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Movie Review: District 9 Proves That There’s Still Room for Originality

RAMBO + E.T. + Alien 2 + CNN = formula for brain-melting awesomeness.

District 9 is the very best film I've seen in years. Yes, years. Going in, I thoroughly expected Neill Blomkamp to deliver a hell of a film. But not this good. District 9 delivers on all fronts, firing on all cylinders, nailing every mark. It's emotional. It's visceral. It's action-packed. It has stomach-churning suspense. And most delightfully surprising of all, it's punctuated with little doses of heartwarming zest, the likes of which film legend Steven Spielberg provided for our families in E.T. nearly 30 years ago.

For those of you who somehow dodged the machine-gun fire of advertising for District 9, I didn't know much more than you do about the film before I saw it. As the trailer states, "There are a lot of secrets in District 9." And it's best left that way. Blomkamp does a great job of easing you into the state of affairs and periodically leaves little morsels of information along your trail, leading your unblinking eyes to the exhilarating conclusion.

Poster for District 9The opening segments introduce you to a sci-fi plot that might come off silly if it weren't for Blomkamp’s brilliant grasp of subtlety coupled with liberal use of a live newscast film style. The gritty, unapologetic realism of it all is absorbing. It's the kind of escape you get so lost in that the theater around you disappears along with your plans for tomorrow and the world you once lived in – because now you are in this world.

You are there with creatures so photo-realistic you resist the urge to reach out and touch the rigid surface of their exoskeletons. You are there, wincing at the smell of burning garbage and muck-ridden dirt roads. You are there, laughing at the odd curiosity of beings ignorant to the trivialities of our world and the funny ways they interact. Before you know it, you are caring deeply for the fate of something not human. You are resenting humanity and perhaps even feel twinges of shame spark up and down your spine. You feel disgusted by our intolerance of difference.

These feelings are tugged along, hook and chain, by a superb leading performance from Sharlto Copley, a man lacking the resume of your typical A-lister, but giving any one of them something to be impressed with. Copley's character, Wikus, begins the story as a blissfully ignorant pawn of the MNU, ready to take on his duty with the giddy pride of an elementary school teacher’s pet. An event, which I will not spoil, shatters his world, and you will watch as Copley unleashes a desperate emotional struggle under his unfortunate circumstances that is both genuine and gripping.

Painstaking Detail
 

Without giving away any other tasty bombshells, District 9 has a plethora of surprises in store for you. It’s one of the few films that doesn’t show you everything in the trailers and expects you to be wowed when you see it for the hundredth time again in the theater. One fair warning, if I must, is that you’d better come with a poncho. The only thing that sprays more exploding juice is Gallagher, but District 9 is way more fun and you won’t have to bring a change of clothes. Well, unless you pee your pants from sheer excitement.

This Review for Humans Only!District 9 is the most exciting and unique film this year so far. For this reviewer, it will go down as one of the greatest sci-fi installments of all time. Blomkamp proves that there is still room for originality in Hollywood. He proves that you can be poignant and daringly artistic while still dishing out a cacophony of crowd-pleasing action. Finally, it is proof that there are still many creative risks to be taken and plenty of exceptional films to be made.



About Jesse G. Barnes

  • http://nickleshi.blogspot.com Nick

    Glad to hear District 9 is a good film. The science fiction genre is all about originality, and hate when filmmakers just rehash the same old sci-fi stereotypes instead of delving into truly creative stuff. Looks like District 9 is the real deal. Can’t wait to see it.

    If you get the chance, please read my preview of ABC’s upcoming sitcom Modern Family.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    How original can something be if it takes from “RAMBO + E.T. + Alien 2″??

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    and by “Alien 2″ do you mean James Cameron’s “Aliens”?

  • Jesse G. Barnes

    No, it doesn’t “take from” those films. And I didn’t say that it did either. It’s a general comparative relationship that I used to help let a reader gauge what D9 offers.

    And yes, I mean Cameron’s “Aliens”. I thought that a since D9 is a film about aliens that if I simply stated ‘Aliens’ people would mistake it for the aesthetic ingredient of extra terrestrials and not the film ‘Aliens’. Although, in retrospect I could have said James Cameron’s Aliens, but that would not have been as visually concise.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    if it was in italics, people should have known it was a movie title, although CNN incorrectly being in italics could have confused them

  • Jesse G. Barnes

    Uh huh…

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/derek-fleek/ Derek Fleek

    Original…yes. Great…far from it. I didn’t entirely hate it, but I sure as hell didn’t like it. It’s a cruel, grotesque and depressing look at the human race. The feel-bad movie of the summer and quite possibly the year has emerge, and its name…District 9.

