The summer of 2009 was slated to be the clash of the big sci-fi movies with Star Trek, Terminator Salvation and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen poised to take on one another for the best summer sci-fi movie. The results were pretty mixed with Star Trek having a nice restart, Transformers having more blasts than anyone has ever had since the Big Bang and still disappointing miserably while Terminator Salvation totally disappeared with barely a whimper. It seemed like Star Trek was the sci-fi movie of the summer until this very heavily under-rated movie called District 9 (D9) burst onto the scene. And after viewing D9, the comparison becomes as fair as comparing an ARR album to that of a Deva (for non-Tam junta, replace Deva with Anu Malik and you get the idea). This Peter Jackson produced, Neill Blomkamp directed movie blows the screws out of the competition and if it has to be described in a single word, then the word is fantaballistic (Or as Namitha would say it in her deep baritone voice “Kalakkitte Machan Kalakkitte”)
It is very rare that you come across a movie that shakes you at the very core with the concept and D9 truly belongs to that class of movie (While I have watched loads and loads, tons and tons of movies, a reaction like this was reserved was for very few movies notably after watching or rather understanding the funda of Matrix, The Dark Knight etc). The premise of D9 start of by taking the age old idea of aliens landing on the earth, however the twist here is that the aliens are a malnourished and weak species when they land and hence have been segregated into a community called District 9. Unlike other movies, wherein the aliens typically seem to plonk themselves in front of the White house or Capitol Hill or Hugh Heffner’s mansion, in this case the alien ship appears over Johannesburg 20 years ago and have been coexisting with the general populace. However, this is an uneasy coexistence and soon tensions within the communities grow and the increasing xenophobia forces the government to hire a corporation to start evicting the aliens (derogatorily referred to as prawns) to a new base. This is where the story starts
Shot in the style of the Blair Witch project and Cloverfield, D9’s story proceeds in the form of a mock documentary with news feeds, interview snippets and hidden cams. It captures the movement of Wickus Van Der Merwe (Sharlto Copley) who heads the team behind the eviction. During the eviction, things go wrong and Wickus gets infected with an experimental strain that begins to transform him into an alien. The stakes are now high as the corporation heading the eviction wants to harvest Wickus’ body parts in order to use the alien’s weapons which can be activated only the alien’s DNA. Wickus escapes and the man(nay alien) hunt starts. Wickus drifts back into D9 to escape his captors and slowly gains understanding on what it means to be hunted, segregated and be constantly targeted. He befriends another alien who promises a cure but at a cost. What is the cost and what is the cure forms the basis of the remaining part of the movie and makes for compelling viewing.
Considering how I have totally elevated the movie, is D9 truly a movie without faults? Nay is the answer. The last half hour of the movie suddenly shifts direction and becomes somewhat commercial with robots and all. Also there is a feeling that the ending left things hanging a bit. Despite all these faults, it is still a brilliantly awesome movie and worth watching.
The setting for this movie is brilliant as I just finished reading a Wilbur Smith novel (Power of the Sword) which is on the history of S Africa and in which the call for Apartheid is given in District 6. Blacks were forcibly evicted from District 6 as per the policy of Apartheid. S Africa with its history of separateness is an apt choice for the movie’s setting.
Copley steals the show as Wickus. This is easily among the most brilliant acting I have had the fortune to see. Before he gets infected, Wickus has the supercilious air of a man who knows things better than the prawns and just wants to get things done. There is this sneer behind his visage at the life that the prawns lead. After he gets infected, he is a man lost who does not know what to believe and on the run, he again emotes very well. Trying to reach out to his wife or foraging for survival items, Wickus is brilliant. Then there is a third Wickus. A Wickus who now hopes for a cure and is willing to do anything, including kill his former team mates for the same. A Wickus who now understands what it means to be a prawn.
Slick camera work, crisp screenplay and a haunting background score are other areas where the movie truly rocks. Pacing of the movie is exceptional. There are places where the movie just rushes but the director has given enough places where the pace slows down to let it sink for the audience. It is a fairly disturbing movie and gross in some places too. There are shots of bodies flying, hacked into pieces as well as simply blown apart. This is definitely not a movie for the fainthearted.
Last Word. Watch it!!!!
Rating – 9/10
PS: I did not mean to disparage Star Trek. JJ Abrams have done a fantastic job for revitalizing the franchise. Its just that a movie like Star Trek will come once every year but a movie like D9 is once every decade if we are lucky.