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A Review of Neill Blomkamp's Film District 9

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The juxtaposition of Neill Blomkamp’s cinéma-vérité style, paired with the absurdity of the sci-fi genre, gives incredible merit to the dystopian film District 9.

Despite being Blomkamp’s first feature film, it is as accomplished and respected as any other modern sci-fi classic. Using the narrative of alien refugees as an allegory for South Africa’s dark apartheid history, it explores a theme other South African directors may be hesitant to bring back to the forefront of discussion in contemporary society. The film expands on the original plot of Blomkamp’s short film Alive in Joburg (2006).

It begins with the introduction of Wikus Van De Merwe, an awkward and uncoordinated alien affairs worker at MNU: The Department of Alien Affairs. He is not a protagonist you would conventionally see from a science fiction film .The disorganised nature of Wikus, just adds to how the film really does feel like a documentary at certain points. Instead of having an eloquent and confident action star, who would appear to know exactly how to behave in front of a camera for the first time, Wikus acts as any norm would do in this instance. This immediately makes us think Wikus is a protagonist we are going to like and relate to. But this precedent doesn’t last long, as he makes several morally questionable decisions further down the line, which don’t sit well with us as the audience.

The realism continues once we are shown jumpy archive footage of when the alien spaceship first appeared in Johannesburg’s skyline. If the narrative did not involve the absurdity of alien existence, then it would be difficult to know whether this film was a documentary and not fiction. It creates an alternate history that is indeed fact in the world that Blomkamp has created. This realism is aided with the addition of this archive footage and talking head interviews with experts and witnesses surrounding the events. This helps establish to the audience that what we are watching is fact, in relation to the narrative we are watching it in. It gives the film a sense of authenticity. It is edited to seem like it is a news piece. Some archive footage is reminiscent of footage of the refugee crisis of recent times – the relevance of the shots are not outdated and still is able to make an impact on a 2019 audience. All of this creates a captivating but dreadful world, that in some ways, feels very close to home.

The film splits between a cinéma-vérité and a third person narrative stance. The whole film is not in the style of documentary, which can be seen as one of its few flaws. If the entire film had been shot through a documentary lens, then it may have been more compelling and shocking, as you would have been watching the whole film as if it was a non-fictitious narrative. It lacked its authenticity once it went back to a standard third person point of view. Though, as the tone and plot of the film gets turned on its head after Wikus is injured (and his life changes forever) – it would be unrealistic for a documentary crew to be able to continue to capture his story. The third person perspective also allows us to see Wikus as he truly is, without an intrusive film crew documenting him. His character is unaware of the third person perspective so is able to act authentically. Sharlto Copley performs superbly as Wikus, producing a complex character, who is constantly challenging the audience’s perception of him throughout the narrative.

The film depicts some beautiful cinematography, showcasing the spectacular Johannesburg, alongside displaying the immense size of the prawns’, (what the aliens are referred to) temporary settlements. These birds eye view shots, taken from MNU helecoptors show the sheer vastness of the settlements, looking down on the prawns as insignificant outsiders. Again this harks back to the racial segregation history in South Africa and the camps that inhabitted thousands of black Africans. Using the allegory of the prawns as the oppressed, Blomkamp is able to subtely hint at South Africa’s shame without making a loud political statement. It still allows us to enjoy the film purely as a scicence fiction narrative – without also needing to support a political stance.

The stunning CGI is similarly what makes the film so realistic. It is arguable one of the most genuine and sharp depictions of aliens in the science fiction genre. Animator Craig McPherson, who has since worked on other sci-fi releases such as Edge of Tomorrow and Men in Black: International, created the prawns to look almost human in their expressions and facial movements. Christopher, the prawn protagonist, executed one of the most enthralling performances in the film, with his expressive eyes portraying all the emotions of a concerned father. And somehow, the animators and the writers convinced the audience to feel empathy for the alien lifeforms over our own species, which is uncommon in the dystopian genre.

If there is anything generic about District 9, it is the soundtrack. Produced by Clinton Shorter, the score is nothing special, in it could’ve been plucked from any sci-fi movie and we wouldn’t have noticed. This really lets Blomkamp’s masterpiece down and the score could’ve really benefitted from just more originality and excitement to aid the narrative along. If the quality of acting and CGI wasn’t so engrossing, then this disappointment of a soundtrack could’ve affected the delight of watching the film.

As an avid fan of sci-fi movies, once I had watched District 9 it immediately became one of my favourites and it is a film which left a lasting effect on me. For anyone who wants a break from the Americanised adaptations of the genre, this film offers a breath of fresh air that gives fans an alternative to the many subpar sci-fi films that Hollywood has been churning out over the last 15 years. Pairing the cinema-verité style with this dystopian narrative was indeed a risky move from Blomkamp, but evidently paid off in producing one of the best science fiction films of the 21st century.  

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A Review Of Neill Blomkamp’s Film District 9. (2021, November 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 8, 2021, from
“A Review Of Neill Blomkamp’s Film District 9.” GradesFixer, 10 Nov. 2021,
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