nyone who saw the previews for “District 9” knew two things. First, it was produced by Peter Jackson and second, it was going to use the documentary format. The viral advertising campaign for this film led many viewers to expect a horror flick that would chill and thrill them. Yet this was not the end product. While the movie wasn’t scary at all, it ended up being much better than one might expect.
This film uses the documentary genre as a brilliant conceit. It lures the audience in to a reality-television mindset that automatically accepts the realism of the visual story endemic to the genre, while establishing a sympathetic link to the main characters of the story much more quickly. This also allows the actual plot of the film to sneak in under the audience’s radar as it feels like one is simply watching the news or maybe even the History Channel.
The use of unrecognizable actors was also a brilliant ploy. It allowed the “person on the street” interactions with the camera to seem more real. And the actor who played the main character, Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley), had the added benefit of never being in any other major films before. This allowed him to blend seamlessly into the background until the events of the film thrust him into the spotlight.
The same might be said of the director Neill Blomkamp. A relative unknown prior to this film, with only short films or commercials on his resume, he manages to wow the world with this major debut (thanks to Peter Jackson’s support).
The special effects and CGI are phenomenal. The aliens seem like actors in costumes. Even the floating spaceship in the background appears so real that the resulting cinematography has beautiful dramatic appeal. There is also plenty of gore to appeal to those viewers who were looking for dramatic action.
Yet despite the fact that this film is unlike anything ever done before, it somehow remains unsurprising. The major plot developments are essentially predictable as they smack of previous films like “Enemy Mine” and “Alien Nation” with the themes of discrimination and the depravity of humanity.
While the location in Africa for a movie like this is unique, the subsequent military control of the aliens is not. Nor are the many plot twists along the way fresh in any capacity. Is it really a unique twist to find the sympathetic virtues of a despised race? Or even to see the cowardly underdog come into his own and find the courage the audience always knew was there?
This is not a film that shows movie-goers anything incredibly new as far as character or plot are concerned. However, it is still a film that will have people talking for quite some time. Whether it is the special effects or the presentation, this film is as distinctive as the guy in the pink tux at prom. It’s not quite what one expects, but it will be long remembered.