District 9 - Cinema Review

'we might expect a bit more from a film which claims it has the brains as well as the prawn... sorry brawn'

District 9 has been over-hyped. There's almost no question about that. It is a fact as much as listening to someone with a broad South African accent say 'fuck' repeatedly causes some level of amusement is a fact. Not blowing my own trumpet here (for I'm sure many people made this point before I) but in my preview of the rest of the year I described District 9 as this years Cloverfield and for a variety of reasons, it absolutely is.

Firstly, there is the hype. There's certainly not been as much as Cloverfield but little bits of viral appearing here and there (a phone box near me has a sign on it saying 'this phone box for human use only. No none-humans'), massively positive critical reaction, the presence of Peter Jackson and the fact that it isn't a sequel have all helped the marketing machine churn over and put bums on seats.

Then there's the reaction. Most people loved or hated Cloverfield and this was because you were either going to it because you were a horror/monster movie fan(boy) and therefore loved it or you were going because of the hype but aren't a horror/monster movie fan(boy) and therefore didn't find much new there to like. Of course, this isn't completely true because there was a group in the middle (me included) who just went to see a movie and came away thinking ''ho-hum' what an annoying bunch of New York residents they were, glad they all got eaten.' But (hopefully) you see my point - very few people came away from Cloverfield without a pretty strong opinion, even if that opinion was 'Jesus, that was average'.

District 9 is this year's Cloverfield for the same reasons. People expecting something that isn't a low-budget, monster mash film with poor effects, no stars and and unfamiliar accents are going to be disappointed. This isn't an indy Independance Day with a social message. It's a piece of world cinema with a social agenda, no script and some prawns.

And if you treat it as the above (and as a film, not a piece of marketing), then the report is so-so. First-time actor Sharlto Copley does much better than can be expected and his early moments, improvising to a film crew there to report on a major operation, are excellent. But with no script he struggles markedly as soon as the action heats up and far too often resorts to the f-word or similar colour obscenities when perhaps we might expect a bit more from a film which claims it has the brains as well as the prawn... sorry brawn. It's a brave effort but it's fairly obvious he could have done with a bit more support and someone like Jackson, who in this film's terms, qualifies as very experienced, could have provided him with a bit more of a helping hand.

What really singles District 9 out is its awareness of larger issues, sadly absent from many of today's blockbuster sci-fi fare. As it opens the parallels with apartheid and the more recent revelations about life in South Africa's slums under the control of organised gangs of mercenaries are all too obvious. It makes a brave decision to draw these parallels and early scenes where eviction officers get annoyed because they can't understand the aliens language are fairly painful when put into context.

However, towards the half-way point, District 9 seems to, on face value at least, forget about its high moral ground and instead moves towards a more standard 'lets blow things up' mode of being. The battles may be visceral and of a pretty high standard but the effects aren't state of the art and the development of a predictable plot arc to facilitate this (in which Copley slowly begins to appreciate the aliens predicament) perhaps hints that Director Neil Blompkamp was slowly running out of ideas.

It's not a bad film but it is definitely a film of two halves with the first offering something, if not new, then at least refreshingly old and the second offering action and explosions to please all sci-fi fans. Perhaps less so than Cloverfield then, reaction to District 9 from the movie-going public might be more tempered as from that mid-point there really isn't much for the sci-fi neutral to appreciated.


  1. I think the overhype of the movie on behalf of the critics, and to some extend myself, has set the bar shockingly high for this movie. I wouldn't say it abandons it's moral statements half way as much as throws them well onto the back burner for some cliche action.

    I think if Blomkamp could have taken the action packed finale, and the apartheid allegory first half and better blended the two this would have been classic. Instead you sort of get 2 different films in 1.

  2. I think that's a great comment and exactly right. Have just been back and read your review and again, I largely agree with it although as I say, I'm not quite as positive about it as you are.