Thursday, August 13, 2009

Humans Relocate Another Alien Race Into District 9

Science Fiction movies tend to have a greater struggle to pull in audiences, when the director is an unknown, when the movie doesn't have a big money star, or in the case of "District 9" contains a hidden agenda, one that is political. District 9 takes place in Johannesburg South Africa, and has many little parallels with the now defunct apartheid. This movie works because it doesn't try very hard to give us a much too complicated history of the aliens or where they come from or why they stopped in South Africa, they are just there.

The movie opens in what looks like raw footage of a alien space craft, we learn that it just appeared over the skies of South Africa one day and just stayed. As the movie continues we get a documentary-style series of interviews that introduce us to the fact that twenty years before the ship appeared and just hovered over the city until eventually humans take the initiative and cut into the ship. They discover a large group of aliens who are malnourished and sick. More grainy footage shows part of the ship, supposed to be a command module falling to Earth, but nobody has been able to find it, this leaves the ship inoperable. The creatures, called "prawns" as a derogatory reference to the sea creature which they resemble, are housed in a government camp. The alien race's true name is also never explained or learned. The camps quickly become slums where a massive black market is set up between the aliens and a group of Nigerians primarily led by Mumbo, a paralyzed warlord. In addition to inter-species prostitution, the Nigerians exchange canned cat food for alien weapons. Patience over the alien situation has run out and control over them has been contracted to Multi-National United (MNU), a private company that shows little regard for the aliens' welfare. The MNU corporation is only interested in using the aliens' advanced weaponry, but its integration with alien biology makes it useless for humans.

An MNU field operative named Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley), is set with a task to move 1.8 million aliens to a new District 10 camp with the help from private security forces working for MNU. While inspecting a suspicious alien residence, Wikus handles an alien device which squirts a dark liquid into his face. He becomes very sick and collects the device as evidence. he returns back to the company to fill out forms, he experiences several side effects of this liquid. Side effects that get progressively worse as time passes. shortly after exposure to the liquid, Wikus's left arm mutates into a claw exactly like that of a prawn. After collapsing at a surprise party in his house, and a doctor at a local hospital discovers his alien left arm, Wikus is taken into custody and a series of tests and experiments are performed on him; these reveal that his alien DNA allows him to operate alien weapons. The scientists discover that his DNA is currently "in balance" with the alien DNA, which is gradually taking over. They decide to harvest his body for biological material at this critical point, to have the greatest chance of replicating his ability to use alien technology in other humans later. To reduce any side-effects, no anesthetic was used. However, during the attempted vivisection Wikus escapes after overpowering his captors, and flees from MNU.

Thus begins the chase and where this movie actually picks up its pace. Wikus seeks refuge in the run-down shack of an alien called Christopher Johnson, the same alien who Wikus attempted to evict earlier, who created the alien device that infected Wikus. The device contains fuel that Christopher scavenged from various alien parts scattered around District 9. Although initially hostile towards Wikus, Christopher eventually agrees to help him reverse the transformation if Wikus will retrieve the fuel from MNU labs. Christopher promises to undo the mutation by getting Wikus aboard the mother ship hovering over Johannesburg, and shows Wikus the ship's command module, which has been hidden under his shack.

Wikus steals some alien weaponry from Mumbo and his gang, with Mumbo vowing to capture Wikus and eat his mutated arm. With Christopher's help they launch an assault on MNU and successfully retrieve the fuel sample. While there, Christopher discovers that MNU has been experimenting on his people. Wikus and Christopher fight their way back to District 9 and Christopher begins preparations to leave. He tells Wikus that he must first return to his home world to seek help for his people before he can cure Wikus. Furious, Wikus knocks Christopher unconscious and powers up the ship himself. The MNU mercenaries target Wikus and destroy one of the command module's engines, causing it to crash land inside District 9. After Wikus is captured by MNU, a battle between the MNU mercenaries and Mumbo's gang breaks out. After a protracted firefight, the Nigerians capture Wikus. Just before Wikus' arm is chopped off, Christopher's son activates several systems in the mothership, including the autopilot routine of a mechanized battle suit; it slaughters Mumbo and his men after they fire on it. Wikus enters the alien walker battle suit, and after initially attempting to flee, returns and rescues Christopher. Armed with a lightning cannon, tracking missiles, and a high-powered machine gun, Wikus begins to fight the MNU men. After being knocked over by a anti-tank sniper round, he convinces Christopher to return to the shuttle without him, over Christopher's objections. Christopher promises Wikus that he will return in three years to repair his body. Christopher then boards the shuttle and activates a tractor beam which returns the command module to the mother ship.

Wikus is shot in the back and the walker suit ejects him. Wikus, heavily wounded, begins dragging himself away from the leader and sole survivor of an MNU squad, but is quickly caught. As Wikus prepares to die, aliens burst out of the surrounding slums and dismember the mercenary. The film concludes with another series of interviews and news broadcasts, providing human opinions on the events that unfolded. The aliens are successfully moved to District 10, which now has a population of 2.5 million and is growing. One of Wikus' coworkers hacks MNU's database and publicly exposes their illegal genetic experiments. There are many differing theories on Wikus' fate. Some people believe that he either left on the mother ship, is in hiding, was captured by MNU or a government agency. Some interviewees hypothesize that the aliens are planning to return with a full army and declare war on humanity. An interview with Wikus' wife Tania Van De Merwe (Vanessa Haywood) reveals a small metal rose was left on her doorstep she thinks maybe it was from her husband.

I give District 9 a 3 and on my avoidance scale a 0, the movie is slow to start but it does pick up the pace and when it does my advice is to hold on. This movie runs with the adrenaline of a stampeding elephant. The special effects are insane, the alien weapons, once they can be fired are so intense they have to be seen to be believed. Go see this movie it is one of the better surprise hits of the summer season.

District 9 is rated R for Bloody Violence and Pervasive Language
Running time is 1 hr. 53 mins.

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