Malevolent aliens invading the earth and destroying innocent earthlings is a well-entrenched sci-fi theme. It goes as far back as Orson Welles’ infamous “War of the Worlds” broadcast of 1938. In District 9, the filmmakers flip the script: this time huddled masses of aliens are stranded in a South African ghetto-like area. They live in shanties and are at the mercy of hateful, prejudiced locals. They also face exploitation by Nigerian gangsters and an avaricious corporate entity who covets the secret of the aliens’ advanced weaponry which humans can’t operate.
However, it's important to point out that District 9 isn’t really a sci-fi movie. Filmed in mock-documentary style, the story is generally speaking an allegory about intolerance, exploitation and oppression of minority peoples as well as forced racial segregation. More specifically, District 9 was inspired by events that took place during the 1970s in a location called District 6 in South Africa.
Because this film possesses a sci-fi surface, viewers may be confused concerning what they can expect to see. Those hoping for an Aliens-like action flick may be disappointed. Though there are some worthy explosions, gunfire, and fast-paced action sequences, District 9 is predominantly a profound and heartbreaking story, a film that points a finger at the injustices inflicted upon those deemed “undesirable” in our society, whether they be innocent people jailed unjustly, political prisoners, refugees, minority groups, illegal immigrants, or in this instance, illegal “aliens.”
What sci-fi fans -- and others as well -- will probably appreciate involves jaw-dropping special effects and visuals which make the proceedings seem real. Director Neill Blomkamp along with co-screenwriter Terri Tatchell, and Blomkamp’s fine team of assistants, artists, and technicians conjure up incredibly lifelike creatures and visual effects, including an intricately detailed spaceship hovering disabled in the sky like a dark cloud over the alien township, a constant reminder that they may never see their home again.
Ironically, the aliens find an unlikely ally in Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley) a cheerful, if naïve official of the aforementioned big bad corporation. Wikus is assigned to lead the team that will enforce the relocation of the aliens to a supposedly better environment. It’s only after he becomes infected and turns into an alien himself that he begins to understand the aliens’ plight. Now considered a valuable commodity because of his new alien DNA, Wikus goes on the run from the corporation big wigs who want to exploit him, and ironically he finds refuge in District 9. That’s where he befriends the alien Christopher Johnson, who is making the small, concealed space shuttle operational so he and his son can link to the mother ship, return home, and get reinforcements to help evacuate his people from earth.
The latter part of the film isn’t as satisfying to me as the first part, for it turns into a typical chase and shoot-em-up spectacle. However, I still found it entertaining and profound because the lives of the entire alien population are at stake.
Mindful of the story’s obvious parallels in real life, I was deeply moved by the aliens’ struggles and couldn’t help rooting for Christopher and his people. Like ET, these benevolent-though-not-so-cute aliens just want to go home.
(Released by Sony Pictures Entertainment and rated "R" for bloody violence and pervasive language.)
Review also posted at www.moviebuffs.com.