. The Nigerian gang members have even feasted on the prawn on an occult belief that alien flesh has curing powers and could reveal the secrets to the usage of Prawn weapons, which are inoperable by humans.

The MNU has not fared much better for the prawns, either. The MNU has kept the prawn under parole with recurring acts of military intervention and violence to keep the aliens hiding inside their zinc and aluminum shelters. With the citizens' outcry for the removal of District 9, the head of the relocation project assigns his son in-law, Wikus Van De Merwe(Sharlto Copley) to lead the eviction. Wikus is a pencil pusher who whose bureaucratic demeanor and half hearted diplomatic approach sets him up to be the perfect political pawn for the MNU to avoid any backlash from Civil Rights Crusaders. The real muscle comes from Koobus Venter(David James), a real SOB Military man with a trigger happy finger, whose executions rival those of Amon Goeth. As Wikus goes around the neighborhood trying to get the prawn to sign their eviction notifications, he clashes with the alien father-son duo that rivals his wits and questions the legality of this crusade.

The father, who Wikus names "Christopher" later in the film, has seen his best friend get murdered by Venter while trying to conceal a cylinder containing a fluid "Christopher" claims to have taken twenty years to extract. While "Christopher" and his boy are temporary apprehended, Wikus clumsily sprays himself with the fluid as he confiscates the cylinder. As Wikus and his aides lets the prawn go with the promise of coming back for them tomorrow, the effects of the fluid will transform Wikus in both body and soul.

Wikus, who begins to vomit and bleed black liquid from his nose, falls ill at his home during his birthday party. he ends up strapped in a gurney with his mended hand profusely bleeding. When the doctor cuts the wraps, Wikus does not have a hand anymore. It has been mutated into a prawn claw. The wary and weakly Wikus is then taken to a place that is anything but a hospital, and his father in-law is more than pleased by this. The true intentions of the MNU to preserve the Prawn are to discover the activation of the alien's sophisticated weaponry. Since The Prawn are the only ones that can operate their ammunition, the search to solve this has the MNU headquarters create a secret lab with experiments so terrible even Dr. Moreau would cringe.

Wikus is the answer they were looking for, since the fluid has fused his DNA with that of the prawn, he is now capable of firing the potent and lucrative artillery. The passively weaselly Wikus becomes a defiant guinea pig, and manages to escape MNU. He is tagged as a fugitive, humiliated by the false accusation of being an interspecies sex offender, and struggles to contact his wife. Wounded and hunted, he hides in the only place he can possibly go, District 9.

Wikus gets a slice of prawn life, forced by hunger to eat cat food, being threaten by gangsters and on the run from the military. He stumbles on to "Christopher" and son, and "Christopher" begs Wikus to let them be. As Wikus hides inside the makeshift home, he finds out that the basement conceals an aircraft that can get "Christopher" to the mothership and potentially rescue his species. "Christopher" also hints that the cure to turn Wikus human again lies inside the ship. They only need one thing, the fluid Wikus confiscated and now is guarded inside MNU. The two unlikely allies device a plan to enter MNU so outrageous, it makes Neo and Trinity's rescue of Morpheus seem like a trial run. Wikus manages to keep his life while stealing a weapon from the nigerians, and the two seemingly modest creatures blow up half the MNU building away.

As they successfully recover the fluid, the interests of both Wikus and "Christopher" have opposite ends: "Christopher" needs to use the fluid to activate the Mothership but he won't be able to cure Wikus for three years, by that point Wikus would be a full blown prawn. Wikus, feeling shafted by this revelation, knocks "Christopher" out and activates the aircraft while "Christopher's" son is on board. Venter and his men pursue the "terrorists" inside District 9, and destroy the aircraft's engine.

Wikus and "Christopher" are detained by Venter, but Venter gets caught in a shootout with Obesandjo's men, who want Wikus' claw for lunch. Right on time, "Christopher's" smart kid manages to activate the prawn's most awesome weapon, an armor suit straight out of Tony Stark's wildest dreams. Wikus manages to get inside it, and singlehandedly battles both the gangs and Venter. But in the crucial hour of the battle, does Wikus fight for his own salvation or is he willing to sacrifice his existence as a human for "Christopher's" freedom?

For all it's grit, the film is not all gloom and doom. Blomkamp allows himself to have a little fun, incorporating some off his producer's vintage elements: Wikus' clumsiness and awkward mannerisms reminded me of some of the leads from Jackson's prior films like the shy, lovestruck puppet from Meet The Feebles and the zombie fighter from Dead Alive. Blomkamp even throws in an homage to the exploiting cattle from Bad Taste, when Wikus uses a sheep as a missile.

