Friday, August 14, 2009

DISTRICT 9: Aliens In Jo'Berg

DISTRICT 9 (sci-fi thriller)
Cast: Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, David James, Mandla Gaduka, William Allen Young, Vanessa Haywood, Kenneth Nkosi and Devlin Brown
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Time: 116 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)

WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL? Shot docudrama-style and mostly with hand-held cameras, District 9 is reminiscent of Cloverfield and Quarantine. However, it is not
as nausea-inducing as the two predecessors and its computer-generated effects of the alien creatures are marvellous. The second part of the film is packed with Mad Max and Transformers-type action.

Well, the premise is a bit far-fetched but it is easy to go along with the flow once you suspend disbelief. Coincidentally, there are two alien movies opening in KL this week - Aliens In The Attic for the kids, and this one for the action-loving adults.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? 'District 9' is a huge slum in Johannesburg, South Africa, where a large group of aliens have been confined for over 20 years when their spaceship mysteriously 'parked' above the city. The insect-like aliens are given the nickname 'prawns' because of their bottom-feeding habits. As the nations of the world debate on what to do with the extra-terrestrials, a company named Multi-National United (MNU) is tasked with evacuating the 'prawns' out of District 9 to a much more controlled area called District 10.

The man put in charge of this op is Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley). As he leads his troops into the ghetto to evict the aliens, he finds something that not only proves crucial to his bosses but will change his live forever...

HITS & MISSES: District 9 is the feature debut by South African film-maker Neill Blomkamp and his message about apartheid is obvious, with the segregated aliens behaving more like pathetic refugees than hostile invaders. Blomkamp, a protege of Peter Jackson (who produced this movie), keeps his 'cards' close to his chest, divulging one fascinating twist at a time. Except for Wikus, none of the other characters is properly developed and the movie's villains are more cartoonish than evil. His non-professional cast, including Copley, helps to heighten realism and promote the sense of TV-live recording.

The special effects, especially the shots of the mothership hovering over Johannesburg, and blasts from various weapons to the CGI rendering of the creatures, are first class. There are flaws, though. The manhunt for Wikus by MNU is badly contrived, the part played by the Nigerian gangsters at the D9 slums is not properly explained and the IQ levels of the aliens seem contradictory and confusing.

Blomkamp, however, maintains a frantic pace that keeps us on the edge of our seats much of the time.

THE LOWDOWN: Catch it if you like Cloverfield and Blair Witch Project.


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