District 9 - A Perspective From America
A brainwavez.org Film Review

United States of Americaby Jase Luttrell
Posted: 10 September 2009brainwavez.org Comments View Comments

It's very difficult not to have an opinion about District 9 so we thought we'd write two, independently, from different sides of the globe. In this review we feature the perspective from a member of the audience for which the movie was created, America, although other nationalities are certainly welcome to read it and are encouraged to comment (though they are also kindly asked to accept that the inadequacies of the film are an attempt to appeal to American audiences).

District 9
For nearly a year the Internet has been buzzing about District 9, although the buzz began as little more than an inaudible hum, in May the buzzing truly began with the previews attached to the X-Men Origins: Wolverine film, when the trailer for District 9 was first seen by audiences worldwide, and then in July when film was screened at the 2009 Comic Con in San Diego in the US. Aside from people commenting on the aggressive, guerilla-esque marketing campaign and the favourable and unfavourable reviews of director Neill Blomkamp's creative storyline and style, brainwavez.org is attempting to take a unique stance on the film: not only will we review the film, but we hope to present an overarching American perspective of the film, contrasted with the perspective of a native South African. Since I was born in America and spent most of my life there, clearly, I'll be presenting my opinions of the American perspective.

District 9 ticket stubAs a disclaimer, I think it's fair to say that District 9 was certainly intended for American audiences; after all, Americans spend a lot of money on movies. Though it may be an undeserved position, the US audience usually has a big say (in terms of dollars) in what becomes a box-office hit, which means that District 9 was written, directed, and produced for the minds of American audiences, especially the younger, science-fiction oriented set. Obviously, this target audience probably does not know much about apartheid, South Africa, or the country's history. If anything, the film might be an eye-opening lesson for a lot of clueless American youth, and I think it's a good thing that people learn about racism and human cruelty in the South African context, because they certainly aren't getting that perspective in American public schools (most likely).

District 9With that said, District 9 is really a study of human cruelty, aggression, the creation of the other, and, most optimistically, human compassion and empathy. The film begins with documentary style footage that follows Wikus van de Merwe (played by Sharlto Copley), a Multi-National United (MNU) field operative who is charged with the responsibility of leading a team of people in their efforts to relocate the aliens from the District 9 township into the new District 10 relocation camp. In the beginning, the storyline of Van de Merwe is spliced with footage of other MNU employees, Sarah Livingstone (a sociology professor played by Nathalie Boltt), and Van de Merwe's family (including his wife). Of these, the sociology professor provides the most informative perspective on the history of the alien's arrival, their relocation to District 9, and South Africa's apartheid past. As a whole, this character is the only example of a woman of power or prestige in the entire film; Van de Merwe's wife Tania (played by Vanessa Haywood) has few lines and is mostly seen crying, and the only other women to note include Van de Merwe's mother (again, crying a lot of the time), and some Nigerian prostitutes, who are most decidedly not crying a lot (though their depiction does present a shining beacon of positivity for the female image).

As the plot follows Wikus van de Merwe and his efforts to oust the aliens from District 9 the audience experiences what can only be considered the worst of conditions in the slums. If American audiences were shocked by the scenes in Slumdog Millionaire they would most certainly be shocked by similar conditions, but rife with prawn-like aliens running around, rummaging through garbage, and masticating on canned cat food. Without spoiling the plot (or the cat food), Wikus' responsibility to relocate the aliens goes horribly awry and, with one specific event, a chain of events takes place that pits Wikus against MNU, humanity, Nigerian gangsters, and one perceptive, intelligent alien named (sarcastically, rudely, or hilariously by MNU) Christopher Johnson. Ultimately, Christopher attempts to help Wikus resolve his situation, and Wikus finds the compassion and empathy necessary to help Christopher and his son in their plight.

District 9Overall, the storyline is incredibly creative, even though it is a retelling of apartheid history. The crew really created a new world that was powerful, engaging, and explored the depths of human cruelty when motivated by greed, money, and excesses. I was not expecting a film that predominantly followed the actions of one man but I am glad the sole focus was on Wikus van de Merwe, and enjoyed watching his transition from a bumbling corporate man into the hero.

