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District 9 (2009)
Rated R

Starring: Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, and Nathalie Boltt

Rating:
*****
out of
*****

Twenty years ago, a large UFO entered Earth's atmosphere and positioned itself over Johannesburg, South Africa. All over the world, tension mounted as people waited for whoever or whatever was inside to come out. They never did. So, after waiting for three months, a team of soldiers was sent to the ship and cut into it. Inside, they found a large group of aliens -- malnourished, sick and without any apparent leadership.

These "worker" aliens are brought to Earth and forced to live in an area outside the city called District 9. The aliens are given the derogatory nickname "prawns" and they're strictly forbidden to co-habitate with humans or interact with them outside the district. What was intended as an area in which the aliens could stay until they returned home has turned into a prison. A Nigerian crimelord has set up shop and bought up the alien's weaponry -- which cannot be used by humans -- in exchange for cat food, which has an effect on the aliens similar to that of catnip on felines.

As impatience with the aliens reaches an all-time-high, the district's maintenance has been handed over from the government to Multi-National United (MNU), a private company who has no interest in the alien's well-being. After a series of anti-alien riots, MNU decides to move the aliens to another area far from the city. Wikus Van Der Merwe (Sharlto Copely), a nerdy middle manager for MNU, is promoted to lead the eviction process. As he goes from shanty to shanty, serving the aliens the dubious eviction notices, he encounters all sorts of illegal activity which he's kind enough to explain for the cameras following him around.

Unfortunately for Wikus, he also finds a vial with some sort of black liquid which sprays on his face. Not wanting to jeopardize his new position, he acts as if nothing has happened and continues working. A few hours later, Wikus finds himself changing into something less-than-human with the ability to operate the aliens' weaponry, a quality that makes him very valuable to the MNU and the Nigerian crimelord. Neither faction wants to keep him alive.

Director Neill Blomkamp, who co-wrote District 9 with Terri Tatchell, takes a documentary-style approach as he introduces the story of the aliens and their plight to the audience. Combining footage shot on hand-held and security cameras with traditional camerawork and utilizing post-9/11, 24 hour-a-day news channel reporting techniques, Blomkamp creates a gripping, gritty film that blooms into a very effective action movie as it moves into the third act.

Sharlto Copley, who's never appeared in a feature film as an actor, handles Wikus' transformation from over-confident nerd to shattered man brilliantly. The rest of the cast and characters are not as fleshed-out. Aside from Christopher Johnson, an alien who offers to help Wikus with his "condition" in exchange for something, and some of the villainous MNU thugs, there are no other characters of merit anyway.

The aliens -- rendered entirely in CGI -- belie the film's $30 million budget. Looking every bit as good as anything in this summer's overblown Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen or G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra, District 9's special effects are spectacular. Even more so when you realize that this entire movie was made for one-fifth of the marketing budget of G.I. Joe.

The most effective thing about District 9, though, is its story. It's hard not to draw comparisons with the plight of the aliens and elements of Hitler's Germany, South Africa's Apartheid, and the U.S. internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. While I was leaving the theater, I overheard a teenage girl say to her friend, "That's the first movie about aliens I've seen that made me want the aliens to beat the humans." After seeing what we're capable of, I couldn't agree more.

Trivia: As part of the marketing campaign in North America, posters were put up in major cities on bus stops, the sides of buildings, etc. designating areas that were restricted for humans only, with a number to call (866.666.6001) in order to report non-humans. The title of the film was generally not included, although the URL address for the film's official website was. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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