08 Sep

district 9


By Missak Artinian

I think it would only be fair of me to preface this review of Neil Blomkamp’s “District 9” with a honest confession: I am about as much of a sci-fi nut as I am good looking. For those who don’t personally know me, let’s just say that, on a scale that measures attractiveness, I fall somewhere above the alien race that inhabits District 9 and a little underneath Seth Rogan before he lost weight.

District 9's Alien race

Joking aside, my point remains. I am a fan-boy of many, many things: science fiction not being one of them. You will never find me wearing a Captain Picard costume at the midnight showing of the latest “Star Trek” movie. A gray beard and a wizard’s hat at a “Lord of the Rings” convention? Been there, done that. Bald head and a red jumpsuit? Not on your life.

Now that’s not to say that I’m prejudiced against the genre, at least not to the degree that the humans that live in District 9 are toward the “prawn.” These arthropod-like alien beings are subjected to the tyranny and unjust treatment of the human race, who collectively agree to evict and relocate the “prawn” from their shanty, segregated ghetto communities into what seem like tented concentration camps.

Indeed, as I’m sure you’ll come to understand, I’m not prejudiced against science fiction at all. I would never forcefully displace the rich and extensive genre away from its rightful home, which is among the high ranks of such favorite genres as mystery, romance, westerns, fantasy, and my personal favorite, comedy.

My reputation as a film connoisseur, and indeed a critic, would lose all credibility if I didn’t acknowledge the contributions that the following gems have made to film: “Blade Runner,” “Terminator 2,” “The Matrix,” the original “Star Wars” trilogy and, in my view, the king of them all, Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

What do all the aforementioned films have in common? Granted, they all fall under the umbrella of science fiction, but there is another, more important similarity. They are all great films, period. They are so because they probe and dissect thought-perplexing concepts like artificial intelligence, evolution, religion, and existentialism in unique and unexpected ways through narrative and, especially in science fiction, through special effects.

“District 9” is no different.

The film interestingly begins in a mock-documentary style that establishes the setting, the characters and the fictional history surrounding Johannesburg, South Africa, with the same shaky cinematography that moviegoers will find reminiscent of 2008’s “Cloverfield.” In the first 20 or so minutes, we get a good sense of what’s going on through a series of interviews with important characters, newsreels and anecdotes.

We also meet Wikus Van De Merwe, who works for Multinational United, which is a private military contractor. When Merwe is promoted to manage the relocation process, he personally visits the ghettos (with backup, of course) and knocks on doors, politely asking the “prawn” to agree and accept the terms of relocation by signing a contract. The many “prawns” who oppose these terms are treated with force.


As the plot thickens and the suspense escalates, Merwe confiscates a mysterious alien tube and is then exposed to the tube’s contents. I won’t spoil what happens, but I’ll just say that Merwe’s promotion was perhaps more than what he bargained for.

It’s also important to note that the film’s setting in South Africa is no accident. Exploring themes of segregation, xenophobia and isolation, the social and racial parallels between “District 9” and the real world are as implicit as they are explicit. The title of the movie alludes to District Six, an inner-city residential area in Cape Town, Africa where over 60,000 of the city’s inhabitants were forcefully relocated in mass by the Apartheid regime.

At this point, only a few questions remain: does “District 9” deserve to be categorized with the likes of science-fiction gems like “Blade Runner,” “The Matrix,” and “2001: A Space Odyssey?”  Do the complex themes and narrative-style in “District 9” perplex our minds and delight us in unique and unexpected ways? Is “District 9” the kind of film that crosses genre-lines, the kind of film that everyone should see, even if you’ve convinced yourself that you don’ t particularly enjoy science fiction films? Yes, yes, and yes.

14 thoughts on “Movie Review: District 9”

  1. I donno Eliot. I think The Matrix franchise as a whole has been marred because of its sequels, but I’d argue that the original was and will always be one of the most innovative and and enthralling movies in the past decade. I think perhaps Tarantino put it best here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wz4K-Rxx2Bk starting at 3:08 or so.

  2. ^You won’t be disappointed, I went opening day and I was wowed.

    You will know what parts were taken from Halo, they are obvious and if they aren’t then we can talk about what we thought.

  3. i think the matrix is worth being in the same sentence as a space odyssey or blade runner eliot. the special effects, action sequences and overall cinematography were clearly some of the best ever seen in its time and its story was incredibly original and well thought out. i think that’s enough to put it in the same sentence as those movies.

    and i agree with this reviewer, district 9 really did surprise me, it’s brilliant. south african accents annoy the fuck out of me though lol.

  4. i think it should be eliot. its obvious improvements in its special effects, action sequences and overall cinematography were simply phenomenal in its time and highly influential. not to mention it had one of the most original stories and settings i’d ever seen in a sci fi film for a long time. i don’t see how it doesnt deserve to be put in the same sentence as a blade runner or something.

    and yea, district 9 is amazing. i really would put it right up there with those movies.

  5. I dunno I REALLY put Stanley Kubrick up high on my list of filmmakers–in fact I’m having a poster printed of him to hang on my wall because he’s one of my idols. The fact is, he never made a bad movie and he’s inspiring because he only made 2 movies with original scripts–every other movie of his was adapted from a book.

    While not necessarily in the realm of sci-fi but definitely in the realm of film itself, I consider 2001 to be lightyears beyond The Matrix and, even, Blade Runner. But that’s just me–I do agree that the latter two are astounding sci-fi films and examples of what good sci-fi can be but I agree with Missak about how the sequels to the Matrix kinda dove into the bullshit while the original just skimmed a little off the top.

  6. i thought the movie was good, but not as good as the hype around it. I don’t care much for politics and the movie tended to get rather deep in it. I got bored for a while when I saw it. The special effects were pretty awesome though.

    1. Well you’re entitled to your opinion, but I’d say you either don’t pay attention to immigration issues or rather refugee issues in the world or you didn’t pay enough attention to the movie to realize the commentary they were making about those issues.

      1. or i could be wrong and they were just using refugees and the situations that happen with refugees as a setting. But i viewed it as social/political commentary. especially if you look at many of the publicity vids they have on their site.

  7. fair enough eliot. it still makes sense to mention all three of them though. only mentioning that one movie would be saying a whole lot more.

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