District 9, which came about after the suspension of the Halo movie Wingnut films tried to make, appears to have drawn some of the first person warfare experience the popular game franchise offers; Venter's men are shot with the camera harnessed on their bodies, ala Requiem For a Dream; some angles show the machine guns roaming around the hallways of MNU. The final battle with the armor suit taking on Venter's men feels like a wide open lens take on a gamer's on-line shootout.

The story, also written by Blomkamp with Terri Tatchell, is a successful blend of disturbing imagery, social allegory, and most surprisingly, a tale of compassion and empathy. Wikus is the last character you could ever think of as an action lead. He is like the guy who tells you to get back in line after waiting for hours in a governmental branch.

He's not a bad person, shows a true devotion to his wife and feels remorse for the treatment of the Prawn when they are used for experiments or are murdered in front of him. But heroic he is not, and like most of us, his conscious has limitations. His alliance with "Christopher" is engaged in selfish reasons, and he acts cowardly in more than one occasion. However, his ability to form a bound with "Christopher" and his boy elevate him from a spectator to protector. His sacrifice for "Christopher" and son as they escape Earth proves that a common man can be heroic when the right thing to do presents itself.

As for "Christopher", he is one of best aliens EVER. He is a valiant, smart creature whose eyes display the sadness of an expatriated, abused species. He is determined to save his kind at almost any cost, but his love for his son and appreciation of Wikus make him the centerpiece of dignity in the morally dense neighborhood. You believe him when he promises Wikus to return and cure him. Like Gollum and King Kong, Peter Jackson's projects feature CGI characters so complex they transcend their computer drawn origins.

Neill Blomkamp has added a good entry into the sci -fi movie library. With Director of Photography Trent Opaloch's newscast-inspired frames, the film not only has a visual dimension but an authenticity not seen in a sci-fi since Alfonso Cuaron's Children of Men. District 9 triumphs in presenting a dystopian future where cultures, or in this case, species that come to ends with each other. This movie wobbles on a apocalyptic edge, where discourse and violence are direct responses to changes difficult to detour.

In the end, the interviewees of the documentary are uncertain of Wikus' fate or of the plans "Christopher" might have in store upon his potential return. A new district harbors the aliens, who continue to grow in numbers. The actions of MNU are sealed and those who aided Wikus are awaiting trial. Wikus' wife Tania is left with a flower made from scraps of metal by an unknown craftsman. From the top of a landfill, we see a prawn delicately shaping a flower. -JR

P.S: for more on Peter Jackson's cancelled Halo project go to www.joystiq.com/2009/07/24/peter-jackson-tells-joystiq-... www.joystiq.com/2009/07/24/peter-jackson-tells-joystiq-about-the-halo-mo... .

Images:

Official website:

District 9

Credits:

Directed by: Neill Blomkamp
Written by: Neill Blomkamp,Terri Tatchell
Cast: Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, Nathalie Boltt





Source of the Bitter: John Rojas

Comments, rants and other stuffs below
Que on Mon, 08/17/2009 - 5:13pm

Darn. I was gonna write a review for this movie but someone beat me to it.

Anyway, the movie was my GF’s choice since she is into the popcorn/alien type movies. And she was also not good with names so when the line ‘Peter Jackson presents’ showed on the screen, she heard me making funny noise and asked why.

‘cause Peter Jackson.’

‘who is Peter Jackson?’

‘He is the man made “the lord of the rings”’.

‘Oh, Nice!’

‘and he also made “King Kong” and “Braindead”’.

‘Oh. ………nice.’

However the movie didn’t smell P.J. at all. He is just a producer. The movie was written and directed by different talent, which is GOOD. The actors are not known (not to me anyway), the set up is interesting. Honestly we need fresh air. These days the entire movie industry is saturated with that G.I. kindda Joes it is not funny.

This movie is far from perfect. It is not as polished as ‘Schindler’s list’, it is not painful and emotional as ‘The Piano’ or ‘Taxi Driver’ and it is not as fancily wild as ‘Natural Born Killer’ or even the ‘Alien’. There are plot holes. There lots of less than perfect issues about this movie.

(here, if you are not interested in spoilers, you know what to do)

* The handheld camera (shake shake) is over used. Sure the documentary style of shooting gives people sense of reality, but camera shaky shaky is OVER used and not nessesary;

* Story feels familiar for more than half of the movie. That took a lot of the surprise factors out of the movie;

* The design of the alien. Yes it was good, but yes, I do have problem with the humanoid eyes with huge pupils. Seriously, eggs laying aliens with two eyes with huge pupils?

