I’m behind the times on this one, but I missed District 9 when it went round the cinema circuit. However, having picked up the DVD recently, I finally got to see it and find out what all the prawn fuss was over. There’ll be spoilers later, but I’ll give you fair warning.
District 9 is a very imaginative and original sci-fi movie. A massive spaceship breaks down over Johannesburg in 1985 and nothing happens. After three months of wondering, the humans finally fly up there in choppers and cut their way in to see what’s going on. They find a million very sick, malnourished aliens on board. A “humanitarian” effort is mounted. (Interestingly, what are we going to do about that term when aliens and humans do mix freely, as will obviously happen eventually. Lifetarian effort? Suggestions in the comments please).
These aliens, derogatarily referred to as prawns due to their distinct prawn-like appearance, end up in a refugee camp in Johannesburg that quickly becomes a slum. Crime and violence are rampant and people have serious issues with the whole situation. After 20 years of this an effort is finally mounted to evict the aliens and move them 200km outside town to a new refugee camp, where it will be easier to forget about them.
Wickus Van Der Merwe (seriously, one of the best protagonist names in ages) is tasked with the legal and logistic job of getting this eviction happening. Naturally, things go awry and all kinds of mayhem ensue. During one of many skirmishes that occur during the eviction, Wickus gets a spray of juice from some alien tech in the face and it alters his DNA. This alteration causes him to become slowly more prawn than human and he finds himself trapped between the human world and the prawn world and the only place to hide is District 9.
The film is shot in a very original way. It’s primarily (at the start) a documentary being made with new interviews and old stock footage of Wickus and news footage of events surrounding the start of the eviction. Security camera and CCTV footage is spliced into it and the gaps are filled with regular film-making. In literature this kind of “head-hopping” can be very poorly done and rarely comes over well, but with this film they’ve pulled it off. The prawns are excellent creatures, brilliantly realised with an array of top notch special effects, and District 9 itself is flawlessly believable.
The story doesn’t pull any punches and is as gritty and gruesome as such a situation would really be. It was all too much for my wife and she went off to do something else. We follow Wickus as he goes on the run from the company he works for. There’s more going on than anyone realises and Wickus slowly discovers secrets and gets inextricably tied up in them.
And here’s where the film falls down for me. It raises a lot of questions and answers virtually none of them. After the next picture I’ll discuss in more details those issues, but if you want to avoid spoilers don’t read on after the pic until you’ve seen the film.
District 9 is an excellent achievement in film-making. It’s different, raw and clever and it keeps a relentless pace. It has a commentary on racism, coroporate greed and the nature of “humanity” that is explored really well. It’s definitely worth seeing, if you can handle it. But be prepared to be frustrated by a lot of unanswered questions.
Read on after the pic for more, though beware lurking spoilers.
So, the unanswered questions. Let me highlight my many issues by listing all the questions I need answers to:
– Why did the alien space craft break down and grind to a halt over Johannesburg?
– Why did the alien commanders, or the smart ones, disappear?
– Why did the little craft that was hidden under Christopher’s shack drop from the mothership in the first place?
– Why was Christopher so much smarter than the others?
– Why was he desperately searching among wreckage for alien tech with this mysterious liquid in it? Where did that wreckage and rubbish come from?
– Why was there so much alien weaponry in District 9? Who brought it down from the mothership?
– Why did the liquid turn Wickus into a prawn?
– Why did the liquid aboard the little ship suddenly make the mothership capable of flying back to the prawn homeworld?
– Why couldn’t Christopher have done whatever he did (on the ground) on the mothership in the first place?
– Why didn’t they stay in space while he did that, rather than coming to hover over an Earth city?
It seems that the key point of this film is that Christopher spent 20 years in District 9 gathering this alien fluid to effect the escape by powering up the mothership. That makes no sense to me. If that’s what it took to get the ship going, surely they would have gathered all that liquid from various techs on board before they even became stranded. And Christopher is always talking about “his people” – is he the prawn leader? There’s no exploration or explanation of the hierarchy and what really happened before the events of the film. Obviously, there’s only so much that can be explored, but a few clues dropped here and there would have fleshed out the whole premise really well.
We can have a guess at the answers to several of the questions above, but none of my guesses really satisfy my curiousity. It’s unfortunate that an otherwise excellent film has all these holes in the plot and premise that take away from the overall enjoyment of the experience. Leave me some comments with your views – have you seen District 9? Am I being really dense and missing something obvious with all these questions?