In 2005, Blomkamp’s short film “Alive in Joburg” caught the attention of the Internet and one key man in particular, Peter Jackson. Seeing just how stunning the visuals could be and how rich the subject was, Jackson put $30 million down to allow Blomkamp to make whatever he wanted. He wanted to make his short into a feature. Blomkamp has been passionate about this project ever since he was a boy, growing up in South Africa during apartheid. Although not widespread to all racial groups as in Africa between 1948 and 1994, Blomkamp’s version keeps the aliens and the humans separated and, as with any class system, there is hatred, animosity and mixing between the groups. “District 9” is a pastiche of different film captures, from news footage to security cameras in stairwells to helicopter shots. All blend seamlessly together to not only form a stunning aesthetic but the documentary style, including talking head inserts from authorities on the alien plight, cements Blomkamp’s world in our own. The believability factor is what makes the injustices against the alien race so repugnant.
“District 9” directly implicates the viewer as a passive observer and forces you to take sides. Realistically, we aren’t there; we cannot say what we would do but we still cannot help feel the same fears. To be alien is to be foreign and, as a species, we certainly struggle with accepting that which is different than ourselves, even within our own species. To make matters worse, these aliens, while fascinating to watch from a CGI perspective, are not exactly pleasant to look at. They are lanky creatures with numerous tentacles and limbs that are so vividly constructed that one can almost imagine they smell as rotten as they look. As one could presume, an alien ship hovering over the earth for nearly three decades and 1.8 million aliens, though contained, living on this planet, would make even the open-minded uncomfortable to some degree. There are many alien interest groups established to protect the aliens’ rights but it almost seems naïve to think they do not pose some level of threat against humanity. And as it becomes more and more clear as the film goes on that humanity poses a bigger threat against them, you become torn between sympathy and preservation.
At the center of “District 9” is a nobody turned into the greatest somebody on the planet overnight, Wikus Van De Merwe (played poignantly by non-professional actor Sharlto Copley, who appeared briefly in “Alive in Joburg”). Wikus, a government employee in charge of serving all the aliens of District 9 with eviction papers before they are moved to a much more deplorable camp, is a bit of a goof who thinks he’s got it all figured out until he is forced to walk in an alien’s shoes (if aliens actually wore shoes, that is). It is only then that he can see humanity for the recklessly greedy creatures that they are. And as Blomkamp puts us directly in Wikus’s shoes, we too get the mirror turned on our own faces. It sounds bleak but it is by far the most fun I’ve had at the movies all summer, if not all year.
Review by Joseph Bélanger