As life became filled more with children and responsibilities than video games, my interest and time commitment to shooting aliens and shit waned. Not that I was in any way a serious gamer, but I had my favorites. I was especially fond of the whole first person shooter genre, and games like Half-Life, Deus Ex and Halo in particular. Granted, with my limited ability to actually play these games it would take me months, and in the case of Half Life 2, years to complete. And why connect my video game experience with District 9? Well, these games always seem to be piloted by one rather innocuous scientist dude who gets his hands on some serious alien technology, which include gravity guns, mega-blasting guns and guns that pretty much destroy anything and everything in their path.
So I walked into District 9 with this past experience, but very little knowledge about the movie itself other than the fact folks whose taste I trust happened to like the thing. There is also the back-story of the film being shot in South Africa and being, at its core, a story about racial disharmony and a separatist movement not unlike many in the pasts and presets of myriad countries, including the US and its native American population, Israel and its Arab and even Ethiopian Jewish population, and, of course, South Africa and Apartheid. The difference here is that it’s not a minority creating inequality for the majority, but an alien race being interned by an Earthling population that deems them, well, alien and dangerous. The aliens’ broken ship has been hovering over Johannesburg since 1982, and while the aliens were initially welcomed as guests, 28-years later they have been interned and are living in squalor. Nicknamed “Prawns” because, well, they look like giant prawns, they live a nasty, brutish and violent existence complete with addiction (addiction to cat food, apparently), theft, murder and all the other things that come with the ghetto-izing of a population. It has gotten to a point that the government has decided to move the alien population to a new location outside the city limits in order to basically put them out of mind and hide the shame of their existence. Of course they have the daily reminder of the giant ship floating over the city, but somehow they think that “out of site, out of mind” will work for them.
The tricky project of actually up and moving an entire colony of violent and desperate beings while trying to stay somewhat within the confines of the law is a little harder to do in reality than it is on paper. Enter our protagonist, Wikus Van De Merwe. He is an employee at the private security firm contracted by the South African government to relocate the aliens. He also happens to be the somewhat fey and hapless son-in-law of the company’s CEO. Clearly in over his head, Wikus’ charge is to go shack to shack getting signatures from each and every alien on the relocation papers so everything is all legal and tidy. Of course this is dangerous work, and f’d up things end up happening to poor Wikus. And it’s not until after the true extent of this mess comes to fruition and sends Wikus out into the wilderness that the movie becomes pretty damn fun.
Trying not to give too much away, Wikus becomes a fugitive and needs to rely on the very aliens he once disparaged as “prawns” and wanted to displace from their homes using bribes of cat food and trickery. There are tons of chases and explosions and guns and violent ends to humans and aliens alike. And in the process, our protagonist, like in many movies of its ilk (Minority Report comes to mind), must fight for his survival by basically becoming that which he once fought against. And while this movie isn’t going to wow anybody with its message, it’ll certainly thrill you with its cool look and amazing use of special effects on a relative budget. There’s also its quirky sense of humor, main character development and general sense of wonder. A very cool film.