Over twenty years ago, aliens made first contact with Earth. Humans waited for the hostile attack, or the giant advances in technology. Neither came. Instead, the aliens were refugees from their home world. The creatures were set up in a makeshift home in South Africa's District 9 as the world's nations argued over what to do with them.
Now, patience over the alien situation has run out. Control over the aliens has been contracted out to Multi-National United (MNU), a private company uninterested in the aliens' welfare. MNU will receive tremendous profits if they can make the aliens' powerful weaponry work. So far, they have failed; activation of the weaponry requires alien DNA.
The tension between the aliens and the humans comes to a head when MNU begins evicting the non-humans from District 9, with MNU field agents responsible for moving them to a new camp. One of the MNU field operatives, Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley), contracts an alien virus that begins changing his DNA. Wikus quickly becomes the most hunted man in the world, as well as the most valuable—he is the key to unlocking the secrets of alien technology. Ostracized and friendless, there is only one place left for him to hide: District 9.
Seeing as I'm less than 30 years old, I wasn't culturally or politically aware enough to understand, or even be around conversation concerning apartheid in South Africa. Even as I grew (relatively) older, and spouted some political beliefs, the issues of a country so far away never crossed my mind. Therefore, rather than regurgitating the history of South Africa regarding District Six, segregation, and apartheid, in relation to the South African film 'District 9,' I feel it is more relevant to look from within than from without when considering the messages in the film. Certainly, the parallels to real life will fly right over the heads of many (though only a few minutes of light reading will solve that, and give even more appreciation to the depth of the film), but analogies and intelligence aside, 'District 9' belongs in the newly expanded Best Picture race for the upcoming Academy Awards, as a representative of how powerful film can be, regardless of who is behind the camera or in front of it.
Written and directed by Neill Blomkamp, 'District 9' is a tale of change, from indifference, to acceptance, a journey of self discovery wrapped up in a science fiction world with alien inhabitants. Aliens have landed on Earth, contact has been made. The creatures, known by the derogatory term Prawns, have been brought from their disabled ship to the surface, and forced to live in slums. Tensions and pressure has caused the decree that their camp be moved, and all Prawns relocated further away from the human inhabitants of Johannesburg.
Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley) is an MNU (Multi-National United) employee, recently promoted in time to be the face of the change, underhandedly forcing the aliens to sign eviction notices, even tricking them by offering cat food in exchange. During one of his encounters on this fateful day, he accidentally sprays a chemical from a container in a hidden Prawn safe-room in his face, and soon becomes ill.
Slowly transforming into one of the creatures he has taken advantage of and looked down upon, Wikus becomes a hunted man. Prawn weapon technology is bio-engineered so only they can utilize it, but his ever-changing DNA has given him the ability to utilize their secrets. The MNU want him for an experiment, while his only interest is to become himself again, and to do so, he will have to learn about what he is to become, to find out who he was in the first place.
'District 9' is a peculiar film, but in a good way. It begins in somewhat documentary fashion, foreshadowing what is to come through interviews with Wikus' coworkers, as well as Wikus himself. We follow the somewhat annoying young man through his first grasp at leadership, as he struggles with the cock sure military elements of his own unit. He drips in slime as he coerces the inhabitants of District 9 to give up their homes, a tin walled shanty town as is, for tiny tents. It is only when things go wrong that we start to see the film from another set of eyes, as laws are broken, sometimes to great extremes, chaos exudes from a man once ruled by order. Soon, unpredictability is the norm for a man living a new life, in constant fear, hunted by everyone around him.
When Wikus comes to grips with what he is, the hunted becomes the hunter. Early on, he appears ignorant to the truth, and even appears to lie once he discovers it (though, honestly, he could be so caught up in himself and his drama that he doesn't pay attention to the world around him). His friendship with the one Prawn who knows his dilemma, who can promise a cure, shows how wrong he was for so long.
Aside from the South African parallels, there are some very deep and dark analogies to real life events. The Prawns have spray painted or tattooed tags, numbers, on their heads, much akin to the tattoes inflicted on Jews by the Nazis. The only difference is that the Prawn cannot see the marks on the side of their heads, and can hardly hide them. Their lives are considered insignificant by their oppressors. They are relegated to ghettos, where they would be easy to round up. They are considered sub-human, rather than equal but different. There is anti-alien propaganda everywhere, much like the dehumanizing agenda that swept Germany. Aliens are even said to contain disease, adding stigma to those who would associate with them.
