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Category:    Home > Reviews > Science Fiction > Action > Drama > Politics > Prejudice > South Africa > District 9 (2009/Sony DVD Set)

District 9 (2009/Sony DVD Set)


Picture: C+     Sound: B-     Extras: B-     Film: B-



In between the endless fluff that passes itself off as Science Fiction and is about nothing and the few “hard science” Sci-Fi films like Duncan Jones’ Moon, we get few such examples of the latter these days and when these films work, it is always a great thing.  Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 (2009) is one of those films in the rare category that qualifies as solid Science Fiction and not a space opera joke.  Co-Produced by Peter Jackson, the title refers to the return of Apartheid in South Africa with a twist: the new underclass is a group of stranded aliens from outer space who happen to be stuck in Johannesburg.


As a sort of dark flipside to Clint Eastwood’s Invictus, the White Nationalist nightmare that was Apartheid has found a way to revive itself and all the ugliness that was thought to be eradicated has returned with a bitter vengeance.  Enter Wikus Van De Merwe (a brave, amazing, breakthrough performance by Sharlto Copley), a nice guy and family man who has a beautiful wife he loves and has the thankless job of evicting many of the refugee aliens from their shantytowns.  Not a tough guy, he is not part of the old regimes of the past, yet is doing some of the same work.  He tries to do it in the most professional ways possible.


However, the situation is ugly and takes some denial on his part, something he is used to in dealing with his father-in-law, a government official who seems to miss Apartheid among other old ways.  Wikus finds himself more personally involved than expected with the proceedings as the situation starts to give.  Add a quasi-fascist, sadistic, military tough guy who hates him and likes to do the same job with only violence and a bad situation will not stay dormant for long.


We have seen a few things here before, but it is what the screenplay by Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell do with those elements that make this at least a minor genre classic.  My only complaint with the film is the lack of character development that could have pushed this over the top into outright classic territory, but the makers decide instead to take a documentary route with some contextual violence that is not trivial or phony to tell the story and on that level, it works.


The surprise now is that it is getting more recognition than such films usually do around awards season and that is good.  I have a feeling its popularity has only just begun.



The anamorphically enhanced 1.85 X 1 image was shot on the all-digital RED 4K High Definition camera and instead of just doing a bad substitute of HD for film, Blomkamp and Director of Photography Trent Opaloch push the format for narrative purposes and give the film the kind of unique look and feel a new format like 4K HD should be pushed into and is when handled by talented people who care.  It goes from personal video images, to HDTV facsimile images to what is supposed to be actual scenes in open reality.  That helps make the visual effects more seamless, but it also creates an effective visual way to push the narrative, sometimes in subtle ways.  It may not always be sharp or clear, but it is not degraded in stupid, amateur, desperate ways most digital shoots in Digital and HD have been since their advent.  I look forward to comparing to the Blu-ray and my 35mm screening.


The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is even more impressive with one of the most intricate, interesting, intelligent and effective sound mixes of any major film this year, especially genre films.  This is a lossy mix and the soundmix shows how limited such a codec is, but it is as good as it is going to get without a DTS alternative and the Blu-ray should have a more effective lossless mix.  Clinton Shorter’s score is underrated.


Extras are many and include a three-part documentary called The Alien Agenda – A Filmmaker’s Log, Deleted Scenes and feature length audio commentary track by Blomkamp on DVD 1, four more making of featurettes on DVD 2, including Metamorphosis: The Transformation Of Wikus, Innovation: Acting & Improvising, Conception & Design: Creating The World Of District 9 and Alien Generation: Visual Effects.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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