The buzz for District 9 started nearly as quickly as the first trailer dropped. Little was ever reported about the film during its production, but once Peter Jackson began to trump it up as an amazing sci-fi outing, people started to take notice. Magazines like Entertainment Weekly trumpeted it for months before its release and once it hit the film received overwhelmingly positive reviews (it currently resides at a 90% on Rotten Tomatoes). The film was budgeted for a mere $30 million and it made all of that back and then some, with a worldwide intake of $204 million. Director Neill Blomkamp played all the right cards when making this movie, including setting it up for a sequel down the line should he and Sony decide to push forward with the not-so-subtly mentioned District 10.
From producer Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings Trilogy) and director Neill Blomkamp comes a startlingly original science fiction thriller that “soars on the imagination of its creators” (Peter Travers, Rolling Stone). With stunning special effects and gritty realism, the film plunges us into a world where the aliens have landed… only to be exiled to a slum on the fringes of Johannesburg. Now, one lone human discovers the mysterious secret of the extraterrestrial weapon technology. Hunted and hounded through the bizarre back alleys of an alien shantytown, he will discover what it means to be the ultimate outsider on your own planet.
The main thing about this film was the originality that Blomkamp brought to the genre. Yes, it is essentially an amalgam of various other genres as well and, in essence, it really didn’t bring anything new to film itself…it just took all the best elements of others and merged them into one film that still managed to somehow feel entirely fresh. So the film isn’t perfect in that regard, but it honestly does such a fantastic job with nearly every element of the story that it’s hard not to get wrapped up in it right from the start. Of course there are some detractors to the whole thing, but overall it’s a remarkable story that never once fails to impress the crap out of you.
What’s so great about this film is the intro to it and how ambiguous it makes everything. There are elements that you pick up on immediately, such as the confrontation between Sharlto Copley and David James characters. But you don’t really get a sense for what the film will be until the interviewees that litter the first forty-five minutes of the film start to talk about Copley’s character in the past-tense. You wonder what could go so horribly awry with this seemingly nerdy and non-imposing fellow that it would cause people to talk about him in such a fashion. In a way it ruined the ending of the movie…but it also built it up into a giant mystery.
What does eventually happen to him, however, is probably the biggest “twist” of the film. Not that this film really needed a twist, but the fact we didn’t get our usual happy ending to this emotionally ripping film was incredibly disorienting. It’s one of those things, however, that because it’s not what you’re expecting you end up enjoying it way more. Such was the case with Knowing–I fully expected that movie to suck wholeheartedly, but because it kept throwing curve balls at me I ended up enjoying it way more than I probably should have. But the ending to the film wasn’t the most exciting part to be honest, as there were so many moments in the film that one could easily find to be edge-of-your-seat type stuff. Honestly from Copley’s characters exposure to the…well, whatever it was, to his gradual…well, I’ll leave that as a surprise, as it really is one of the most gripping and painful elements of the film to watch. That part where he peels a giant chunk of flesh back just…ugh.
Which is another area where this film excelled—gross out visuals. There were a ton of them and the majority of them came from humans, as the prawns (the aliens in the film) rarely exhibited behavior as disgusting or gory as the humans did in this film. Still, there really is a lot in this film to dissect and it really doesn’t end at the films visuals, the myriad of characters (all played by unknowns, so that helps everything about this film feel new) all come to live remarkably well and in a very real-life like fashion. It definitely feels like a documentary and it’s amazing how quickly you feel sympathy for these fictional aliens that are treated so poorly. That is another area where people took issue with the film, since it seems odd that we could treat a group of aliens so poorly…but it’s not like mankind has the greatest track record of accepting others that are different from them. It’s as much a story about the treatment of each other as it is a sci-fi gore romp, which is just another layer that gets added to the film.
Once you tear the film apart it and break it into the categories of other genres it fits into, it’s quite amazing how layered this film really is. I could go on and on about the little intricacies that I noticed, but the truth is this is just a really fantastic film in pretty much every regard. Just about the only flaw I noticed was that of David James character, as some of his dialogue was a little too one-dimensional for a film that seemed to break down the barriers of every other dimension it tackled.
