September 13th 2010 12:22
As if South Africa doesn’t already have enough of its own problems to deal with, the country is now also burdened with having to accommodate destitute aliens, or at least that’s what Neill Blomkamp would have us believe in his extraordinary sci-fi directorial debut District 9.
Twenty years ago, aliens first appeared on Earth. They didn’t attack humans, nor did they have any intentions for planetary conquest. Rather, they were refugees from their home planet. And so, after the world’s nations argued over what to do with them, they were sent to the township wastelands of Johannesburg, known as District 9. This daringly politically incorrect imagined history is quite a hurdle to overcome for the viewer’s imagination, but what begins as an absurd scenario quickly unravels into an engrossing, wholly believable tale.
When the South Africans grow sick of having to coexist with the odd species, private corporation MNU is assigned the job of evicting the aliens from District 9. In the process, the film’s unlikeable protagonist, Wikus (Sharlto Copley), is contaminated with an alien virus, which mutates his human DNA. This recycled plot device owes much to the 1986 gross-out The Fly, and it works terrifically well, managing to really get under the skin of squirmish audiences.
Producer Peter Jackson shepherded Blomkamp’s tremendous debut, and his influences show. The special effects and stunts are startlingly real, and the aliens are not cheaply made. To some, the aliens might become somewhat allegorical, either for South Africa’s apartheid past or for its current refugee problem. In any case, the xenophobic message of the film cannot be divorced from its setting. This is science fiction like no other.