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District 9 review – who is this Neill Blomkamp fellow?
I have a major issue when posters of the latest film have a well known director listed above the title when they played the smallest of parts in its conception. Take District 9
for example. If you look at most of the posters (see right) you’ll notice the name of Peter Jackson heading them. Peter Jackson holds a producer credit and that probably means that he made a phone call on one of the shooting days. It is understandable as to why this is done though, as a film by Peter Jackson sounds more appealing than a film by Neill Blomkamp
and it only needs to fool a few people before word of mouth reviews encourages the average cinema-goer to pay their money to see it.
On this occasion though, I am pleased that I was fooled again. I don’t much care that Peter Jackson probably only appeared on set for a cup of tea for the poster to bear his moniker. However the one thing that bothers me most is the fact that the limelight has been taken away from the writer/director Neill Blomkamp
and this in itself, is a crying shame.
An extraterrestrial race forced to live in slum-like conditions on Earth suddenly finds a kindred spirit in a government agent that is exposed to their biotechnology.
Shot in a mock-documentary style which helps to hide the less polished effects, District 9 goes against all “alien invasion” stereotypes and places you firmly in reality. In fact it places you so far in reality with the animal-like names given to the misunderstood race and the segregation of them which jars you on a regular basis. The very fact that it is based in South Africa reminds you that this tale is about as far as you can get from an alien invasion film. It is the tale of apartheid which up until 1994 was a reality.
This is ultimately why the film is such an incredible watch. Helped mainly by the protagonist of the piece: the unlikely hero Wikus Van De Merwe (played by Sharlto Copley
) who manages to be naturally amusing and holds your attention throughout. Copley is an unlikely choice for the lead role but after the character’s freak accident you’ll soon realise that he was the best option. Copley manages something that most "named actors" are unable to do and that is to have a solid presence onscreen.
Naturally on such a tight budget (District 9 was reportedly made for only $30 million) the action is somewhat stilted. However this is not an action film (despite what the trailers would have you believe). It is an incredibly powerful tale of the loss of humanity and it is hidden within a relatively abstract plot about prawn-looking aliens. Just as Titanic was not a story about a ship, E.T. was not a story about an alien trying to get home and Jaws was not a film about a shark; District 9 is not a story about invading aliens.
With this in mind then it is important to note that of the citations above, I have included Blomkamp’s work with directorial masters such as Spielberg and Cameron. This is no mistake. Notable directors are able to tell a story amongst the attention grabbing plot hook (such as a great white shark killing random people). Blomkamp has managed to achieve what most try so hard (and fail) to do.
By now of course the inevitable has come that rumours of a sequel (or prequel) are underway. For the very reason that there shouldn’t be a sequel to Titanic, District 9 should be left well alone. A sequel (or prequel) would only be an alien invasion film and that would be its biggest mistake.
Now for the bad news: Unfortunately due to the mock-documentary style (which is ignored for the second half of the film) shaky cam is evident. For some of us, the use of this tension-making and confusing style of filming allows us to feel positively travel sick. As a guide, I would say that if you don’t feel sick within the first ten minutes then you should be fine but I can imagine it affecting many others.
Speaking at any more length about this film would almost be an insult and so I am going to leave it to you to decide to go and see it or not. I could only imagine the most heartless of souls who would disagree when I say that District 9 is one of the unexpected hits of 2009.
For his portrayal of Wikus Van De Merwe, Sharlto Copley deserves great recognition for his future work. The fact that he is an “accidental actor” is enough of a reason for studios to start ignoring some of the incompetent names of Hollywood and start looking around for some real talent.
Neill Blomkamp has made an impressive film for a relatively tiny budget and is as powerful as you would expect from big names such as Peter Jackson. Perhaps in Blomkamp’s next film his own name will be the highest credit (where it deserves to be).
Rating: 4.5 out of 5