The filmography and cinematography was impressive, engaging, and brought the audience into the film. I was not distracted by the beginning of the film being shot as a documentary. In fact, I thought it gave a great history of the arrival of the aliens. I was impressed that there was footage of the aliens' arrival on Earth, their malnourished conditions, the establishment of the District 9 township, and the use of security cameras to follow Wikus van de Merwe. I thought the crossover from documentary to cinematic filming style was seamless, though was slightly jarred by the documentary-style interviews at the end of the film, and feel that this could have been handled better, mostly if there was documentary footage throughout the film, either of Wikus' trials or of ordinary people's reactions to the chain of events that unfolded from Wikus' actions with MNU.

District 9The music and score were somewhat typical, and in a sense disappointing; the orchestral pieces were appropriate, but the Indian-like chanting in the intro, credits, and key plot scenes was jarring, distracting, and seemed inappropriate for a South African film. I felt this was used to present a culturally distant, unknown environment for the (American) audience, which is certainly appropriate, but there are other ways of achieving these goals, one example would be the use of isicathamiya. I was a little disappointed that kwaito was not used in a more predominant way, though I was impressed that it was used in some scenes.

The sound editing was particularly intriguing, because during a scene in which Wikus is hiding from the MNU guards the scene shows him in a small area and, from the back of the theater, at an almost inaudible volume, I could hear the guards as they searched the premises. As they got closer, naturally, the volume became louder, and when the MNU guards went in a different direction the volume became softer. This created a layer of sounds, heightening the overall experience of being thrown into the world Neill Blomkamp created, though this would only be experienced in a theatre with surround sound. While I won't say that this was a new technique or particularly inventive, I will say that it was well executed.

District 9Clearly, I was most impressed by the film's ability to captivate the (American) audience, and to transport them to a new world and location. I firmly believe that few Americans know what life in South Africa (or any African country, for that matter) entails, and that District 9 portrays the complexities of race, gender, discrimination, and humanity very well, and that the film does so in an approachable, engaging manner. There are many layers of discrimination in the film (I've already mentioned some of the discrimination towards women). Some of these layers include language: the aliens are derisively referred to as "prawns", even by those supposedly sympathetic to the aliens' situation. Clearly, there is tension between the aliens and the humans because of their differences but there are marked divisions between the black and white populations, the black and alien groups, and clear divisions between the MNU officials and the field operatives (to which Wikus van de Merwe belongs). I feel Neill Blomkamp really explored the ways in which each population exploits and denigrates the other groups; the Nigerian gangsters exploit the aliens for money and power (going so far as to have sex with, kill, and eat the aliens to gain their power (their advanced weaponry)), and Wikus is exploited by his wife's father (an MNU executive). Wikus (and MNU as a whole) denigrate and attempt to control the aliens in the most vile of ways: they burn the aliens' eggs (I'm not talking about food eggs), and attempt to force them, in an illegal, bureaucratic way, into District 10, which is revealed by Wikus to be little more than a concentration camp, worse than the slum-like conditions of District 9. There is a surprising, yet realistic amount of deceit, corruption, greed, and cruelty in the film, which is the true beauty and genius of District 9.

District 9As a final note, there were a few things that bothered me within the film. First, the technology (weapons) the aliens had was biologically based, meaning that only the aliens could use it. If this was the case, why did the aliens not use their weapons against the humans that treated them so cruelly? The film gives the explanation that the leadership of the aliens died of malnourishment, and that the aliens that survived were the workers and presumably unaccustomed to using the weapons. It is also possible that the aliens were not harmful or cruel, which would further separate them from the behaviour of the humans. Finally, the only moment I was frustrated with the main character is when he attacks a helpful alien and attempts to leave the alien behind for his own personal gain, though he needs the expertise and knowledge of the alien to ensure his survival. It is very unclear what his motives were, or if he was simply acting out of futile impulsivity, which may be construed as very human in nature. I feel this moment was so frustrating because it comes towards the end of the film, and betrays Wikus' story arc transformation as a human becoming sympathetic to the aliens' condition.

