Review: District 9

What do you get when you take a South-African director with barely any experience, give him $30 million and let him go? The best summer blockbuster of the last ten years, that's what.

Peter Jackson's new protege Neill Blomkamp was recently ditched by Hollywood execs who didn't think he was up to putting Halo on celluloid. To apologise, Jackson gave him the aformentioned budget and let him remake a short film Blomkamp had made years before.

Blomkamp brought back a piece that earned back more than its budget in one weekend, and justifiably so as it is the kind of film we haven't seen since Star Wars. The FX created on such a minute budget are some of the best you'll see, with plenty of alien interaction and weaponry, including a man-sized mech taking on a platoon of armed mercenaries.

Still, this action has a definitive purpose, being counterbalanced by the depth of a film like Children of Men. District 9 is also about immigration, only in this case, illegal aliens are exactly that. An alien vessel, badly damaged, becomes stranded in the sky above Johannesburg and the alien workers, deprived of a leader, become unwanted and persecuted refugees on Earth. Of course, this is nothing original, Alien Nation brought us a similar premise nearly 30 years ago. However, District 9's post-apartheid setting brings a gritty realism to the metaphor and some on-the-nose scripting brings the issues to the fore. Witnessing sound-byte clips of ethnic minorities passionately telling the aliens to "go home" shines a light on the issues in a way that only science fiction can.

Not that the depth ends there, the redemptive tale of immigration officer Wikus Van De Merwe, who moves from oppressor to rebel leader of the stranded alien immigrants, questions the validity of the things we strive for in life, showing ambition and the pursuit of respect as selfish goals in the face of moral necessity. The film even asks us how far love can be pushed before it breaks. Wikus himself is played by FX wizard and first-time actor Sharlto Copley, whose lack of acting experience, combined with Blomkamp's improvisational direction lets the character's reactions come across as completely real and draws you further into the story.

The rawness and purity of the film, brought ably to the screen by the fresh talents of its crew, leaves you with the kind of experience that reminds you why you started getting into films in the first place. Indeed, you wonder how James Cameron's ten years of development, all-star cast and a budget that could purchase small nations will possibly allow him to stand up against one first-time director with $30 million and an idea.

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