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District 9 Review – I’m an Alien Shrimp, Get Me Out of Here!

District 9 Review – I’m an Alien Shrimp, Get Me Out of Here!” width=”560″/>

Why would aliens travel light years just to destroy us or conquer our little blue planet? The idea that their homeworld is dying and they need ours is too simple. After all, maybe they just got lost and are starving and helpless, having plunged into the Dark Ages on their vast, immobilized mothership. That is the fascinating premise of Neill Blomkamp’s District 9, a busy, exciting, occasionally breathtaking scifi adventure with allegorical overtones. Blomkamp’s feature debut is, oddly, the second 2009 release (after the animated Battle for Terra) about a human-alien clash in which we are, for the most part, the bad guys. The movie, meandering in and out of faux documentary, may be a bit klutzy and overstuffed, but it gets enough right that genre fans won’t want to miss it.

The aforementioned spaceship, looking a bit like the monstrosities of Independence Day, grinds to a halt over thematically convenient Johannesburg, South Africa. In one of several implausibilities cheerfully glossed over by District 9, the local humans somehow decide to blast their way in — whereupon they discover not an advanced race of superbeings, but a group of malnourished shrimp-like creatures, huddled together in the darkness. They then proceed to indulge the human impulse to “help the poor things,” by transporting the fledgling aliens to Johannesburg, where they are promptly segregated in a slum called District 9. Around the rest of the city, signs command “No Non-Human Loitering” and “Humans Only.”

Even with the aliens imprisoned in a ghetto, the locals are unhappy. The creatures are a menace. Alien-on-alien crime increasingly gives way to human maimings and killings. Protests spring up. Pressure mounts on the government to get these things the hell out of town. The government hires a ginormous military contractor to evict the million-plus creatures and relocate them to District 10 some two hundred miles outside the city. A clueless bureaucrat toady named Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley) is put in charge of the operation. Things do not go well.

The biggest problem is that the movie decides to complicate this beautiful set-up as Wikus eventually becomes an unlikely ally of the aliens after being exposed to (I guess) a biological agent that begins to transform him into one of them. This itself is a rather clumsy notion but District 9 still isn’t done, adding more contrived plot points like advanced alien weaponry that can only be used by those with a specific DNA. Most of this stuff is unnecessary, and the movie works itself into a frenzy trying to keep up with all of it.

When District 9 keeps it simple, though, by lovingly adding detail to the Apartheid allegory, it hums along just fine. I love the idea of largely helpless alien creatures who come to Earth and end up at the mercy of human bigotry and inhuman bureaucracy — not to mention human bloodlust. Making the “Prawns” (a derogatory human-invented nickname) not so much menacing as ugly was a stroke of genius: God help any otherwordly race that arrives on our planet and finds itself perceived as unintimidating and disgusting.

Eventually, District 9 builds to a rousing climax, which involves a lot of shooting and a fair bit of old-fashioned movie heroism. The last fifteen minutes may be too conventional for some, but I thought the film mostly earned its slam-bang conclusion. This is not, as has been suggested in histrionic early reviews, once-in-a-lifetime scifi. But it is clever, cartoonish, unexpectedly multi-dimensional fun. Certainly no one will accuse it of being a War of the Worlds retread.

For another opinion of District 9, check out the review on Filmcritic.com

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