In 1982, an alien ship inexplicably stops over Johannesburg of all available places. When investigation teams enter the ship, they discover a population of sick, dirty, diseased and malnourished extraterrestrials, derogatorily referred to as “prawns”. They need help, any help, pretty badly so the South African government confines them to “District 9”, a government slum camp that is located outside of Johannesburg. Apparently the terrestrial atmosphere suits them and they love cat food but it’s hardly an end of their problems.
Twenty-eight years later, following periodic conflict between the aliens and the locals living near District 9, the government hires private military company Multinational United (MNU) to relocate the aliens to a new, worse place, situated further away. Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley), an Afrikaner bureaucrat, is appointed by Piet Smit (Louis Minnaar), an MNU executive and his father-in-law, to lead the relocation.
Meanwhile, three aliens — Christopher Johnson (Jason Cope), his son and a friend — scavenge pieces of their technology from which they distill a dark fluid and store it in a small canister. It is supposed to help them activate their ship again. Wikus confiscates the canister from the shack of Christopher’s friend, but accidentally sprays some of the fluid onto his face. Christopher’s friend is subsequently killed by Koobus Venter (David James), a sadistic mercenary soldier employed by MNU.
Under the fluid’s influence, Wikus’ body, starting with his injured left arm, begins to change into an alien tissue. It is something unprecedented. He is immediately detained and transported to MNU headquarters for experimentation, where it is discovered that Wikus’ chimeric DNA grants him the ability to use alien weapons- which are biologically restricted for alien users only. In light of this discovery, Smit and his scientists decide to vivisect Wikus; but he overpowers them and escapes the facility. Smit orders Venter and his men to hunt Wikus down, while a cover story is published that says Wikus is a fugitive infected by an alien STD. Will the aliens return to their ship and go away? Will Wikus find a cure to his ‘illness’?
I really liked this movie – and I watched it several times. In order not to make you suffer too much let me present its assets in a form of a list.
- The originality. Never before any sci-fi movie I’d seen depicted the aliens as disease-ridden, helpless refugees who need food and shelter desperately and are mistreated by humans.
- The narration. It was done like in documentaries and it was an incredibly good, fresh idea. Those little interviews did add to the plot but the action was still there.
- The portrayal of the aliens. They weren’t perfect themselves, far from it. They were violent, dirty and unpleasant. Just like humans.
- There was no such thing as a protagonist or a hero. Wikus van der Merwe began as a toady and a moron, willing to do any bidding of his boss cum father-in-law in order to get promoted. He ended up changing a lot (not spoiling so I am keeping it vague) but it was beyond his control, in fact almost against his will.
- The greed and ruthlessness of big corporations was shown and emphasized in a perfect way. In a matter of hours Wikus turned from a pampered, high-profile employee into just a reservoir of bio-technological tissue. Chilling and stunning.
Of course the movie wasn’t perfection incarnated – here is what I have spotted, watching it for the second time.
- We never got to see the point of view of aliens – not really. We see some conversation but we don’t know what’s happened to their ship, where did they come from and what forced them to abandon their home planet. Pity.
- The transformation of Wikus was a bit too quick but well, I guess the director was in a hurry. Or something.
- The story arc with the kid alien was such a cheesy bow towards Hollywood. It is such an obnoxious cliché that kids and animals have a free pass in any American movie – they cannot be killed no matter what, neither them nor their caregivers.
- How come Wikus understood alienish? And aliens understood English? One of the mysteries of the universe, right?
One of more intelligent sci-fi movies I’ve ever watched. Even with its flaws it remains stunning. Perfectly rewatchable as well.