Rarely do I try to see a film on the weekend it opens. The reviews of the hugely District 9 prompted me to see it yesterday so I will offer a short review. Blockbusters with big explosions and thrilling scenes are all too rarely include the development of a real story with interesting characters. It seems Hollywood settled for spending its money on thrills and not storyline. But last year Batman: The Dark Knight and Iron Man both proved producers can tell a good story and produce a blockbuster at the same time. So far this year it has not been done but District 9 changes all of that in a pretty significant way.
The story here is interesting. The Chicago Tribune calls this "the world's first autobiographical alien apartheid film." That is a pretty good description. District 9 begins much like a modern documentary. A refugee aid camp built for aliens, who appear to have been stranded over Johannesburg nearly thirty year before, is not a problem. A massive resettlement program is underway and the effort is overseen by MNU (Multi-National Union). Unlike any alien invasion film I have ever seen this film looks at the prospect of aliens from the standpoint of how humans reacted to their appearance and tried to control them in the process. Humans looked for a surprise attack but none ever came. Now, decades later, District 9 is a terrible slum. Riots and violence reign and Johannesburg, and the world, are fearful.
The central person in the documentary is an MNU agent named Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlito Copley). He lands a big job and now must lead the effort to move 1.8 million aliens further away from the center of the city. Van De Merwe is a decent man and acts with compassion. He is a happily married man who loves his wife and wants to act with justice and mercy.
District 9 explores subjects like apartheid and race with some measure of care. Todd Hertz, a reviewer for Christianity Today, rightly says, "District 9 is not preachy. . . . instead, Blomkamp (director) simply takes the reality he knows, having grown up in the apartheid of Johannesburg, and places it within the absurd."
The big theme in District 9 is human depravity and evil. If we exploit humans what would we do to non-human aliens? The answer is graphic and sad. Rarely does a film present a case for believing in total depravity quite like District 9. There are moments when good rises to the occasion but more times than not people act like, well, people who are filled with fear and rage.
Though at first the aliens are a bit disgusting to watch they soon become believable in a surprising way. Like humans they have a dark side but they also have a tender side that lead them to simply want to go home. I kept thinking, "E. T. phone home" but that cute line doesn't quite work in District 9, though there is a small boy alien who wants to join his dad and jet back to where they came from.
This movie filled with intense action and incredible violence. It is not rated R for no reason. No children should see it. It has received almost all positive reviews from both the critics and ordinary viewers. I felt it was the first really good big-budget action thriller of the year. It is not in the same class as Batman: Dark Knight but it is well worth seeing.