2009-09-11 / Entertainment/Lifestyles

MovieScope

'District 9' - Space Alien Apartheid
By Robert Snyder

Steven Spielberg missed his shot. "District 9" is the movie he should have made. However, the honor for this innovative, inverted space-alien apartheid metaphor goes to South African writer/ director Neill Blomkamp, with "Lord of the Rings" wizard Peter Jackson hovering in the shadows as producer.

At first, the film seems deceptively low-budget. Presented as a cheapo-documentary, it parades a series of news footage-type scenes chronicling the apocalyptic appearance of a huge flying saucer frozen in the air over Johannesburg. The South African authorities enter the ship to find millions of starving, human-sized crablike creatures they sarcastically christen, "prawns." Rather than attempt to embrace the obviously higher-intellect interplanetary immigrants, the human leaders herd them into an impoverished ghetto slum, "District 9," only to decide 20 years later to relocate them to another worse one, District 10.

In charge of this operation is a shady group called MNU (Multi-National United), which has designs on the strange, but potentially powerful weaponry accompanying and genetically connected to the prawns. It is because of this genetic connection that only the prawns can make the weapons work, which is also a source of great frustration to a bunch of Nigerian gangsters, who are amassing the weapons by tempting the prawns with their one addiction, cat food.

Into this bizarre scenario comes unlikely hero, Wilkus van der Merwe (Sharito Copley). A hopeless geek, Wilkus is promoted by MNU as lead agent to go into District 9 and convince the prawns to leave their shanties. While gleefully doing his unenviable duty, he discovers an illegal laboratory in the home of a prawn with the Earthly name of "Christopher Johnson" (Jason Cope) and his little alien boy. Inspecting a canister, Wikus gets a face full of black fluid.

Before long, we find that he has contracted a virus, that is slowly transforming him into a prawn. This is good for the MNU folks, who want to dissect him and see if he has the stuff to make the prawn weaponry work. Wilkus escapes, turning the film into a combination of "The Fly" and "The Fugitive." In fact there's even a little "Iron Man" thrown in for good measure, when Wikus slides inside a big "Transformer"-type contraption.

At this point, it is obvious that "District 9" is no bargain basement blockbuster. This is a full-blown Peter "King Kong" Jackson extravaganza. But it has heart, soul and a strong social conscience.

Eat your heart out, Mr. Spielberg, at Oscar time.

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