Posted by: steveonfilm | August 17, 2009

Movie Review: District 9

[Update: Added commentary below]

A commenter told me I should just write a normal review, and I think he’s write. So Eric, this one’s for you…

Director: Neill Blomkamp
Writer(s): Neill Blomkamp & Terri Tatchell
Producer(s): Peter Jackson
Actors: Sharlto Copley

District 9 is a movie that combines the story telling method of a traditional narrative, framed within the confines of a mock documentary about the events unfolding within the narrative. This is both the biggest benefit of the movie, and the biggest flaw of the movie.

I thoroughly enjoyed the film. I tell you that right away. I thought it was original. Insightful. And with a very poignant message about human rights. The film was well paced, with few, if any, slow spots, and all three acts seemed balanced and well structured. The acting was fine. The effects were solid, considering this “only” cost 30 million to make. It was a good, near great film.

The movie plays out within context of a mock documentary about a series of events that occurred over a few days. Within this mock documentary we get all of the back ground information that’s relevant to the narrative we’re going to take part in. We find out when the ship showed up. We see why none of the aliens seem very smart. We get the background on how much friction their “settlement” has caused within South Africa, and the slang used to refer to them (Prawn). And we are introduced to the main character, Wikus (played by Sharlto Copley), his job, and see him promoted.

The premiss of the beginning of the movie is also explained. The current settlement, District 9, is deemed a “failure.” The multi-national organization, MNU, in charge of running Distrcit 9 has decided to relocate all of the Prawns to a new tent city called District 10. At the end of the first act, we’re with Wikus serving papers to one of the Prawns. While doing so something happens to him and, as I like to say, shenanigans ensue.

After this point, the shift between the pure narrative and mock documentary start to blur. There are long parts that are pure narrative. And occasionally a highlight of the mock documentary putting some of the events we witness into perspective. It’s as if we get to both see an event unfold, and see how history will regard the event some time later. Actually, it’s not as if we get to see that, we ACTUALLY get to see that.

I can’t think of any other movie that has attempted to tell a story like this before. And because of that, I don’t think myself, and a lot of the audience, was ready or sure how to accept it. I enjoyed everything about it. But I left almost feeling like I saw two movies. And the problem is that since we see everything that happens to Wikus outside of the mock documentary, we know the true story, we know what actually happens, and it makes reflecting on the mock documentary aspects of the film all the more difficult to think about. Which is why I mentioned above that this style is also one of the biggest flaws of the movie.

District 9 is very much a one man show. Sharlton Copley did a great job as Wikus. You both feel sympathetic and angry at Wikus as you follow him through the movie. His interaction with the residents of District 9 always seemed very natural. There are other minor characrs, but outside of Wikus no one has any significance outside of the CGI Prawns.

Blomkamp has created a world I am VERY interested in learning more about. District 9 gave us one story, albeit a very important one, that takes place in his world. And although the movie has a definitive endpoint, it is done in a way that would allow someone to revisit this world in a manner that doesn’t completely reek of sequel.

If anything, District 9 served as a case study in a new method of storytelling. One that, in a way, follows up on methods laid out by movies such as The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield. It’s a logical step in an attempt to blur the lines between a pure narrative, and an interactive feature. The audience gets to observe a traditional narrative, but presented in a manner that places the narrative into context in real time.

Perhaps most importantly, it’s a great debut for first time director Neill Blomkamp. He was given the opportunity to tell a unique story in a unique way, and delivered box office results that justified his experiment.

I give District 9 a solid 8/10.

Keep writing!
-Steve

[Update: I totally forgot to mention how depressing and disturbing this movie is on MANY occasions. There were times when I literally felt uneasy to my stomach because of how some of the themes were playing out. This is serious, adult, subject matter and I’m certain kids under the age of 16 WON’T get what’s really going on in a lot of these scenes. After all, District 9 is an allegory to apartheid, and deals with it’s situations as such.]

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Responses

  1. Nice review!
    I dig your passion about movies! You should move to LA someday.

  2. Hey thanks! From a long term perspective, that’s exactly my goal.


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