* The battle robot was taking fires and fall. Looked too much like a hurt mammal it almost made me laugh. I don’t need to watch this to connect to the scene. Seriously, how dump do they think audiences are?

* The emotional connection from alien to human. That my friend, is CHEESE. I understand that to emotionally involve the audience we need this cheese. But unfortunately I am also a science guy and I think for moments the alien’s facial expression (with that huge two eyes, pupil dilated of course) is over the top.

But that is not to say the movie is bad. Despite all the flaws, the movie is great. It has interesting angle toward the alien fares; it has great audience involvement and take you through the ride feeling more than just an observer; it has all the guns and alienmobil and blood and gore and explosion and all that aliens… and the most of all,

This one is NOT stupid.

Alien movies are hard to make right. It takes a lot imaginations and serious plot development, but most of the alien movies these days fall into the dirt bucket where CG sells tickets so the movie makers are just plain lazy for other smart stuff. Audiences these days are so used to spoon feed the good guys kill bad guys plot with maximum of 1 minor twist somewhere, alien movies are barely more than simple popcorn entertainment.

District 9 is not one of those movies. It cleverly take the right angle to engage CGs, and it dare to present you questions and scenarios that you need to use your head and think through the movie. They dare to move the story alone and leave you blank spots so you need to use your own brain power to connect pieces. On top of solid entertainment, the movie makes you THINK. And for that, I love it.

I finished movie with my head full of phrases of compliment. And when I went home and checked some movie forums online, I saw all the question posts to the movie, like when people are asked to use their head when watch movies, a lot of them either can’t cope or get angry.

That is why movie G.I. Joe will get to have a sequel, perhaps.

John Rojas on Thu, 08/20/2009 - 5:29pm

Thanks for checking out the page and the review. I'll add more observations about D-9 tomorrow. Later, John.

JAS on Mon, 08/17/2009 - 5:41pm

The best sci fi movies always make you think. It's the point of sci fi. The problem with cinema as it stands now is:

1. It doesn't reward creativity, as the masses for all their complaining love to see the same shit over and over.
2. It also does reward jackass directors that think the louder the movie is the better.
3. These directors also think the more explosions the more explosive the story must be.
4. And running around and screaming is considered a story line.

The fact that people leave this movie with thoughts swirling around in their heads means that it is a success.

I know most American movie-goers won't agree, but sometimes its better for the questions never to be answered. I spoke to John shortly after watching this film and told him that as much as I would love to see a sequel I would be perfectly happy with this one being the only one.

I will never forget the day that I accidentally read an interview with Ridley Scott finally confirming whether Dekard in Blade Runner was a replicant or not. I was bummed to hear the answer. Not because I didn't already think that was it, but because a little of the mystery was lost. I avoided the brilliantly written sequel novels to Blade Runer (by J.W. Jeter) because I didn't want these answers. Yes, I wanted to be exposed to more of that world, but I didn't want to ever get a "final answer" to the question.

Que, What plot holes did you notice? I saw a couple of details that were over looked or under-explained, but nothing (to memory) that counts as a plot hole.

Also, why don't you like Peter Jackson? I have my hesitations as well at times, but the more he puts out there the more convinced I am that he is someone worth having in Hollywood.

Que on Mon, 08/17/2009 - 8:23pm

I have nothing against Peter Jackson. As mater of fact, I did enjoy LOTR, and King Kong is not too bad.

however, what P.J. impressed me of, is an effective,but not visionary story teller. His story telling is slow, fluent but lack the edge of smartness. He also loves to use the CGs to power up the action (well, who don't these days) which is likely to be loud and explosive. think King Kong fighting two Tyrannosaurus fighting the Giant Ape? He is also making 'Hobbits', to which I imagine will be another slow, fluent and beautiful fantasy movie with Peter Jackson's trademark on it. It is hard for me to imagine that P.J. makes a movie like Mullholland Drive. this is just my personal opinion.

as to the plot holes, it is also very personal and open for discussion. The aliens are obviously like working class instead of battle/defense orientated, thus they rather selling their high tech weapons instead of using them, and through the majority of the movies they are not protecting their eggs, they got slaughtered without fighting back, it did look odd to me when one of them actually held a weapon and fired multi shots at human, also at the end a number of them torn the soldier apart. I thought it could be done differently. also when the alien walked through the MNU building seeing the alien body parts on the operation table and showed complex emotion of sadness and anger, but there was body parts in the district 9 camp all over the place for 20 years already?

the flaws I saw mainly was due to when they tried to put human typical emotions and behavior to aliens in order to connect the audience. I understand why they did it that way but somehow I think they could make it smarter by avoiding it but still achieve the same effect. Once again it is very personal opinion and I know I am very picky a movie viewer.

