District 9 was not what I was expecting to see when I went to the theater. This movie takes an old, washed-up genre and presents a new fresh product. I was surprised, delighted, and admittedly a little disturbed upon first viewing.
This is director Neill Blomkamp’s first major film. In an interview he said that he really likes sci-fi and wanted to make a movie depicting the severe racism in South Africa where he grew up. Somewhere along the line he decided to blend the two and came up with District 9. Blomkamp had been previously working on the Halo movie, which was killed long before its release, for two years before he started production on D9.
Something I knew going in that initially blew me away was the tiny budget used on the entire project, a relatively minimal $30 million. The special effects are unbelievable, even in brilliant daylight and extreme close-ups; the acting is spot on, for the most part; and the plot is extremely compelling, which might actually have nothing to do with the amount of money spent.
The film starts off in a documentary style. It details the landing of the ‘mothership’ in Johannesburg and the subsequent concentration of the alien race. After the protagonist is infected with what is assumed to be an alien viral disease, the storytelling switches to classic narrative and takes off with non-stop action for the remainder of the film.
The acting in the movie isn’t as awful as you’d expect from a cast of unknowns led by Sharlto Copley, Blomkamp’s high school friend who had no former acting experience. Copley actually does quite well, and plays a very convincing role.
The film contains a thinly disguised message about racism and apartheid in South Africa. It really hits hard if you care to dig any deeper than the surface, but the movie's good enough even if all you do is take it at face value.
The one thing I didn’t like about the movie was the main character. This has nothing to do with Copley’s portrayal of Wikus Van De Merwe, mind you, but is entirely based on the way the character is written. I just didn’t like him. He's a complete jerk and a coward. The film seems, for some reason, to want the audience to like Wikus, but I cared far more the stranded aliens than the infected social worker. Wikus does have one redeeming moment in the entire film, but it comes entirely too late, and if you’re expecting for him to “grow a heart,” you might as well give up.
Overall Blomkamp did a brilliant job of making the film he wanted to make in a pleasing manner with a somewhat smaller than average budget. A sequel is more than hinted at near the end of the film, and I look forward to seeing what this young director/screenwriter can do with the kind of money usually spent on summer blockbusters.