This review has probably been an incoherent mess, but that’s kind of what your brain feels like after watching this movie for the first time. There’s so much going on and so much to take in that you immediately want to watch the sequel…which doesn’t exist yet. But it’s definitely set up to continue and considering they even set up a new base for the aliens designated “District 10,” it seems that the sequel already as a title as well. While I’m sure there are those out there who will find this movie to be a bit too complicated for a sci-fi film, it’s really a lot more than just that. It’s a very impressive and highly entertaining movie and one that kept me glued to the TV from start to finish. Highly Recommended.
Sony unleashes District 9 in a two-disc Elite Blu-ray case. Included here is an embossed/foil reflective slipcover and an insert advertising God of War III (of which there is a demo included on the disc, if you insert it into your PS3 and go to the “Games” tab on the XMB) on one side and unlock codes for two different digital copies of the film. One copy you get, again, off of the PS3’s XMB and is for your PSP system. The other is the usual for the Windows Media/iTunes versions of the film, which is included on a separate disc inside the case. The background of the insert is a picture of the “Non-Human Target” that was used for shooting practice by MNU agents. Menus are simple and easy to navigate, although you can’t skip past the trailers easily for some reason—neither the “Top Menu” or “Pop-Up Menu” buttons work so you have to manually skip past the trailers included…rather annoying. The menu itself has a Human and Non-Human variant, although the two are functionally the same with a navigation bar on the bottom…the video clips played are just different.
Video arrives in the form of an AVC encoded 1080p transfer that…well, it’s the new reference disc, kiddies. The film was shot with the Red One camera and as a result every frame of the film looks brilliant and alive with detail. There are elements of the film that don’t look so hot, but those are intentional (the early 1980’s VCR-degraded footage of the aliens arriving, for instance) and are hardly something that can be attributed to this otherwise flawless transfer. There are a few areas where the detail gets a bit overly smooth (such as the CGI exoskeleton that gets donned later on in the film), but overall this film looks absolutely terrific. The film has a washed out color palette and a fine level of grain that just looks fantastic from start to finish.
Audio is a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix that is pretty unassuming at first, but eventually blasts the crap out of the room. I did find it to be a little underwhelming in its bass when comparing it to other films (like Terminator: Salvation)…but then again this may just be a track that requires you to pump it up louder to get the goods. I have a level for audio when watching films and occasionally you run into a film that just stays a bit quieter at that level; I did notice a bit more oomph when I upped the volume for the films climax, but it still didn’t floor me like I had hoped. But my expectations were probably a little overly high anyway, so it’s not fair to fault this track as it really is remarkably strong. Frequent use of the surrounds, whether it’s just a stray sound effect or a prawn popping his mouth off in the distance, helps this documentary-style film (or at least the documentary-style part of it, anyway…it transitions in and out of that style really smoothly) feel like it’s happening in front of you.
Extras are plentiful, although die-hard fans of the film will no doubt still want more when all is said and done. Included:
● Director’s Commentary with director and co-writer Neil Blomkamp
● Deleted Scenes (23:28, 1080p)
● The Alien Agenda: A Filmmaker’s Log — Three-Part Documentary (34:19, 1080i)
● Metamorphosis: The Transformation of Wikus (9:52, 1080i)
● Innovation: Acting and Improvisation (12:05, 1080i)
● Conception and Design: Creating the World of District 9 (13:18, 1080i)
● Alien Generation: Visual Effects (10:18, 1080i)
As you can see all of the extras are at least in HD and the commentary with Blomkamp is a welcome one as you get to hear him go over all the tiny details that helped make this film come alive. It’s kind of strange that Jackson isn’t on here with him, as he did produce and help promote this film…but it’s not a big loss as Blomkamp has plenty to cover by himself. The other extras are interesting little pieces into the production of the film, but nothing is really covered in overly exhausting detail. Still, there’s plenty here with almost two hours worth of extras plus the commentary. Then there’s the Blu-ray exclusive features like the MovieIQ which tests your knowledge of the film with trivia, Sony’s CineChat that allows you to watch the movie with friends around the world, and the “Joburg from Above” which acts as an interactive map of District 9.
It’s kind of surprising that Blomkamp’s short film that inspired this film, Alive in Joburg, wasn’t included here as even a standard-definition extra…but oh well. More to add onto the double-dip when District 10 comes out. In the end this is a Highly Recommended release that arrives just in time for the holiday season.
District 9 is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.