Harry has seen DISTRICT 9 three times and I am looking forward to many more!!!
Every now and again there is a film so special, so much better than everything else, that it flummoxes you. DISTRICT 9 is that film for me right now. I've seen it three times now and it just keeps getting better.
How is that?
Well, this is a movie that provokes strong reactions throughout the film. It is disturbing on multiple fronts. The aliens themselves are pretty repulsive looking, buzzing with flies - you can tell that they stink and live in squalor... but that they are in this shape, this squalor and decay... that is a shame at another level. A shame that we recognize. Not from previous films, but from the Nightly News. As Jim Kelly said in ENTER THE DRAGON, "Ghettoes are the same all over the world. They Stink." They stink indeed, but even Jim "Dragon" Kelly had never seen anything quite like this.
When I went into this film, I knew that the budget was $30 million. I knew that no name actors were involved, that it was a first time director, who had impressive short film work and who was the man directing the HALO movie for Peter Jackson... back before that fell apart. So, I expected great things, but you know... you never know.
At the budget... well, JULIE & JULIA cost $10 million more. How big could this really be? THE HANGOVER cost $5 million more. How "big" could this film be?
This is EPIC science fiction taking place in a Shanty Town outside Johannesburg, South Africa. This is, to me, the most accomplished, provocative and intelligent science fiction I've seen in this new century. On Twitter I declared that this is the first great science fiction film of the 21st century - and was instantly slammed by people that love CHILDREN OF MEN and SUNSHINE. All I can really say is this, "Have you seen DISTRICT 9?" Because if you haven't. You can't even enter the conversation yet, and this is a conversation that you will want to be in on.
Try comparing this to previous Sci Fi. It doesn't really look like anything we've seen before. Sure, there's elements that you could draw from ALIEN NATION, but this is nothing like that. As one person at the AICN Austin DISTRICT 9 commented, the basic story in some ways resembles an old Francis Ford Coppola film in the 60's, but that was a Fantasy Musical... about as different as you could imagine tonally... although there's some unmistakable parallels. The aliens themselves look like nothing I've really seen before.
Many of you recall that I missed the last 20-30 minutes of DISTRICT 9 at Comic Con cuz I had a prior engagement that I had to get to. For 6 days, my wife and I discussed what we thought would happen next. We were so far off, so completely thrilled by where it did end up, that we literally wanted to see it again, that night. (sadly, we couldn't.)
Then there's the annoying factoid that the film doesn't have any actors that we've seen before... not just that, but if you check the one-sheets... you won't find the name of the actor, whom you'll want to know the name of throughout the film.
I'll get this out of the way real quick. His name is Sharlto Copley. He plays Wikus Van De Merwe. If you check his IMDB profile, you'll find that he's never acted before. That he apparently wrote, produced & directed a movie called SPOON in 2008. I know nothing about this film other than it apparently has supernatural elements and stars Rutger Hauer and was shot in Cape Town, South Africa and that I'm wildly curious to see it.
But yeah... Sharlto Copley is about as off the grid as you get. He was a producer on Neill's ALIVE IN JOBURG - and technically he did appear as a sniper in a moment in that film... his only prior acting experience apparently.
You'll come out of DISTRICT 9 stunned by Sharlto Copley. There's only one other performance that I've seen this year that struck me as amazing as this one... and that's Christoph Waltz as Col. Hans Landa in Tarantino's Basterds. But Christoph is an accomplished actor. Just not a high profile one. Sharlto is UNKNOWN, an amateur. Someone that had no dreams or aspirations to be in front of the camera, he wanted to be behind the camera.
It also seems that Neill Blomkamp's directing technique was all Sharlto needed to add the layers of nuance that many of the most accomplished actors lack in even the best of movies. You'll be fascinated, mortified, offended by Sharlto's character in the first twenty minutes - and if I tell you now how you'll feel about him later... that'd be a spoiler. But one thing is certain. You'll want to see more of him.
Neill strove for realism throughout the making of the film. He found a real Shanty Town outside "Joburg" to shoot in - and the details he captured are amazing. The actors are hot, sweaty, it stinks - and you as an audience member can tell... visually... that it stinks... that it's disgusting, that on every surface is a vile infection waiting to cause you to get a battery of shots. There are animal body parts everywhere... many... simply were there. Others were brought in to the scenes - to give an "air" to the scenes and it works.
Then there's the effects.
The reason the creatures look like the creatures is that Neill - as a former visual effects geek - he knew what surfaces and looks can be rendered by a computer that would look 100% perfectly real in the environments. As a result. The Prawns, as they're called, look perfect. Not only that, but 98% of all the "Prawns" you see in this film... they were all accomplished through the performance capturing of a single performer. Again. Amazing.
Do not seek details about the story. I only do nationwide screenings for films on rare occassions. I try to do them whenever there's a film that I absolutely hope to see do well. And folks... DISTRICT 9 must succeed.
Because it is a truly great film. A film that asks us how we'll see future beings? Will we allow the ways of the past to dictate how we'll treat future sentient beings? But more than that, it's great filmmaking. Stunning filmmaking. The last 30 minutes or so -- it's concentrated badassery at a level that will have you cheering.
This is what ORIGINAL filmmaking looks like. What happens when you let a first timer have exactly what he needs to make a film that just fucking blows your mind away.
There's things here - like just how Wikus talks with the Prawn... how he understands them, but answers in English - it feels right. Especially in a city that has so many languages, and whose citizens must know multiple languages to simply exist. But when applied to a film like this. It's fantastic.
Remember how Deckard would never speak the street speak in BLADE RUNNER, but he understood it? There's a degree of that here. And a lot of how I feel about this movie was how I felt about BLADE RUNNER as a boy. I watched that 3 times the day it opened at the Fox Theater in Austin. And this is not BLADE RUNNER, though it kind of is. It's about a civil service employee that has to do a job with a being that the citizenry of his time holds in the lowest of esteem. This isn't future LA, but current Johannesburg, but if aliens landed there in 1982. So what we have is a speculative history that leads up to an alternate today.
Be prepared to feel a gamut of emotions - but know that the most prescient feeling you'll have coming out of DISTRICT 9 is that you are THRILLED. THRILLED to see something you could not have anticipated. Something new and wonderful and truly amazing.
And when you see it again - and you will see it again, you'll hear things you didn't catch the first time, you'll see details you missed. And upon third viewing, you see even more. This is THE FILM of 2009 so far - and it will take something I can't anticipate to knock it off that pedestal. DISTRICT 9 is my favorite of the year so far.