In 2005, Neill Blomkamp created a short film called Alive in Joberg, which in turn was a proof-of-concept to showcase that it was possible to make a big sci-fi epic on a low budget. The end result worked and four years later, District 9 officially make its way into theaters. Starring Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, and David James, aliens had been on the earth for thirty years to find refuge from their dying planet. The mysterious species are separated from humans in a South African area, who are less concerned about the aliens well-being but will do anything to understand their advanced technology. When a field agent accidentally contracts a mysterious virus that begins to alter his DNA, there’s only one place he can hide: District 9. Blomkamp became the hottest director overnight as District 9 was highly praised for the incredible action and gut-wrenching story. Out of 314 reviews, the sci-fi feature received an astounding 90% on rotten tomatoes and garnered four Academy Award nominations including best picture. The film solidified Blomkamp as a force to be reckoned with as a filmmaker and over ten years later, the 2009 epic is considered a classic by many. So, did the Academy get it right by giving the new movie so many Oscar nominations? Or was this the case of District 9 being an overrated mess that shouldn’t have received its Oscar nominations? Let’s dive deeper into the 2009 sci-fi feature.
The best way to describe District 9 is that it’s essentially an adult version of ET, more bloody and violent counterpart. This isn’t a bad thing as District 9 is a great film. You would never be able to tell that this is Blomkamp’s first feature film based on the level of craft. The fact that this sci-fi feature was only made for $30 million showcases the level of talent that the filmmaker has. Of course, the glue that arguably holds the film together is Sharlto Copley’s Wikus Van De Merwe. It’s surprising to hear that this was the actor’s first-ever role as Copley simply did this as a favor for Blomkamp. The director was wise to have Copley improvise most of his scenes as the actor comes across as very natural throughout the documentary portion and his performance altogether keeps you invested in the film from beginning to end. Despite a lot of the over-the-top sci-fi effects, Copley’s performances remain grounded and he’s a likable presence to root for.
The supporting cast is full of intriguing and colorful characters. David James’s Koobus Venter is the perfect douchebag character that tries to foil Wikus Van De Merwe. Eugene Khumbanyiwa’s Obesandjo is another standout and though we don’t know much about how backstory, the character made for an interesting presence in the world of District 9. Speaking of the world, the visuals for District 9 are top-notch. From the high science fiction weapons to the alien designs themselves, Blomkamp’s work as a special effects artist really shining through here. The visual style also perfectly complements the themes and messages of the movie, and Blomkamp was smart enough not to go overboard with the futuristic landscape.
Of course, the most important aspect is the script, and that’s what’s why District 9 stands out as one of the best films in the early 2000s. The themes of the film are nothing new; however, the way District 9 tackles these messages helps keep the nearly two-hour run time very compelling until the credits roll. We’re able to connect with the social issues expressed in the sci-fi feature because of how realistic the approach is. Blomkamp doesn’t exactly get down to the root of the problems that plague our society, but the film still does an excellent job of exploring xenophobia, segregation, and miscegenation. Is District 9 a perfect film? No. There isn’t much dimension to James’s character other than to be a reckless a**hole. While he’s his comeuppance of being killed by the “prawns” will likely leave a smile on many faces, it would’ve been nice to give him and the MNU more layers to their deplorable actions. Their motivations are clear throughout the film, though their unbridled hate and disrespect for the aliens could’ve been explored a little bit more. All-in-all, if you didn’t get the message by now, then no, District 9 is not an overrated film. As previously stated, it’s not a perfect film, but no one is hailing it to be either. It’s definitely a great watch with a surprising amount of emotional depth.