A giant space craft is floating over Johannesburg, South Africa.
Aliens are here, but they aren’t the aliens you’re used to seeing in movies. The aliens in District 9 are more realistic. They aren’t impervious entities with impenetrable force fields like the aliens in Independence Day. As a matter of fact the aliens in District 9 can be killed quite easily with human technology.
Instead the aliens have been relegated to live in a slum in South Africa. It’s nicknamed District 9. When the humans found the aliens they were huddled in masses in their mothership. The mothership has somehow lost power and can now only hover above the city of Johannesburg. The aliens, nicknamed “prawns,” look like giant, scarier versions of Dr. Zoidberg from Futurama.
District 9 starts out documentary-style, interviewing experts, witnesses, ordinary citizens, and one Wikus Van De Merwe. Wikus is a the hapless bureaucrat who has been assigned the task of leading a team of militaristic commandos armed with clipboards and eviction notices and heading into the heart of District 9. They are planning on moving all the aliens to a higher security, concentration camp-like place.
Wikus and the other humans act stupidly toward the aliens, who are obviously much stronger than they are. They feel that they are better than the aliens, who they take as unintelligent beings, with the glaring irony being the giant floating spaceship above the city capable of interstellar travel.
The government is only focused on one thing — trying to find out how to use alien weaponry. The aliens have a plethora of weapons, but they are biologically engineered so only prawns can use them. The downfall of the aliens is that they are too trusting, and the humans take advantage of that trust as much as possible.
While searching one of the prawns’ shacks for contraband and alien weapons, Wikus comes in contact with black alien liquid that immediately makes him ill. He begins transformation. He’s now becoming a prawn. He’s the most sought after target of the government because he is able, with his transformation, to use alien weaponry.
District 9 attempts to draw similarities to apartheid in South Africa via the segregation of different races, but here instead of colors it is an entirely different species. It’s interesting that instead of working together with these aliens that don’t seem all that willing to try and take over the earth like most Hollywood aliens want to, the humans instead take advantage of them. They try to foolishly exert their authority over something they know so little about.
Everything the humans do in this film is by force. It’s easy to see the parallels in everyday life. You have to wonder, what if the humans just asked about their technology? What if they were nice to the prawns, made them feel welcome, and worked symbiotically together? I guess if humans can’t get along together with other humans, how in the world do humans have a chance at getting along with another species?
The presence of Peter Jackson is definitely felt throughout the film. Even though he only produced this picture, his influence runs deep. The bloody gore in District 9 hearkens back to Jackson’s old days before Lord of the Rings. Newcomer Sharlto Copley, who only has one acting credit on his IMDb page and this is it, is fantastic as Wikus. His transformation from happy bureaucrat to wanted fugitive is a wonder to watch.
The documentary style filmmaking at the start helps set the scene, but sometimes wanders too much into Cloverfield territory with the shaky-cam, making some things on screen impossible to see. But, it does make it feel more real — like if this situation actually happened on Earth that I would most likely be handled in a similar situation.
The film does harbor some of the best CGI I’ve seen. It is truly integrated so much into the movie that it’s hard to tell if the CGI prawns are people in suits or just computer-generated characters.
District 9 raises some very important issues, and brings them to light in an awe-inspiring, ultra-violent way. Why do we always assume the worst in people or things? Why do we take advantage of weaknesses? It’s human nature, right? It’s human nature to be afraid of something that is different or unusual. But, what will happen if we don’t learn from the thing we’re afraid of? If we don’t conquer our fears we are doomed to a life of ignorance and perpetual anger.