I'm slowly getting won over by genre films. Well, I'm learning not to say no to them automatically. Helping me get there are great films like District 9. Special effects genius Neill Blomkamp directs this masterpiece of sci-fi, which is an expansion of his short film "Alive in Joburg." Blomkamp, a special effects artist and commercial director by day, was the man slated to direct the Peter Jackson-produced Halo. According to Wired, Peter Jackson found Blomkamp after seeing several of the short films he made in his spare time (The relatively subdued and farcical "Tempbot" is my personal favorite). The film, though, is still on hold, despite rumors that Steven Spielberg was stepping in as producer.
The film follows Wikus Van De Merwe, the head of a task force for MNU (Multinational United), which must evict the alien inhabitants of a tent city (District 9) from their homes to another area, District 10. And sure, the script by Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell is a nearly transparent reference to apartheid, specifically Capetown's District 6, but it's much more than a racial allegory. In an article by our friend Landon Palmer at Film School Rejects, Landon argues that District 9 is a high-brow, albeit entertaining, commentary on social realities. Sure, the film is about how we treat (human) beings that are unlike ourselves. And yes, there is an allegory running through the film. But what makes the film decidedly not high-brow is that the allegory is so well done. That is, the relationship between the plot and the apartheid allegory is at once literal -- apartheid is mentioned; various characters delineate the South African population based upon race -- and figurative -- the script uses the structure of apartheid so seemlessly that one remembers only after the dust has settled that this is not truth, that this is something based on truth. In other words, the acting, the script, the carefully crafted rules of this alternative world are so airtight that we are living in the fictional world for almost two hours. After the credits start rolling, viewers that are so inclined will remember that we were in South Africa that whole time and will begin to make the allegory connection.
But that's the thing. Not everyone will do that. In fact, that's the greatest thing about this film. The script is so airtight, the action so engaging and narratively worthwhile that the film really is about characters. This is not a film where humans are trying to eradicate aliens and we don't learn their names and we don't really care about the humans names, only the size and power of their guns. No no no, this is a film with one of the most engaging, loveable, despicable antiheroes to ever cross the big screen. I left so much out, because I want all of it to be a surprise. District 9 deserves all the love we're willing to heap on it, and after The Dark Knight fiasco of last year, it's time to honor a great action/sci-fi genre flick with the industry's biggest honor. Let's use the new 10-film rule for good! And I'm not the only one who thinks so. (OK, I don't actually think Dark Night deserved a nomination.)