Si Shepherd orders prawns...
My first exposure to Neill Blomkamp's District 9 was through the trailer which showed several humans being interviewed... and then an alien! All appearing in quick succession. It was a well executed "mockumentary" style bit of marketing that really did the job and had me interested in the movie. The sci-fi content was so matter-of-fact that it became even more intriguing because it was presented that way. A statement which also rings true about the film proper, for District 9 is a genuine modern day cinematic treat.
The movie takes place in an alternate timeline where, twenty years ago, an alien spaceship came to a halt above the city of Johannesburg. The inhabitants of the ship are unable to operate it anymore, so they end up being segregated to their own slum within the city below. Eventually, the government calls for the eviction of the aliens (nicknamed "prawns" due to their appearance). Our eyes through the process come via Wikus (Sharlto Copley), who through a series of events ends up undergoing some rather dramatic changes and before long he's thrust into the middle of something far too big for him to handle.
The best thing about District 9 is that it always manages to stay fresh and surprising throughout. It starts off in that mockumentary style teased in the trailer, and this gives us the gist of the backstory, but slowly the film crosses over to being a more conventional style, although still filmed with a very documentarian look about it and interspersed with occasional news footage or interviews. Despite this change in the presentation, you don't really notice it because you're so wrapped up in the whole ingenious premise.
Then we're presented with the plight of Wikus, whose story is one that is absolutely amazing to watch unfold. He's a perfect example of the 'Everyman', trying to survive as best he can in the face of everything that the world throws at him, and boy is stuff thrown at him over the course of the film. His development, along with that Chris, the prawn he befriends (who is surprisingly well-rounded for a CGI character) raises this above your average science-fiction flick. Even as the movie progresses and adapts again, becoming more of an action-packed extravaganza in the final act, it still doesn't jar in the change of mood and doesn't forsake its characters and intelligence just for the sake of cheap action sequences. How I'd love to see Blomkamp responsible for one of these upcoming Star Wars spin-off movies. It's not his style of course, to play in the big franchises, but the mind boggles with wonder as to how he'd present his vision of that Universe.
District 9 is a rare find nowadays. Sci-fi aside, it's a movie which doesn't sacrifice its intelligence to draw a mainstream audience. It never shies away from the raw, uncomfortable power that its story demands just for the sake of appeasing the Summer blockbuster crowd with a PG rating. It's darkly funny, entertaining and thoughtful at the same time. Produced on a meager budget of just $30 million, but looking like 10 times that amount. If only more modern day 'blockbusters' were like this then the world of cinema would be a much more interesting place.
Roll on District 10.