If you're wondering why this review appeared so long after its initial release, it's because I live in that part of the world where this film just opened in theaters.
District 9 is without a doubt the media hype
of 2009. Through clever internet marketing and by shrouding the film in
a veil of mystery many have been eagerly anticipating the film for
quite a while. It just opened in Belgian theaters and even though I
didn't really expect all that much from it, it seems that marketing did
its job well. Most obvious question is of course whether the hype was
worth the wait.
When I first watched the District 9 trailer I immediately turned it
off after spotting the alien creature. I'm not a big fan of
spoiler-heavy trailers, but this particular one made me wonder why they
would reveal this much, this plainly, so early on. It could only mean
there would be more to the film than simple alien appeal. Luckily there
The premise of the film is quite interesting, featuring a shipload
of aliens stranded on Earth. Rather than taking the typical "alien
flick" road, these particular aliens get a pretty rough deal as they
are shipped away to a slum district on the edge of Johannesburg,
controlled by military forces. The slum develops as most slums would,
proving a perfect breeding ground for crime, violence and even
interspecies prostitution. This is all presented in a
news-like/documentary fashion with short interviews and typical news
station fragments in between.
Cool stuff, but that's about all there is to the film. Beyond the
interesting premise it's still very much a typical blockbuster film, as
the developing story quickly illustrates. It doesn't take long before
the main character becomes infected with alien genes, turns into the
prime target of an international concern and goes into hiding trying to
save himself. Standard stuff.
Visually District 9 is something else though. The typical
documentary visuals don't sound like too much of a graphical treat but
seeing how tremendously believable the CG is integrated it becomes
almost unsettling to watch. Alien movement is still a little shaky, but
apart from that everything feels solid, real and actually "there". The
action-filled ending is absolutely amazing, featuring lush mech designs
and awesome firepower without ever only slightly resembling something
coming from a gaming console.
CG is often applied in a manner where the camera follows a pretty
slick and premeditated path to improve the blend of CG. It gives it a
fake dimension which is difficult to ignore. District 9 takes the
Cloverfield approach and cleverly builds on that. The only real downer
is the alien design, which is quite uninspired and dull compared to the
rest. The soundtrack is decent enough but is rather secondary. The only
remarkable thing there is the alien language which comes off as quite
developed and original. Nice little touch.
As the film progresses the premise is mostly forgotten and all that
matters is action, explosions and alien gear. People expecting a more
intelligent approach might be disappointed, I on the other hand wasn't
expecting anything at all and felt that there wasn't much more to be
done with the premise anyway. Throw in some comedic interludes at
regular times and you have a pretty basic blockbuster outline, but
presented in such a way that the experience is completely different.
I liked District 9. A lot. It's a blockbuster, but as blockbusters
should be. Near perfect use of CG, superb mech designs and great action
scenes. Some funny moments and a premise interesting enough to
kick-start the whole thing. Add some popcorn and you're gone for a good
100 minutes of alien fun. Hollywood should take notice, it's pretty
amazing what Blomkamp achieved with the relatively low budget (compared
to regular blockbuster budgets that is).
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