  • Jesse G. Barnes

    And that’s one of the many reasons why we should appreciate it even more, Derek.

    District 9 lifts up a giant mirror to the human race in the most creative and thought provoking way I’ve experienced in a film in a very long time.

    Bad mouthing the film because of the sting of its truths is ignoring the sting of its unmatched artistry. As “cruel, grotesque and depressing” as it may be, District 9 carries an overall positive experience. Its ultimate message is that it’s not impossible for us to change for the better no matter what is trying to bring us down.

    Unfortunately, it seems you let the negative undertones overshadow the very clear and positive message.

  • http://www.keshertalk.com Van Wallach

    I saw the movie yesterday and loved it. When impressed me was the setting. The idea of setting D9 in South Africa is brilliant — a jolt of strangeness after all the sci-fi movies set in the US. The accents, the scenes, the history, the interactions — added greatly to the thrill of the movie, if even if the bad guys would fit comfortably in many other thrillers. I’m ready for the sequel.

  • Jesse G. Barnes

    Thanks for reading, Van. I’m thrilled to know that more and more people are loving this film.

    D9 is a prime example of the sum of its parts adding up to an enthralling experience. Setting it in South Africa added more to this film than perhaps any other element.

    The politics, the culture, the environment, the strengths, and weaknesses of the people of South Africa all added to the desperation and sense of urgency apparent in the atmosphere of District 9.

  • Cory

    im going to keep it simple. i found this site when i searched will there be a district 9, 2 because thats the best movie i have seen yet. and i watch alot of movies.

  • Sam

    This is a great movie, I know its early days yet but do you think they will bring out a 2nd one? This movie left me wanting more! Masterpiece!

  • Jesse G. Barnes

    I think it would be a hugely missed opportunity if they didn’t make a sequel. Critical and common moviegoer reception has been too positive not to. There is a lot of content that can be dug from this story and Blomkamp was sure to leave it wide open.

    Let’s just hope they are smart enough to not just bank on the aesthetic and remember to deliver something new again that’s as absorbing and intriguing as the first experience.

  • Steve

    A wonderful film, for the first time in many years i actually believed it,im sorry but most films these days have absoulutley no feeling, yes there was lots of violence but in my mind all relevent, the sub plot of big brother and on the spot reporting added to the feel,no heroes in this one, well not in the build up anyways, no sir this guy at the end turned into what humans can be and not through the be it end all, just through emotions and fear he came through, for what to create an enemy for the human race, no that was created through mistreatment by the humans, sectioning and labelling,his freind the alien will have learnt there is hope even though it may take a very long time. this is up there with the best films ever , im not saying its original im saying its well done and doesent tell us how it is, like movies of old it lets us decide 10/10

  • Jesse G. Barnes

    Even though you don’t like to use periods, or your period key is broken, I understand what you’re saying and agree.

    Thanks for reading, Steve. I’m glad you enjoyed the film as much as I and most of America did.

  • Jason

    I thought it a very involving film, very emotional, but perhaps a little too gory in places. (I dont personally mind, but I found my girlfriend wasn’t too happy about it.)

    Although I think this film borrowed heavily from films like ET, Aliens and also ‘The Fly’ (if anyone remembers that) it was put together in a way that really tells a new story.

    Most worryingly is the fact that this film is actually believable, it is as mentioned earlier in this blog, a true mirror to our humanity.

    I think they’d lose out on a lot of money, and a great film if they didn’t do a second film. Too many questions remain unanswered in the first film (such as, why are they there in the first place!)

  • Josh C

    Great review Mr Barnes.

    The alien should return in three years, their should definately be a sequel no questions asked. Different type of movie, and great with none of the usual hollywood glamour people which I thought bought it to much more life and made it easier to beleive. Rather than sitting down trying to imagine this movie with someone like tom cruise as the main actor when i’d be trying to watch the movie and be thinking of mission impossible or something!

    10/10 best movie with aliens in long time

  • Jesse G. Barnes

    Jason,

    You both were aware of the R rating correct? Were you not expecting the gore?

