D: Neill Blomkamp. DP: Trent Opaloch. W: Neill BlomKamp & Terri Tatchell. Starring: Sharlto Copley/Jason Cope/William Allen Young/Nathalie Boltt/Vanessa Haywood.
The sleeper hit of the summer has finally landed. Or in District 9‘s case, hovered ominously over the box office causing people to wonder where it came from, how it could have been missed, and finally understanding why everyone at TriStar Pictures is out celebrating…
District 9 jumps right into its story, sans any smooth, glossy introductions. Rather it switches between mock-documentary style and another camera that actually acts like a bystander through most of the action and lets the audience still see the main man, Wikus (Copley) when others cannot. This style supports the film’s suggestion of reality that constantly surprises and parallels current politics and military protocol as District 9 asserts it’s relativity in today’s current international climate.
And Copley is entirely engaging, from bubbling MNU field agent, stricken prisoner and so on. He is the centered piece of the film, allowing the alien encounters to remain believable, his situation plausible, and the film disturbingly pertinent. This should recognized as a solid achievement, within a narrative that moves away from an initial alien encounter and instead illustrates the effects of a seemingly random alien habitation. Despite many questions being unanswered, District 9 keeps up a steady pace so that its loopholes and almost video game like moments are lost amidst the frenzies in the narrative. A narrative that is also strong enough to withstand the aliens being visible most of the film, making it impossible for the story to rely on their reveal or surprise.
Set in Johannesburg, South Africa, the film also reinforces the necessity of international perspectives within cinema. Such that, although historically the American studio system was cultivated and illustrative of the United States, and specific areas of the U.S. at that, Hollywood does not need to remain that way. Helmed by South African Blomkamp, the film’s distribution thankfully offers the chance for a chunk of American audiences to get a glimpse at international storytelling.
Yet at the same time. the film’s impact should not be singularly quantified and qualified by its effect on American audiences. Yes, District 9‘s relationship to the science fiction genre, alien encounter narratives, and mock-documentaries within American cinema is important, but its function within South African cinema must be significant as well. So that despite the recent fervor around District 9, audiences must also remember its parallels to reality and notions of standards within cinema.
That being said, grab your ticket and get in line. Because invariably there will be a sequel to be seen…