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. "District 9"

What auteur Neill Blomkamp would have you believe in his distopian vision of Johannesburg, South Africa, is that a jagunda space ship came to earth some 20 plus years ago and lost the module that gave it navigational power, leaving it to hover over the city like a dirigible of doom.

At first, they expected a hostile attack, but it never came. Instead, Johannesburgers discovered an alien population within the craft, which they kindly transferred to a makeshift terrestrial area for their otherworldly visitors not unlike a Brazilian favela.

For all this time the aliens, designed by Image Engine of Canada from the Goliath beetle and which look like a cyborg experiment in an underwater metal shop, fought for survival, dreamed of their home planet, and procreated, with their mother ship in the sky over them like an inert protective shell, visually akin to the space ship in "Independence Day."

This area, branded as District 9, has become home to a disparate population putting pressure on the police to maintain order. Rowdy and opportunistic bands compete for existence by any means against more law-abiding residents, with cheating and crimes on the rise. A sociopathic gang of Nigerian humans headed by evil and corrupt boss Obesandjo (Eugene Khumbanyiwa), operate within the district, setting up shop to acquire alien ray guns in exchange for canned cat food -- a virtual narcotic to alien appetites.

The aliens have no facility to speak English, though they understand it, as humans have learned to understand their sounds of clicks and beeps. The privately owned Multi-National United (MNU) company has been commissioned to keep order in the increasingly troublesome District, which it does with personnel tanks, planes, helicopters and a battery of weaponry.

Though the aliens have proven not to be hostile, they have come with these smart ray guns that have a hundred times the power of the best hand-held human-made rifles and machine guns. The distinguishing characteristic of these death machines is the complete obliteration of their targets with only approximate aiming. But, the guns are of no use to MNU because they are genetically controlled. Only an alien can fire them, and a study of how to get past this obstacle is an ongoing task for the scientists.

Before tensions reach the breaking point, MNU decides to evict non-humans from District 9 and move them to a tented encampment miles away. All this background data is reported to us with news and interview footage by a collection of experts (rather stunningly by Sylvaine Strike as Dr. Katrina McKenzie) and with a running, into-the-camera narrative by Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley), the Afrikaaner appointed to head up the eviction operation through a process of nepotism.

Informing us of what led up to MNU's decision, he announces his commission with visible, sappy pride. He refers to the aliens as "Prawns" (with apologetic intercuts about the acceptability of the word for their uninvited, rowdy visitors) and proceeds to direct the virtual invasion of the District as though he's the narrator of a reality show--which is pretty much what he's putting on. He goes door to door in the District in an attempt to get every alien evictee's signature of acceptance, a fine point to make the dislocation seem perfectly correct by all standards of human legality and decency. Even his pretty and supportive wife Tania (Vanessa Haywood) thinks her man's accomplishment is grand.

Playing it for the news cameras, Wikus shows a denial of danger easily confused with blind courage. The man is naive, daft or smugly brave as he charges up to the doors of the shacks like a census taker on steroids, his mouth going a mile a minute dealing with all manner of unexpected reaction from the aliens. But his foppish enthusiasm doesn't allow him to see or understand exactly what he's stirring up and how he's stumbling into a trouble pot the likes of which will change his self-aggrandizing, obstinately-peachy speech like a spit shine losing its shine in cattle muck.

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He will be disowned by his company, his wife, his friends. MNU will unleash its deadliest forces against him, and all he'll have left are the cat food sellers and a singularly decent and intelligent Prawn father with a genius young son who have something everyone's been looking for for years. Oh, and one more thing. Wikus will become prized all over again for his sudden ability to fire the alien weapons.

The basis of the action is a great achievement of style and concept but it owes almost everything to a number of predecessors. "Independence Day," for one; The subjective video camera presence and breathless pace of "Cloverfield," and its forerunner, "The Blair Witch Project" for two others. David Cronenberg's "The Fly" fits in for another reason. But for all the debt to films that Blomkamp may owe, he's given us an original.

The satire is pronounced; the irony is finely cut; the humor is rich and organic; the horrific is plenty slimy; and, the kick in the guts to human nature is properly disturbing. The writing and direction is a superb realization of all that plus all the technical challenges of sci-fi action and destruction. Small wonder that a filmmaker like Peter Jackson ("Lord of the Rings") made such an exciting piece of work possible with financial backing.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Opinion Section
Comments from readers:
Well written
Site rating: 10

                                                           ~~ don n.
Very well written, perceptive
I've seen the movie and I agree with the review
Site rating: 9

                                                           ~~ Dan
Very well written, perceptive
This review will influence me to read more by and recommend this reviewer.
Site rating: 9

superb synopsis of the whole plot.

                                                           ~~ stormy norman2
[Ed. note: Not quite. There's no mention of his arm and his metamorphosis, nor any of the details after that; no mention of finding the underground you-know-what, the alien named Christopher, nor the ultimate resolution. There's just enough here to get an idea of the characters and situation that set this apart as a highly unique piece of filmmaking. Some commenters (who didn't furnish their email address) have called this review a synopsis also, but they forget how much more of the story there is than what's covered here. As for spoilers, the publicity photos reveal more than this review does.]

Very well written, perceptive
This review will influence me to read more by and get my local newspaper to hire this reviewer.
I've seen the movie and: I agree with the review
Site rating: 8

                                                           ~~ Carl W.
Very well written
This review will influence me to read more by this reviewer
Site rating: 7

                                                           ~~ Wallace

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Sharlto Copley as Wikus van der Merwe
The over-his-head front man for official inhumanity.

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