    With all unique films, inevitably, comparisons will be made in order to put into perspective what exactly it looks and feels like. I honestly don’t think Blomkamp borrowed directly from many of the films mentioned at all. Just because some elements have been seen in film before, does not mean it was borrowed. And I do remember The Fly, which is also a great comparison.

    I love that they left many questions unanswered. That fact heightens the human perspective of it and gets you involved personally by stirring up a lot of questions in your own mind as you are tugged along.

    Josh C,

    You can bet there will be a sequel. This has been a resounding critical and financial success. Plus, as Jason mentioned, all of the questions left unanswered and the deliberately open ending, lend too well to the possibility of a sequel.

    Given the current stigma of American society, District 9 should not have been as successful as it was/is. No name actors, lots of subtitles, an unlikable leading man, grungy documentary style, and hard R rating among many other risky elements. It’s an incredible feat to do as well as it has done considering the aforementioned details.

    Thanks to the both of you for your read, the comments, and the compliments. Thank you much. I appreciate it.

  • http://tarurdm.blogspot.com/ Kevin (Ket)

    A friend and I saw District 9 a few weeks ago and we loved it. It was definitely a step above other sci-fi movies we’ve seen lately. The harsh look at human nature both repulsed me, yet at the same time, what kept my attention throughout the whole movie. Though, to be honest, the action scenes weren’t all that well done. Just a lot of chasing and gunfire. Doesn’t matter. I was involved with what was happening on screen because the movie did what many action movies fail to this year-make us give a damn about the characters we’re watching in mortal danger.

    But I’m going to be honest, I really wish their wouldn’t be a sequal. It’s so rare these days to have a hyped movie that actually does not have such a Hollywood ending. Sometimes a lack of closure is actually what makes the message of some movies more powerful.

  • Jesse G. Barnes

    Kevin,

    I felt the action scenes fit very snugly inside the style of the film and not overly stylish. The scenes were gritty and simple without a bunch of flashy overkill on stunts or comical acrobatics. The action I found to be rather refreshing and visceral.

    Whether they choose to do a sequel or not wouldn’t surprise me. I would fully appreciate and support either decision. There is a lot of potential for a sequel to divulge even more intrigue and a deeper message. But I am – and will remain – fully satisfied with the conclusion if a sequel is never made.

    It seems that a lot of people are giving “a damn about the characters.” You’re right. It’s hard to find that in Hollywood actioners these days.

    Thanks for reading and your comment, Kevin.

  • Ge0rge

    To my knowledge there is no creative rule etched in stone decreeing aliens landing on Earth must snatch our bodies, destroy our most iconic landmarks or pilfer our precious natural resources. Hollywood never got the memo as studios have churned out one alien invasion plot after another like a record stuck on the rut of an overplayed song.

    The movie was ski-fi done right!

  • Skot

    I went and saw D9 with my GF and my 2 good friend. Im not going to lie when i say my GF feel asleep about 30mins into the movie. She doesnt like these kinds of movies so i don’t blame here but me and my friends were finding the movie very crazy and out there bu overall we liked it. It had cool weapons especially the alien weapons and the fight season were really phat. I hope there is indeed a sequel, i really didnt understand the whole plot and would really like to know more. As my GF is indeed my baby mama, i would go crazy if her dad would try to do me like and probably go crazy so i actually felt the movie. i give it 9/10, i havent seen a alien movie in a long time and the movie makes me want to see more. The whole human idea as the bad guys was good, humans are always the good guys so it was good seeing actually them be the bad guys.

  • Yus

    Really really love this movie. Hope they’ll continue and come out with the second episode district 9, 2.

  • Soren

    I saw Avatar and District 9 in the same day. Two of the best Sci-Fi movies of this decade (in my opinion)

  • fehlerquelle

    I was late to see it – but i have to agree
    that this is one of the best movies 2009 and an outstanding SC-FI Movie .
    I liked your review .

  • Jesse G. Barnes

    Thanks, fehlerquelle, and to everyone else who has commented. I appreciate the compliments and share the appreciation for extraordinary films like District 9.

  • anonymus

    I HOPE THERE IS A DISTRICT 9 SEQUEL I ABOLUTLEY LOVED THAT MOVIE ITS ASTONISHING AND SO VERY CAPTIVATING.

  • Annah Tannesse

    DISTRICT 9 PART TWO! IM WAITING!Please let there be another movie!

  • AsianWoopwoop

    The part where Chris is trying to save Wikus really had me sobbing until the end of the film (no jokes lol)