'District 9' is incredibly smart, not just for its political analogies. Wikus' change is reminiscent of a certain Mr. Brundle, losing teeth, skin peeling, fingernails falling off. He is also reminiscent of Michael Rennie from 'The Day the Earth Stood Still,' an alien among men, blending in with his hunters (he is also similar in that, due to being unrecognizable to American audiences, he was alien to us), not to mention Vic Morrow (in his dying role), who played the racist from the 'Twilight Zone: The Movie,' cursed to face the prejudices he has lived by on the other end of the stick. Also worth noting are the Nigerian characters, opportunists, weapons dealers, trying to craft a living in District 9 off the back of the Prawns. They stab their neighbors in the back (literally), and consume them, believing they will consume their power, much like many darker beliefs on gaining the knowledge of an enemy by dining on their brains. The world inhabited by alien and humankind alike is so strangely similar to our own, with very light twists that one would expect after twenty years of exposure to the third kind.
Powerful in its portrayal of a man facing what he once was, transforming in more ways than just physical, in addition to being a solid sci-fi tale, and an important parallel to events that affected many for decades, 'District 9' is enjoyable for face value alone, but is stupendous for how amazingly deep and intricate the tale of segregation is, hiding under the guise of yet another "alien film." One of the best movies of the year, regardless of genre or country of origin, 'District 9' belongs in many a collection, with amazing replay value and an important message that doesn't fade.
'District 9' is presented by way of a 1080p AVC MPEG-4 encode in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, capturing the grit and extreme character of the film nearly flawlessly.
A film loaded with character, by way of decay and debris, 'District 9' brings beauty to the ugly. The ghetto is loaded with trash, graffiti, rust and decay, and there's no better way to see every inch of alien squalor than with this Blu-ray. Detail is out of this world (yes, that will be the only pun found here), with extreme clothing fabric and pattern definition, down to the stitching, super sharp characteristics in facial features, and nearly every inch of the sets. The picture is infinitely deep, and remains sharp, no matter how far down the rabbit hole goes.
Colors are natural and amazing. Edges are clean, and natural, without haloing issues, or any stairstepping or jaggedness, as this transfer is free from aliasing, even with the sometimes erratic camera movements. Skin tones are natural, though sometimes varied due to lighting, like the light from the camera in early sequences. Blacks are perfect in depth and brightness, while whites are clean and natural. Shadow definition is solid. I got a hell of a kick out of the heat waves that emanated from the Prawn technology.
Not all is perfect, though, with some issues that can be attributed to the transfer, some with the source. There's a wide range of film grades used in some sequences to show age, from security footage, to vintage news footage, that is clearly not up to the high bar set by the main aesthetic. The camera movements can be disorienting to some, rarely staying static. The Prawns seem to stand out a little, in that they are a hair lighter in definition than their surroundings, with a bit of softness in their hides preventing super clean definition that you see in humans, while the "evolutionary" changes are quite defined. There's a small amount of digital noise to be found, as well as some very light banding as well. In the grand scheme of things, though, 'District 9' is a stunner, a visual treat.
The audio for 'District 9' defaults to a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix (while an English descriptive audio track and lossless French dub are also available) that's as breathtaking as the video.
Perhaps I was spoiled by 'Gamer,' but I just can't give this track a perfect five star rating. It isn't that it's bad, by any means (as the score given will attest), it just doesn't live up to some of the more lively mixes available, and seems somewhat limited at times. Dialogue is clear, always understandable (save for the obvious clicking Prawn language, and occasional ethnic dialogue that is quite indiscernible for this set of ears), always prioritized. The dialogue can jump with the movement or rattling of Wikus' clip-on microphone, a neat little gimmick.
Localization is solid, and I found great enjoyment out of the placement of the dialogue from the camera operator, as it is located in the rears when Wikus is in the focus. The film puts you right in the middle of the action, at times like you're Wikus, experiencing the sights and sounds he does, while other times like you are behind the camera. No matter how you see it, it's an incredibly immersive audio environment, made all the better by the superb directionality and movement effects.
Bass levels start light, but slowly pick up in ferocity as the film treks along, growing to a head in the second act, and exploding from the tension in the climax. Gunfire was a tad less than impressive, sadly, but has a beautiful high pitched ring. Just as the bass expounds and explodes, so does the activity through the surround speakers, as the shit hits the veritable fan when the search copters fly overhead over the alien ghetto. The whine from the Prawn weapon use is also superb, hitting a great high pitch.
The score can get drowned out and overwhelmed by atmospheric (and action) elements, and sounds raspy due to such. Rear use was solid, but sometimes would fade a bit, rather than picking up intensity, also. This is a great sound mix, worthy of great praise, it just falls short of the rarified air, the highest echelon. Close counts, though, in horse shoes, hand grenades, and audio mixes.
'District 9' had me curious with its trailer, but nothing could have prepared me for the trip that the film is, a fantastic blend of intelligence and action. The replay value is infinite, as I found it to grow better with each and every viewing. This Blu-ray sports fantastic video and audio, and a healthy pile of extras. Based on the strength of the film and the disc, this is a must own title if ever there was one.