From the outset, however, it is worth noting that District 9 is not the intelligent, cutting examination of the refugee/migrant that the trailer suggests, or that I hoped it would be. It is about immigration and refugee status, to a degree, but the film largely steps away from making an real connections, and instead focuses on the plight of Wikus Van De Merwe, a somewhat naive and bumbling employee of MNU, who is given the task of moving the alien refugees (referred to as Prawns throughout the film) from their slum of District 9, to the new, but located firmly away from the city, area that is District 10. During the process of serving the aliens eviction notices, of which the majority cannot read nor understand, Wikus comes into contact with an alien fluid and begins, slowly, to alter. With his body becoming a prawn, and he being able to now operate the alien technology, the decision is made to harvest him for science. As you might imagine, this doesn't sit to well with poor Wikus, who goes on the run.
The first half of the film weaves between the drama and action various commentaries from 'experts' on the day. They talk about Wikus, give a brief introduction to the prawns, and touch on a number of issues that arise. At times, you wonder how the writer who wrote that, 'Prawn symbolises a scavenger, a bottom feeder,' and discusses it's unpleasant racial tones can then turn around and introduce the criminal element as Nigerians involved in voodoo, and not feel that some poor racial representation is going on there. Well, perhaps it's okay to demonise real people and make nice with fake visitors from another planet. For the most part, however, it works well, and director Neill Blomkamp (who was also responsible with Terri Tatchell for the script) slips in a lot of back story and information in a fairly entertaining way. In fact, my one complaint is that Blomkamp didn't take the idea a little further, and use it to explore such questions as to why the aliens were there, the terrible status they were in when they arrived, the difference between them and Christopher, the prawn that Wikus is befriended by in the film. Indeed, he might also have chosen to introduce people who disagree with the treatment of the aliens. Of course, saying that kind of suggests that what I was looking for was a different film, and while I think addressing these issues would have made a stronger film, I don't need it changed.
Working for it in its favour, Blomkamp and Sharlto Copley, who plays Wikus, have a main character that evokes the sympathy of the audience. Wikus' relationship with his wife is the backbone of this: sketched out in only one scene with them in the same room, and then in a few brief interviews and two phone calls, it manages to skirt hysterics, and provides a strong foundation for the character's desire to change, and his later actions in the film. Indeed, Blimkamp manages to create a second relationship in the film, that between the prawn Christopher and his son, in a similar manner that it manages to--for lack of a better term--humanise the alien and allow for his actions and reactions to impact on the film well. Of course, Christopher does suffer from being so different from the other prawns that there is some need for him to be further explained, as just how and why he has what he does (note how I move around the spoilers so delicately) is not addressed within the film at all.
Ultimately, the film slips towards the end when Wikus and Christopher join forces, and the documentary style narrative is lost for the big explosions and chase scenes. If, like me, you enjoyed the first half where that was stronger, you'll find that the second half was a lighter, and slightly disappointing half to the film--but if you didn't like the style, it's entirely likely that this worked for you, as did the sudden ability of Wikus and Christopher to blow up buildings, take out soldiers, and catch a rocket.
Me, I thought the opportunity was lost to do something really neat.
However, as films are going these days, District 9 is a flick that's actually worth the cost of a cinema ticket. In addition to that, it's free of stars whose only positive attribute is that they're hot, music that ages five minutes from now, and remakes you saw a long (or short) time ago.