The movies have taught me that aliens exist, although when they’ll show up on Earth, if at all, and what they’ll look like when they do is always up for debate. In this case, aliens appear in 1982, as a spacecraft decides to use its hover function over the city of Johannesburg. It’s motionless for a while, so the humans of the time decide to enter it and see what’s inside. They find aliens, who are sick and malnourished.
That’s a problem that would be interesting to try to solve. I would have loved to be in the room that the meeting of “what to do with the aliens” took place in. What do you do with creatures that are just as intelligent as you are, yet don’t speak your language and have nothing to offer you? If this sounds familiar to a situation that’s occurred in human history, you’re correct. Multiple times, in fact, although the obvious parallel given the setting is apartheid.
The solution in the film is to give the aliens food, resources and healthcare, and then put them in what essentially end up being concentration camps. They live there, have limited resources, space and everything else that we take for granted, but are allowed to, at the very least, live on Earth alongside humans. Granted, a lot of the time there is fighting between the locals and the aliens, but at least we were good-natured enough to allow them to stay here, right? Right?
There’s your backdrop. The story begins with a man named Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley) being charged with telling the aliens that they’re being evacuated and moved to another camp. They currently live in the titular District 9, and are being forced to move to District 10. Since this takes place years after the aliens came to Earth, they’re learned to understand English, although they cannot speak it; instead, they speak in clicks and subtitles for the audience, yet the humans in the film understand them regardless.
While issuing evacuation orders, Wikus also gets the privilege of searching the aliens’ homes for weapons, drugs, and any other things that the humans don’t want them to have. At one point, he finds a canister containing a black fluid. Said fluid manages to get inside of him, and it makes him sick. He throws up, but seems okay after that. Then he gets dizzy, his nose starts bleeding black liquid, and then his arms starts to change in appearance. Something going wrong, but he has no idea what.
This is where I’ll leave the plot, because I figure that’s a decent spot to get you excited enough to watch it. Eventually, action scenes dominate this film, and trust me when I say there are a ton of them. Tensions had been rising for a while, as the opening explained, and when an all-out war breaks out, you aren’t surprised. But what might surprise you is who the participants are, and what side they are fighting for. Again, I won’t go into the details here, but suffice to say that in the end, you won’t be bored.
The aliens themselves are quite interesting characters, in that they’re far more human than we would initially assume them to be. They’re intelligent, quite friendly to those that aren’t hostile toward them, and culturally, they seem similar to us. They do love cat food though, which apart from their appearance would probably be the biggest difference. At one point, Wikus meets a couple of aliens that are planning something — I won’t spoil what — and he gets to learn how similar we are to them.
I was shocked by two things. The first is how much director Neill Blomkamp was able to get out of his modest $30 million budget, while the second was how much action we get in the final half of the film. With how good the aliens look, combined with all that action, it’s hard to believe that the budget wasn’t a lot higher. It speaks to the quality of filmmaker that Blomkamp is with how much he squeezes out of what’s essentially only a fraction of what some Hollywood blockbusters are allowed to spend.
What he does is give us action scenes with meaning, but also ones that put a lot of blockbusters to shame. These are inventive set-pieces with a lot of explosions, gunfire, aliens weaponry, as well as a seemingly indestructible robot, just in case you were worried about getting bored. And since all of it matters, the action seems even better because there’s emotion behind it. You understand why the fighting is taking place, and you care.
Wikus isn’t really a good person, nor is he all that likable. The aliens get more sympathy to begin with, and while we’re watching him evict them, we’re slowly building up hatred for him. But eventually, he begins to redeem himself, and by the end of the film, you just might be rooting for him. However, for the first portion, you won’t like him, which also means you might not have a lot of fun at the beginning.
District 9 is a great science fiction film involving human-like aliens, an interesting premise and far more action than I expected going in. It does pretty much everything right, and is definitely worth your time, even if the earlier portions, shot in a mock documentary style, aren’t as enjoyable as the later segments, thanks to the main character not being likable at this point. But I still had a fantastic time watching it, thanks to everything that it does right.