JAS on Mon, 08/17/2009 - 9:27pm

I'd have to think about it if I was to defend Jackson as a visionary, though I do think LOTR had some vision.

King Kong was good. I think he showed some balls to handle the slower portion the way he did since most other people would have just overblown the whole thing. The fighting of the bugs on the island was way too long though.

Guillermo Del Toro is directing Hobbit, with Jackson producing. Del Toro really is visionary (at least I think so), so that should prove to be a great movie. I'll throw in a little, "I hope so here".

Well, the idea is that they are worker drones, so they needed to be bossed around. I found it a little strange that they would "kneel" so easily.

I think I can justify the way they tore that guy apart because Wilkus's humanity may have given him the look of having some leadership role, so they felt the need to defend.

Also, I agree with them not defending their eggs. I thought at least they would have some kind of survival instinct.
Christopher was more of a Warrior Class, if the Warrior Class was changed for Scientist Class, so his being sympathetic to the pain of others is acceptable. Also, he may not have been totally exposed to the violence that is happening to his people since his nose (or antennae) were deep in garbage looking for that biological fuel. As an example, Hitler's own secretary didn't know the extent of what was happening while in the middle of it.

As for the design. I feel the chest up is great, though I thought they had more bug eyes until the close up. I would have redesigned the bottom have to retain its insect-like look, but be a little more robust and distinctive. I would probably create 3 or 4 slightly different body types, so it didn't look like they recycled the same model.

As for the eyes, I think they made them that way, so that the general (read: dumb) movie-going public could connect with him easier.

Que on Mon, 08/17/2009 - 10:25pm

I'd think that Chris was more of the wise/elder class instead of warrior/fighting class. The fact is he has his shed directly above the central unit of the ship, and he has collected a lot of computer pieces from the junkyard indicating that he has been around since day one, and it is very unlikely that he hasn't been witnessing the cruelty around. I personally would make it that he held the weapon when in MNU but never fired, or fired with eyes shut.

the design of the Prawns are largely based on insects' feature, which also imply that they may have very similar social structure such as ants'. We can only speculate that maybe their world had either war or devastating event where they lost all their fighter class prawns and they fled as domestic class. that is why they rather sell their weapon for food instead of fighting with them, cos they are not genetically coded for violence. of course, those are my speculations.

Discussion of Peter Jackson may be a deviation of this thread. I agree that he has talent and skillset of his own, and he will make some excellent movies out of it. I did enjoy LOTR. King Kong was effective at times, but it drags a bit too much for my liking and the final ice gliding scene is.... just cheese. my girlfriend cried to that though.

Guillermo Del Toro is very interesting name on my list. He grasped his confidence over his vision well through Pan's Labyrinth and laters, I almost ignored his Blade history. with him on board 'Hobbits' will be very promising.

JAS on Sat, 08/15/2009 - 3:57pm

This is that rare breed of movie that makes me jealous that I'm not out there making movies myself. The film is brilliant from beginning to end and all the details in-between.

I was especially fond of the homages (conscious or not) and parallels to other movies I like such as the Fly, Robocop, and even Alien Nation. When you have those as ingredients you know you are going to have an interesting flick, at the very least.

I was very touched by the genuine character development and have to point out that Sharito Copley has managed to pull off a complex character and keeping him likable in spite of some of the assholic things that he does. Wilkus might have some weasel aspects, but he is easy to feel for as a man in a desperate situation doing whatever he can to get through. The same goes for the animators (and direction) of Christopher. The fully CG alien never feels like he's a computer generated character, but has the depth that most real (well they are fake, too but you get my meaning) actors only wish they could reach. When it is easy to sympathize and root for what in essence is a giant bug you know someone deserves an award!

All in all a great movie and a light at the end of this dark tunnel we have called summer movie-going.

PS. Holy crap! It's already #78 on IMDB's Top 250!

Cinebelle on Fri, 08/14/2009 - 1:17pm

Your first graf is awesome! just complimenting. Plus I am now dying to see this movie.

John Rojas on Tue, 08/25/2009 - 9:36am

Thanks for the kind words. Keep reading and we will keep writing them. JR

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