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District 9


Twenty-eight years ago, an enormous alien spaceship arrived on Earth and marooned itself in the sky above Johannesburg, South Africa, bringing with it hordes of starved, emaciated refugees from a distant, dying planet. After efforts to assimilate them into South African society failed, the vast population of "prawns" — a derogatory nickname inspired their crustacean-like features — were herded en masse into District 9, a massive, hastily-constructed refugee camp on the edge of the city that quickly devolved into a shantytown rife with violence, prostitution and substance abuse.

The present-day South African government, under pressure from its increasingly fed-up human citizens, has decided to abandon District 9 and hand over control of the aliens to Multi-National United (MNU), a government security contractor/weapons manufacturer charged with relocating the refugees to a new camp in a more remote area.

In truth, the relocation is only a secondary priority to the executives at MNU; their real goal is to unlock the secret of the aliens' advanced weaponry and use it to reap untold profits in the arms trade. MNU's efforts have heretofore been thwarted by a design feature on the weapons that restricts their usage to those possessing alien DNA, rendering them inoperable by — and thus useless to — humans.

Tasked with leading MNU's forced migration of the District 9's prawns is Wikus van de Merwe, a well-meaning middle manager unaware of the company's true motivations. That changes abruptly, however, when he's unwittingly exposed to a mysterious, DNA-altering substance during a routine sweep of the alien refuge camp. When Wikus begins to undergo a grotesque, Fly-like transformation, he suddenly finds himself hunted by his former colleagues at MNU, who now see him as the key to cracking the code of the prawns' powerful weapons. Shunned by human society and left with nowhere else to turn, he heads back into District 9, where he forms an unlikely alliance with the creatures he'd once worked so hard to marginalize.


Nobody you'd recognize, unless you happen to be a devotee of South African cinema. District 9's Johannesburg-born director Neill Blomkamp opted to use a cast composed entirely of actors from his home country, with mostly excellent results. Leading the way is newcomer Sharlto Copley, lending wit and pathos to the role of overwhelmed corporate whipping boy Wikus van de Merwe. Reminiscent of both The Office's Michael Scott and Flight of the Conchords' Murray Hewitt, Wikus is the unlikeliest of sci-fi heroes, which is one of the reasons why the film is such an unexpected delight.


District 9 takes an attractive premise and approaches it from an unconventional angle, resulting in a wildly entertaining sci-fi satire that melds bits and pieces of The Fly, Midnight Run, Starship Troopers, Enemy Mine, Alien Nation and TV's Cops. It's a disparate combination to say the least, yet somehow it works.

With the help of producer Peter Jackson and the many visual effects artisans at his disposal, director Blomkamp packs the modestly-budgeted District 9 with an impressive mix of CGI and creature effects — especially during the film's balls-out climax, a mind-blowing, blood-soaked battle sequence that will have audiences simultaneously cheering and cringing.


There's little subtlety to District 9's political commentary — a presumably deliberate artistic decision given the film's satirical bent. Nevertheless, it can get a tad annoying at times. The plot features an abundance of wild tonal shifts, some of which are pulled off more successfully than others. In the lead role, Copley occasionally betrays his acting inexperience by overdoing it with his delivery.


The climactic battle scene, in which Wikus dons a massive Halo-esque battle suit and turns the tables on his pursuers, is absolutely nuts — in a good way. However, younger views and those with delicate stomachs may find the carnage-filled sequence, rife with exploding heads and severed limbs, somewhat unsettling.


According to producer Jackson, District 9 cost around $30 million to make — a paltry sum by today's action-movie standards. The production budget of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, in comparison, came in at a reported $175 million. rated this film 3 1/2 stars.