There has already been some talk of a sequel to District 9, and whether this frustrates moviegoers or not is up to personal opinion but, as a stand-alone film, District 9 is inventive, eye-opening, and an approachable, yet in-your-face depiction of life in South Africa (with aliens, of course).

brainwavez.org OpinionShare/Save/Bookmark
Rating: 8/10
In One Word: Explorative
    Clever premise with
    Abundant human cruelty
    Poor, poor aliens

Key Facts: District 9
Year: 2009
Running Time: 112 minutes (approx)
Genre: Action, Science Fiction, Thriller
Format: Feature; widescreen 1:85; colour
Language: English, Nyanja, Afrikaans
Country: USA, New Zealand
    Director: Neill Blomkamp
      Sharlto Copley ... Wikus Van De Merwe
      Jason Cope ... Grey Bradnam - UKNR Chief Correspondent / Christopher Johnson (voice)
      Nathalie Boltt ... Sarah Livingstone - Sociologist
      Sylvaine Strike ... Dr Katrina McKenzie
      John Sumner ... Les Feldman - MIL Engineer
      William Allen Young ... Dirk Michaels
      Nick Blake ... Francois Moraneu - CIV Engineer Team
      Jed Brophy ... James Hope - Police Officer
      Louis Minnaar ... Piet Smit
      Vanessa Haywood ... Tania Van De Merwe
      Marian Hooman ... Sandra Van De Merwe
      Vittorio Leonardi ... Michael Bloemstein - MNU Alien Civil Affairs
      Mandla Gaduka ... Fundiswa Mhlanga
      Johan van Schoor ... Nicolas Van De Merwe
      Stella Steenkamp ... Phyllis Sinderson - MNU Alien Relations
      David James ... Koobus Venter
      Kenneth Nkosi ... Thomas
      Tim Gordon ... Clive Henderson - Entomologist
      Siyabonga Radebe ... Obesandjo's Lieutenant
      Eugene Khumbanyiwa ... Obesandjo
      Bill Block ... executive producer
      Philippa Boyens ... co-producer
      Elliot Ferwerda ... co-executive producer
      Peter Jackson ... producer
      Ken Kamins ... executive producer
      Michael S. Murphey ... supervising producer
    Original Music: Clinton Shorter
    Cinematography: Trent Opaloch
    Film Editing: Julian Clarke
    Casting: Denton Douglas
    Production Design: Philip Ivey
    Art Direction: Emilia Roux
    Set Decoration: Guy Potgieter
    Costume Design: Dianna Cilliers
      [ full cast and crew ]

On The Internet
Official Site: District 9
Other Sites: IMDb | Rotten Tomatoes | Wikipedia | Yahoo! Movies

Elsewhere On brainwavez.org
Marketing District 9: The Real World Campaign The marketing campaign for District 9 was one of the most extensive ever seen... if you lived pretty much anywhere but in Africa, where it didn't exist. Simultaneous campaigns were run in the real world, using traditional marketing techniques that included billboards and posters, and online, using social-neworking sites and web sites. This article focusses on the real-world campaign, most notably as was seen in key cities in the US in the run-up to the movie's release.
By: Mandy J Watson  |  Posted: 18 September 2009  |  View Comments
Category: Screen > Film > Features

District 9 - ZA Perspective District 9, alien and all, is an intrinsically South African tale but with themes distilled for international audiences. In this, the second of brainwavez.org's District 9 reviews, we present a South African perspective of what has become a global phenomenon. We encourage you to compare it to our previous review, written from an American perspective, and then let us know your thoughts in the comments.
By: Mandy J Watson  |  Posted: 10 September 2009  |  View Comments
Category: Screen > Film > Reviews

Alive In Joburg
Review: Alive In Joburg
brainwavez.org is taking a step away from reality to explore the alternate, alien-filled world of Neill Blomkamp's Alive In Joburg, the short film shot in 2005 that forms the basis for this year's blockbuster film District 9. Hopefully, if you can see past the poncho-wearing, grotesque aliens and the abundant anachronisms of the short, you will enjoy the splendid squalor of stranded aliens. Or something.
By: Jase Luttrell  |  Posted: 1 September 2009  |  View Comments
Category: Screen > Shorts > Reviews

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