I’ve been waiting for District 9 for a while. Advance peeks have looked so good, even clever, and promises more of what could be 2009’s cinema forte: thoughtful pieces that almost misleadingly immerse themselves in worlds more associated with full on sci-fi (see also: Moon).
For the most part it delivers, full of tension, invention, and a healthy dose of dark humour. For every time you think “that’s borrowed from something” (nails falling off from Cronenberg’s The Fly; camera ‘stuck to gun’ from first person shooter computer games; an exoskeleton suit with nods to ED209 in Robocop), there’s about ten moments of sheer invention and some of them more subtle than expected.
The effects are stunning creating an unbelievably believable reality with South African society mingling with the visitors. The opening 30 minutes’ use of pseudo CCTV and documentary footage, foretelling something darker following, give a good start, but thankfully give way for more straightforward story telling, the cinema camera our eye into this world.
Sharlto Copley is top drawer as the focus of the film, Wikus, tormented, a victim of his father-in-law’s maneuvering as well as his own vanity in front of the cameras. While the switch in his emotions towards the aliens is inevitable, the necessity is not as obvious nor expected. The ending is his, but also in line with some of the neater counter-conventions in place, offering no resolution.
The only problem is a large chunk of the final section of the film, an elongated shoot out which didn’t really thrill me, more crass, almost totally mindlessness. Given the thought that has gone into making the rest of the film so attractive any intrigue and excitement that could be raised by the imaginative weaponry is wasted on the flat action scenes. Shame, as before the final chapters a break-in scene in claustrophobic environs is deftly handled.
But this is a minor quibble. It’s an entertaining journey, and above all a great example to Hollywood how far $30 million can go in these days of overblown budgets. Oh, by the way, If you’re reading this and your name is Peter Jackson, mind ‘presenting’ my work? You don’t have to be the real Peter Jackson, just any Peter Jackson. Thanks.