Directed by: Neill Blomkamp
Premise: An alien spacecraft lands in South Africa and authorities contain the extraterrestrials by confining them to shantytown. When a government agent (Sharlto Copley) attempts to evict the extraterrestrials, he is exposed to their biotechnology and starts to become one of them.
What Works: District 9 is a terrific science fiction film. The story puts a new twist on the alien invasion genre; the extraterrestrials just want to go home but humans keep them confined to a ghetto out of greed and fear, refusing to embrace them into mainstream society but unwilling to let them go. The apartheid politics of the film are unmistakable and District 9 is less a new incarnation of loud escapist fare like Independence Day and much more a descendant of thoughtful science fiction like The Planet of the Apes and The Twilight Zone. District 9 also does a great job with the story world. The film places the fantastic creatures and technology inside of a very familiar setting, which aids the political subtext of the film and sells the illusion. The picture takes this one step further by filming in a gritty, handheld documentary style that makes District 9 look unlike any major science fiction film of recent years. The special effects of District 9 are terrific; although computer generated creations, the creatures look organic rather than digital and perfectly meld into the setting. The performances of the creatures also stand out. These are not just special effects but characters and they convey emotions as convincingly as any of the human actors in the film. Although science fiction films are not often showcases for great acting, District 9 takes a significant risk in its lead character, played wonderfully by Sharlto Copley. The character is a weak pencil pusher and although he grows throughout the film, the storytellers are careful to keep him credible rather than turn him into a larger than life action hero.
What Doesn’t: The ending of District 9 is left open, possibly for a sequel. While the ending is appropriate for the tone of the story, this film’s lack of closure nags at the viewer.
Bottom Line: District 9 is among the best science fiction films of the decade. This is a great story with a political edge and an exercise in filmmaking craft that is on par with any piece mainstream Oscar bait.
Episode: #254 (September 6, 2009)