District 9 is a remake of Neill Blomkamp’s short film Alive in Joberg. The film was produced by Sharlto Copley who happens to be the protagonist of the feature film. One look at the short film and one would easily be able to comprehend the underlying quality of this little gem. The storyline follows closely with that of the short film but with a swelled budget, everything from the graphics to the presentation undergoes a sea change. The story, like the, short involves an alien spaceship which lands up on Johannesburg skies and is left stranded as a result of a detached command module which mysteriously gets lost. The human under the watchful eyes of human rights agencies are forced to accommodate the repulsive aliens on their land thus creating what is to be known as District 9.
However with time, tension builds up between the humans and aliens owing to various factors resulting in the government finally deciding to move the aliens further from the human habitat. Thus starts one of the most complicated and delicate evacuations in human history. the head of the operation is Wikus Van De Merwe(Sharlto Copley) who unknowingly comes in contact with an alien technology which quickly starts changing his biological structure. With the government hot on his heels to extract whatever possible from him, Wikus’ only hope remains in an alien being known only as Christopher Johnson. Now he must team up with the same alien who was his adversary in order to save himself from the wrath of the very same government that he has been working with for so long. In doing so, he uncovers an inhuman government conspiracy involving the aliens which forces Christopher Johnson make plans of his own.
The film unfolds through a series of fictional interviews which gives it a documentary feel which in turns makes the narrative even more believable and intrinsic. As the interviews continue, the story starts rolling with it. The interviews are intelligently interwoven in the narrative and keep popping up from time to time to give us a little extra sighting into the happenings. There is a lot happening plot wise and the audience is hardly given a chance to breath. The plot has many forks with one story involving Wikus who is desperately trying to get well again, Christopher Johnson, after seeing the condition of his fellow aliens is trying to get back to his planet to get help. The government and the company MNU are fighting a two pronged war against Wikus to get back his body and salvage whatever they can out of it and the aliens as whole to reallocate them out of District 9.
Once the story gathers momentum, there is no stopping it. The drama and the action unfolds at a breakneck speed. Every action sequence is a result of an emotional outburst and thats exactly what makes it so potent. There is a scene where Wikus and Christopher, storm the MNU headquarters looking for a particular artifact. Johnson is cautioned by Wikus not to kill any humans but when he is fired upon by a security guard he opens fire on the guard almost instantly shredding him down to pieces. When questioned by Christopher about his action, he replies simply by saying “he shot at me”. This scene goes on to depict the desperate situation that the characters are in and how these situations result in the actions that unfolds on screen.
The visual effects designed by WETA is just as believable as it can be. Be it the aliens or their weaponry, the quality and authenticity of the props and their subsequent molding in order to gel effectively with the narrative is awe-inspiring. When I think that they were working with a meager budget which is not even half of what the summer blockbusters blow off in a jiffy, my respect for the film increases leaps and bounds. What so gorgeous about these effects is the way they are rendered. They are neither overdone nor underdone, just the perfect balance between the narrative and the visual flair making it feel as real as it gets. Some scenes which are worth a special mention primarily because of the quality of visuals is the storming of the MNU, the climax where Wikus drives an alien robot, the scene at the local enforcer’s place in District 9 where Wikus goes to fetch some weapons. The list will just go on and on.
Sharlto Copley leads from the front as his simplistic performence and his less than perfect looks make him a perfect foil for the role. He is wrecked and under extreme stress all through out and Copley does an immaculate job at bringing out these expressions flawlessly. The way he carries the character through different situational changes and often bursts out with energy and power is intriguing to watch. The veteran South African actor David James essays the role of the chief antagonist Koobas, who is out there to hunt down Wikus. He is a mercenary and would stop at nothing to bring down the house. James is immensely hate-able.
If you haven’t seen District 9 so far, make it a point to watch it as quickly as possible. For the lovers of the genre, its a gem which cannot be missed at any cost. For anyone else, its still an engrossing watch which will merit multiple views to sink in its content completely.