District 9 opens with an overview of the situation at hand. Years prior, a spaceship full of half-starved, desperate aliens coasted to a stop over Johannesburg, South Africa. Presented with over a million aliens to care for, the South African government contracts with a corporation called MNU to set up facilities for the aliens. Before long, the refugee camp becomes a permanent slum. Human/alien tensions rise, crime soars, and anti-alien laws are enacted.
Given the awful nickname of “prawn”, the aliens are corralled into District 9, where gangsters prey on their poverty and desperation and MNU schemes to harness the aliens’ weaponry for their own ends.
District 9 utilizes the style of a documentary and introduces us to Wikus van der Merwe, an affable kind of guy with a great wife and a father-in-law in charge at MNU. Wikus is the sort of guy who is the perpetually cheery, socially stunted sort of coworker you don’t like to get stuck in an elevator with. He’s charged with getting eviction papers signed by all aliens before they are moved to District 10, a new “settlement” for the aliens. While investigating an alien dwelling, Wikus is sprayed with some sort of black substance, which causes him to begin changing into a prawn. He is taken into MNU custody, escapes, and runs to District 9 where he begins to seek answers about his condition. Christopher, an alien with a small child, tells him the black substance will power the ship hovering over Johannesburg and they must get it back. If they get it back, Wikus can be cured.
My main concern with District 9 was that the CGI would be distracting, as is so often the case, but the prawns are beautifully rendered and look as realistic as it gets, to be quite honest. Wikus’ transformation from man to prawn is equally realistic, as if he’s Brundlefly without the exuberance at his transformation.
In fact, District 9 is one hell of a finely crafted sci-fi movie. Wikus van der Merwe is horrifically, realistically human; Wikus condescends to the prawns even when he needs their help, constantly is looking out for his own interests and is only willing to make a change (albeit a slow, agonizing change) after witnessing the horrors that MNU, and by proxy, he has participated in. Wikus is an incredibly flawed, at times unsympathetic character, but Neil Blomkamp boosts the character with the portrayal that all Wikus really wants is to get home to his wife, who he loves beyond measure.
District 9 is an unlikely Hollywood film. Made in South Africa, featuring unknown actors and featuring a cast of humans who are the very worst kind of human and aliens that are probably the most human, it’s the kind of movie that got legs somewhere and it’s good that it did. Sharlto Copley does a hell of a job breathing life into Wikus and Neil Blomkamp shoots the whole thing beautifully. It may be weird to say, but my favorite character in the whole shebang is Christopher’s young son, who may be the most adorable alien ever put to film.
A very solid entry into the science fiction genre, I would imagine you’ll see District 9 on many “top sci-fi movies” lists in the future. If we were running on the star rating here, I’d give it 4/5.