District 9: DVD Review

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I wasn't sure what to expect when I watched District 9, I sat down to watch the film with little more knowledge about it than the front cover, the blurb on the back and that it had an 8.4 rating on IMDB. The film's premise is constructed around the concept of aliens arriving and living on Earth openly, which in itself isn't original enough to warrant paying attention to (see Alien Nation and the two renditions of V for a start.) But District 9 places an original spin on this trope and manages to bring something new to the sub-genre.

The city where first contact occurs is Johannesburg in South Africa, and the aliens themselves are destitute, aimless and relatively simple on an intellectual scale. Instead of having a race bent on gradually assimilating the human race, or at least developing as equals - instead we have a race (nicknamed 'prawns' after a the Parktown prawn a species of cricket considered to be a pest) being subjugated and forced to live in a segregated slum area.

The film mixes a documentary style with traditional cinematic, unfolding in the early stages with a series of "post hoc ergo propter hoc" interviews which hint at the events upcoming. They talk about the film's protagonist, one Wilkus Van Der Merwe (Sharlto Copley) and soon the film begins to follow him, both in documentary style and in traditional cinematic, as the story unfolds.

Wilkus is a bureaucrat recently promoted by his father-in-law Peit Smit (Louis Minnaar) to oversee the eviction and relocation of the prawns from the slum area to a new camp. The new camp being located further away from Johnannesburg (and it's alarmed populace) and looking suspiciously like a concentration camp. This is one of the places where the film mirrors reality, playing on the racial tensions of South Africa's more recent history and using these (along with real locations) to heighten the speciesism in the film. Effectively the attitude that humanity has towards the prawns is a riff on the colonial attitude to the indigent populace of times before - except that the prawns are unruly and impossible to utilise as workers.

The film continues in mock-umentary style, following Wilkus as he heads out to issue notices of eviction to the prawns. Who mostly seem to be unable to understand the concept of eviction and are treated as little better than talking animals by the officials, Wilkus included.

There is no doubt that District 9 is an accomplished film, it attempts to straddle the lines between hard sci-fi (which makes you think, see Moon, Blade Runner or 2010) and more action based sci-fi (most of the rest). Instead it ends up somewhere in the middle, occupying the same space as films like Minority Report, ID4 and Aliens (a personal favourite of mine). There are thought provoking concepts in the film, things which reflect current (or recent) issues in our societies but the third act does pretty much throw those aside in favour of excitment, guns and explosions. It's still great cinematography, but don't expect to walk away from District 9 thinking "Now that was something to really think about..."

The DVD set itself is reasonable, but not overloaded with extras. There's a trio of 'behind the scenes' shorts, totalling over 30 minutes of footage, commentary and deleted scenes, but that's about it. The behind the scenes stuff is good, the commentary is solid - but not the best I've heard, I prefer commentary with multiple people rather than just the one.

District 9 is one of the best action based movies I've seen this year, and it's got enough excitement, clever dialog, fun characters and awesome set pieces to make it one of the best films I've seen this year as well. This is one which is easy to recommend.

District 9 will be out on DVD and Bluray in the UK from the 28th of December. Just in time for the new year!


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