August 17, 2009

D-9


I will see any movie with Peter Jackson's name attached to it. District 9 was produced by PJ and Philippa Boyens, expanding on director Neill Blomkamp's previous short film, Alive in Joburg. And I am very impressed with this collaboration. (Maybe there's hope for the Halo movie yet.)

Earthlings have always been fascinated by (while being slightly terrified of) UFOs and aliens. This new intelligent and highly original sci-fi thriller gives us a different perspective: instead of aliens attacking us and becoming our overlords, what if they needed our help and come to earth for refuge? The mothership stalls in, of all places, Johannesburg, South Africa, former home of apartheid. They cordon off and militarize an area, District 9, which rapidly degenerates into a shantytown ruled by a disabled Nigerian warlord. The crustacean-like aliens wear out their welcome on earth pretty quickly. After 20 years, the evil Multi-National United (MNU) takes over the "prawn" problem (as the aliens are contemptuously called). Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley) is assigned by his father-in-law to oversee the relocation of the visitors to the new but not improved District 10. He is our film's unlikely hero, a nerdy government agent who was initially quite patronizing towards the unwanted extraterrestrials. (The aliens by the way look very natural and realistic.) After an unfortunate accident, Wikus goes on the lam. He befriends one of the district's residents, named Christopher Johnson and his son. There's the heart of the film. Wikus wants to help them for obvious reasons, but is he eventually motivated by nobler intentions?

Apart from the documentary/reality show-style interviews and scattered archival news footage that serves as exposition, it looks and feels like the movie 28 Days Later. I thought I could sense Mr. Jackson's delight at many stomach-turning scenes, so fair warning for the squeamish. Act 2 feels like a summer blockbuster thriller, with tight editing and imaginative action sequences, but you root for the aliens in this case. There is one scene at the Nigerian leader's place that I particularly enjoyed. My fellow audience members also cheered, hooted and hollered. But underneath much gore and bloodshed, the not-too-subtle underlying message is intolerance, prejudice and discrimination. It takes potshots at the military, inhumane scientific testing and greedy multinational companies. It poses the question: What happens when the oppressor becomes the oppressed?

But for all the technical wizardry and mayhem, I loved its simple story. The final scene is poetic, sad and joyous all at once. It's probably one of the best endings to a movie of this genre. If Finding Nemo made you not want to eat fish, this one will make you avoid eating shrimp.

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