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Head Production Designer
JOSEPH CROSS, BRIANA EVIGAN,
Special Effects Make-Up
A SIERRA NEVADA
(MICHAEL MADSEN & JOHN SAVAGE).
28 years ago our first contact with an otherworldly alien spaceship happened. It didn't happen in the U.S., but in Johannesburg, South Africa (finally! I was starting to think those damn aliens would NEVER leave us alone!).
28 years ago! Why didn't anyone tell me about this? Damn but those South Africans are secretive bastards!
Anyway, the ship hung there in the sky over the city for the longest damn time until finally we (meaning us humans) decided to go up there, crack that puppy open, and take a good look inside. Boy were we sorry we did!
We found about a million ugly, smelly, unwashed aliens all malnourished and stuff. We didn't want an invasion, we hoped for some kind of... I don't know, Steven Speilberg moment or something. Instead we got a bunch of homeless alien bums. More along the lines of ALIEN NATION, except there doesn't seem to be a worthwhile alien in the bunch. Hmm. Rather disappointing. Okay, so now what? We can't just leave them up there...
So we set them up in their own kind of slum. We did this because it was, after all, 28 years ago at the height of Apartheid and we couldn't just leave them up there, since they wouldn't go away, and we damn sure didn't want those aliens integrating with us fine folk. This gave the racist white bastards living in S.A. something else to hate besides their fellow humans and all the other races came together in a brother and sisterhood of staunch disapproval of the smelly, weird, cat food eating aliens. Well, except for some Nigerian crime lords who couldn't hack the hard life in Nigeria and established themselves in the fenced off area set aside for the aliens.
That was 28 years ago and things have only gotten worse. Far from being our benevolent benefactors, these aliens fight among themselves, often sneak out of their area and commit crimes, and contribute to the spread of filth and smell in the fine city. And with those damn Nigerian crime lords, they also attract an unwanted element. Plus the government spends so much tax money on these damn aliens!
We discover all of this through various news reports via herky-jerky shaky-cam. Apparently people with Cerebral Palsy and Parkinson's Disease make a damn good living as camera operators in Johannesburg.
Enter the MNU (Multi-National United aka the Evil Corporation!). They have set up an area, District 10, way the hell out in the desert and middle of nowhere, which will be a new home for the aliens.
The boss of the company decides to send in his dimwit of a son-in-law, Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copely). A likable enough chap to his co-workers, but really a confused slug of a bureaucrat, working through a desk job given to him by marriage. One gets the feeling that Pop is more than happy to make his daughter a widow and assigns Wikus the job of routing the aliens out of their clapboard homes. This is done by Wikus going into the crime ridden filthy area and getting all of the aliens to sign a release form - under penalty of death. The aliens tower over us, are physically dangerous, but Wikus is backed up by MNU gun-toting mercenaries in armored cars, trucks, and helicopters, who hate aliens and don't much care for Wikus either.
Posturing for the cameras and trying to come off smarter and braver than he is, Wikus pretends to be fearless (but winds up looking like a frightened, careless fool), as he brazenly calls the aliens "Prawns" to their multi-segmented faces (a vulgar epithet for the aliens, like "Slags" in ALIEN NATION). The aliens are all CGI and this is the best looking CGI I've ever seen.
Among the brawling, drunken, aliens, however, there are naturally some smarter than others. One of them will be known to us as Christopher. Christopher and his kid, who will be known as CJ, spend their days in the massive mile wide shadow of their still hovering spacecraft, scouring through the junk. Unlike the other disgusting louts, Christopher is not wasting his life on fights and cat food, but in finding the pieces of his spaceship that fell to earth, rendering the craft unable to leave.
Apparently, when we first went into the spaceship, we found all sorts of exotic alien handheld weapons, some quite advanced. Unfortunately, the weapons, like apparently all the alien machines, can only be used when recognizing alien genes (Wranglers and Levis won't work. HA! But seriously...). Their own genetic material infuses all of their technology from machine to fuel. At one point, as Wikus is scouring through an alien home, showboating for the cameras, an alien device of unknown purpose suddenly pops in his face, spraying him with black liquid. His co-workers suggest a hospital visit, but Wikus wants to be brave for the cameras and acts like it's nothing.
Soon, however, Wikus begins to change, and that's into an alien.
Throughout the movie, the camera work slowly travels from mockumentary to drama as we see things that couldn't possibly be caught by a news crew. Unfortunately, by the time the movie is clearly in the "Real Movie" moment of the picture, co-writer and director Neill Blomkamp, can't seem to pull his cameras away from his cameramen, who appear to be having Gran mal seizures while shooting this flick. Odd in itself considering that most professional and high end home movie cameras are specifically built with firmware to minimize shake. You never see this visual jitterbugging in real news reports or even from cheapo paparazzi cameras as the operators go chasing celebrities down the street. Hell, even iPhones are quite smooth.
Still, half-assed camera work notwithstanding, DISTRICT 9 is a devastating piece of satire and pointed political allegory. Considering the fact that this is Neill's first feature film, I'm even more impressed, though I do have to wonder how much influence his producer and mentor, Peter Jackson had in the making of this. On his own though, Neill has been busy working in 3D cgi since 1997, so he definitely knew the look he was going for and how to achieve it.
Wikus goes through a period where we can't stand him, to a sympathetic failure of a man as the genetic change takes over and makes him both coveted (we now have the human/alien "DNA" to use these weapons and fly these ships!) and outcast. Wikus is more valuable to his father-in-law and MNU dead and parceled off as genetic scrap than he is alive. Only the love for, and of, his wife Tania (Vanessa Haywood), separated from him and fed lies about what is going on, keeps Wikus going and hopeful. Unfortunately for Wikus, the only ones who could possibly cure him are the vile aliens he despises.
And since this is Science Fiction, I've asked Kelly Parks to weigh in with a...
I was also tempted to talk about the term "Alien DNA". Taken literally, this is contradictory. DNA is the genetic blueprint for every living thing on Earth because here on Earth as life evolved DNA was life's answer to a specific chemical problem. There are, however, a great many possible chemical answers to that problem and the odds that alien life would also end up using Deoxyribonucleic Acid are very small. However, I can accept the fact that the movie was using the term "DNA" in a generic sense as in "the alien equivalent of DNA", so I can let that go too.
For the rest of this, go to SCIENCE MOMENT/D9.
There are fine turn outs from all the actors here like talking newsheads Sarah Livingstone - Sociologist (Nathalie Boltt: DOOMSDAY), Dirk Michaels (William Allen Young: THE DAY AFTER, ALMOST DEAD, FEAR X), and the representation of vicious apartheid Afrikaner, Koobus Venter (David James), though this movie is chiefly about Wikus and the aliens.
Some movie critics decry the last 30 minutes of this movie where the guns come out and things start blowing up, but it's a logical outcome within the context of the picture and, for anyone who watches the old 1980's Horror Thriller Scifi action movies and wishes they were still around, Neill Blomkamp (and his co-writer, Terri Tatchell) just brought them back!
DISTRICT 9 is sharp, smart, and kick-ass!
Four Shriek Girls.
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