District 9 is a film from 2009 directed by Neill Blomkamp and starring Sharlto Copeley. The film has recieved various recognitions, including four academy awards. Something like this is a bit curious to the cinematic outsider, which I was when the film was released. Everything I saw indicated that it was another alien invasion flick, which is fine. But really, that isn’t what District 9 is a clever, intentional movie about alien/human relations, that bears clear parallel to the way that we treat members of our own species.
The first thirty minutes of the movie could, to the unknowing viewer, easily be mistaken for an actual documentary. News snippets, interviews, and shakily filmed footage of alien tenements lend it an air of reality, that I’ve never seen a sci-fi flick inhabit before. Though the interviews cease, and the news footage cease in frequency, cease as the film begins to be shot like an actual movie with things like multiple camera angles, the camera work lends it a certain fidelity that never fades in intensity throughout the story progression.
The use of computer and special effects is minimal, even though the aliens appear to be all CG. The fictitious elements of the story like the aliens, weapons, and ships don’t clash with the tangible elements because of how real the camera makes the locations feel. Deep in your mind you know that the alien running around isn’t really there, but it is real enough to immerse you in the story.
Even once the camera emerges from its documentary style cinematography, we still feel sometimes like the camera man is an actual person within the scene. The action is reminiscent of war footage, albiet with more lasers. There are even a few gopro shots from a gunbarrel. Everything feels very genuine and very dangerous.
Also, without spoiling too much for those who have yet to see the movie, Sharlto Copely is an excellent actor. Wickus van de Merwe starts the film as a clueless government worker, and developes into a very changed character by the film’s end. It is Copely’s excellent acting prowess that makes this ‘ahem’ transformation so powerful.
This is a film that draws some not-so-subtle connections to South Africa’s history with apartheid. The way that the aliens are sequestered and abused mirrors the way many black South Africans were treated. The script does a great job of humanizing the aliens despite their outlandish appearance, making their plight a sympathetic one, showing that, barring difference of appearance, they are not that different from their homo sapien oppressors.
A sci-fi flick that isn’t too foreign, a documentarian vehicle that doesn’t bore, and a story of morals that refrains from becoming too preachy, District 9 is well worth the watch.