Monday, August 17, 2009
REVIEW: District 9
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Starring: Sharlto Copley, Vanessa Haywood, Mandla Gaduka, Jason Cope, Vittorio Leonardi
Distributor: TriStar Pictures
MPAA: Rated R
In 2006, director Neill Blomkamp was chosen by Peter Jackson as the director of the Halo movie that Microsoft, Universal Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox were putting together. When Universal Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox backed out after 5 months of early development, the project went into hiatus. Peter Jackson and those involved in the Halo movie felt obligated to give financial support to Blomkamp and give him another chance to do another film. It was than decided that Neill's short film, Alive in Joburg could be expanded into a feature film. Work on the film began the day after the Halo movie was halted. The film's budget was set at a mear $30 million, which allowed the film crew to have more creative freedom. QED International fully financed the production of the film and entered into a distribution deal with Sony Pictures under TriStar Pictures.
It's been 28 years since the aliens made first contact, but there was never any attack from the skies, nor any profound technological revelation capable of advancing our society. Instead, the aliens were treated as refugees. The government of South Africa set up a makeshift home in District 9 as politicians and world leaders debated how to handle the situation. As the humans begin to grow wary of the unwelcome intruders, a private company called Multi-National United (MNU) is assigned the task of controlling the aliens. But MNU is less interested in the aliens' welfare than attempting to understand how their weaponry works. Unfortunately, the highly advanced weaponry requires alien DNA in order to be activated. When MNU field operative Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley) is exposed to biotechnology that causes his DNA to mutate, the tensions between the aliens and the humans intensifies. Wikus is the key to unlocking the alien's technology, and he quickly becomes the most wanted man on the planet.
The plot in District 9 is very good and easily makes for an entertaining movie. Not only is it original, but its just so damn refreshing to finally see something new and unique. The film is told in a documentary style that is somewhat similar to films such as Cloverfield and The Blair Witch Project. The fist half of the film moves at a slow pace while gearing up for an intense, action filled second half. The film does a wonderful job of telling its story that it would seem almost impossible for anyone to not understand whats going. Maybe it does too good of a job explaining everything that it makes the first half seem alittle longer than it should be. I also found the third act to go in a direction that I felt wasn't necessarily the right one. It just wasn't something I was expecting and felt somewhat off compared to what it was leading to. It also doesn't help that the film has many unnecessary use of foul language that honestly felt un-needed. Don't get me wrong, I love it when actors swear their brains off, but only if it feels natural. Pulp Fiction, my favorite film of all time has over 200 foul words, but it feels much more natural in that film than it does in this film. Its not something that I felt hampered the story, but just a small nitpick of mine. Other than these small issues, District 9 is definitely the best film of the Summer. Its exciting, entertaining and at times, breath-taking. District 9 delivers what many other summer films failed to deliver, which is a movie experience that your going to talk about for sometime.
Sharlto Copley plays as the main focus of the film, Wikus Van De Merwe. Having not heard of Copley before this film, I didn't know what to expect. Luckily, I wasn't disappointed because he gives a very good performance as Wikus and one that the audience will enjoy rooting for. He brings alot of emotions to Wikus and just makes him a very likable character. It also helps that he gets the most screen time out of everyone else in the film. Vanessa Haywood plays as Wiku's wife, Tania Van De Merwe. Shes also very good in her role especially for someone who I haven't seen in another movie. She has many emotional scenes that I think she nailed nicely. Shes perfect opposite Copley, but I do wish she had a bigger presence in the film. Mandla Gaduka plays as Fundiswa Mhlanga and hes pretty decent in the film. Its kind of hard to tell about his acting considering the films main focus is on Wikus and his struggle to find a cure. We also have Jason Cope playing as Grey Bradnam. He too is difficult to judge considering he doesn't get much screen time. Not to mention he is still early in his acting career.
The visual look of District 9 is simply astonishing. It was filmed in a documentary style with HD handy cams, kind of like Cloverfield. This adds a certain realism to the film and it almost feels like you right in the center of the action. This type of fast action/quick edit mixed with the jaw dropping special effects, simply make for one hell of a film. Just by judging the films TV spots, I doubt anyone would have guessed it was made for only $30 million. Director Blomkamp definitely has some tricks up his sleeve and he really helped out with the special effects team. Its also worth noting that the films transfer is excellent too. I didn't notice much grain aside from a few shots in the beginning. The image remained as smooth as possible for the remainder of the time. Colors were nicely saturated to the point where it really made the cast shine in the hot city of Johannesburg. Black levels were also strong and easily up their with some of the recent film releases. Flesh tones were spot on perfect and never displayed any micro-blocking. Detail is also great and easily tops some of the films I have seen lately. Close up shots show a great deal of clarity and pounds of sweat on the cast members. Its worth noting that the alien creatures are also amazingly detailed.
The soundtrack in District 9 is just as impressive as the special effects. The original music is done by composer Clinton Shorter, who has been scoring TV shows most of his life. Shorter's ambient music just goes perfectly hand and hand with Blomkamp's bleak vision for this film. The film doesn't have a particular theme song, which is a shame because I would have wanted something pacifically for this film that's epic like the Star Wars theme is to Star Wars. Still, the film has wonderful engaging music that never gets in the way of the story and always seems to be moving at a good pace. District 9 also features a good amount of bass usage that just simply blows everything in its path. I raved about how Cloverfield was demo material in terms of sound, which it still is. That said District 9 comes dead even if not one step higher than Cloverfield in terms of a rocking theater experience. This film is guaranteed to be demo worthy when it hits Blu Ray later this year. Trust me, its really amazing.
District 9 is a breath of fresh air that just happens to be the best summer film to grace the big screen this year. Its original, its gripping and damn well entertaining. It is really the film we the movie lovers have been craving for considering the lack of originality coming from Hollywood in the past few years. If it weren't for the third act and slightly overuse of foul language, it would of ranked as high as an "A". The cast is mostly good with hardly anyone else being a significant part other than Wikus. The special effects are outstanding and truly impressive for a film made on only $30 million. It honestly gives Michael Bay and his $200 million budget Transformers sequel, the middle finger. The soundtrack is equally impressive and certainly delivers the right type of music for the right type of atmosphere. The bass is going to be demo worthy for years to come. I recommend this to those looking for a great Sci-Fi action film or to those who were left with a bad taste in their mouth because of the crappy summer films we have lately been getting.