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District 9 (film)

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District 9
Film information
Director(s)

Neill Blomkamp

Producer(s)

Peter Jackson
Carolynne Cunningham

Writer(s)

Neill Blomkamp
Terri Tatchell

Starring

Sharlto Copley
Jason Cope
David James

Music by

Clinton Shorter

Distributor(s)

TriStar Pictures

Release date(s)

August 13, 2009
August 14, 2009 (United States)

Running time

112 minutes

Budget

$30 million[1]

Gross Revenue

$210,816,205 [2]

District 9 is a 2009 science fiction thriller film directed by Neill Blomkamp. It was written by Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell, and produced by Peter Jackson and Carolynne Cunningham. The film stars Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope and David James. Copley plays the role of Wikus van de Merwe,[3] an Afrikaner bureaucrat assigned to relocate a race of extraterrestrial creatures unexpectedly stranded on Earth, referred to as "prawns", from District 9, a military-guarded slum in Johannesburg, South Africa, to an internment camp outside the city. The movie was nominated for four Academy Awards in 2010, including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Visual Effects, and Best Editing.[4]

The story, adapted from Alive in Joburg, a 2005 short film directed by Blomkamp and produced by Sharlto Copley and Simon Hansen, pivots on the themes of xenophobia and social segregation. The title and premise of District 9 were inspired by events that took place in District Six, Cape Town during the apartheid era. The film was produced for $30 million and shot on location in Chiawelo, Soweto, presenting fictional interviews, news footage, and video from surveillance cameras in a part-mock documentary style format. A viral marketing campaign began in 2008, at the San Diego Comic-Con, while the theatrical trailer appeared in July 2009. Released by TriStar Pictures, the film opened to critical acclaim on August 14, 2009, in North America and earned $37 million in its opening weekend. Many saw the film as a sleeper hit for its relatively unknown cast and modest-budget production, while achieving success and popularity during its theatrical run.

Plot Edit

The film opens with a documentary-style series of interviews that introduce the situation. In March 1982, a large alien spacecraft comes to Earth, hovering motionless above Johannesburg, South Africa. After three months without any contact, the humans decide to take an initiative and cut their way into the ship. Once they enter, they discover a million or so aliens, all in a terrible state of malnourishment and sickness. They are later assessed as apparently being all "workers," with their leadership mysteriously missing. One theory suggests that the entire leadership had been wiped out by a disease that had spread through the ship. The creatures were housed in a temporary government camp which, through overcrowding and militarization, eventually turned into a slum. This slum was known as District 9.

The movie takes places 28 years after the aliens' first arrival. Patience over the alien situation had run out after the first few years so, control over them was contracted out to Multi-National United (MNU), a private company uninterested in the aliens' welfare. MNU stands to receive tremendous profits if they can make the aliens' advanced weaponry work with humans. The company, thus far, has failed in making the extraterrestrial weaponry work, because activation of the weaponry requires the presence of alien DNA in the genetic structure of the user.

An MNU field operative, Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley), is set with a task to move 1.8 million aliens to a new District 10 camp located some 200 km from Johannesburg, with the help from private security forces working for MNU for protection and force. Tension between the aliens and the humans comes to a head when Wikus, after handling an alien device, begins changing into one of the aliens after the device sprays a burst of a dark liquid on his face. A rapid transformation begins to occur, and shortly after exposure to the black liquid, Wikus's left arm mutates into a claw exactly like that of a "prawn" -a derogatory name for the aliens. Wikus is taken into custody and a series of tests and experiments are performed on him, such as seeing if he could make alien weaponry function, and it's effects on various targets. These tests reveal that he is capable of operating alien technology since he now has alien DNA. The scientists discover that his DNA is currently "in balance" with the alien DNA, which is gradually taking over. It is concluded that they should harvest his body for biological material at this critical point, to have the greatest chance of replicating his ability to use alien technology in other humans later. However, during an attempted vivisection, Wikus escapes after overpowering his captors and flees from MNU.

While on the run from MNU, Wikus is forced to seek refuge inside of District 9 by hiding inside of a run-down shack. The next morning, the effects of the transformation are more evident because Wikus now has an urge to eat cat food. The aliens love to eat cat food because, to them, it acts like cat-nip, but with a more intense effect. After eating the cat-food, Wikus begins to realize exactly what is happening to him, and decides that the only thing he can do is cut off the alien arm. After only chopping off the thumb, he decides that it isn't worth it. He then gets a call from his wife, who is being monitored by MNU. After the discovery of his location, Wikus has to lay low again. He inadvertantly hides in the shack that belongs to an alien known as Christopher Johnson, who is the same alien who created the alien device that infected Wikus. The device contains fuel that Christopher scavenged from spacecraft parts scattered around District 9. Although initially hostile towards Wikus, refusing to provide him sanctuary, Christopher eventually agrees to assist Wikus by reversing the transformation and returning him to normal. Christopher can undo the mutation by getting Wikus aboard the mother ship hovering over Johannesburg. To do so requires the contents of the alien device (fuel) which Wikus had confiscated. Wilkus manages to steal some alien weaponry from a Nigerian criminal gang also living in District 9 and, with Christopher's help, they launch an assault on MNU and successfully retrieve the fuel sample required to power up a shuttle and return to the mother ship. While there, Christopher discovers that MNU have been experimenting on his people.

Wikus and Christopher return to District 9 and Christopher admits the process involved to cure Wikus could take up to three years to complete, due to Christopher wanting to travel to his home world to seek help. Furious, Wikus knocks Christopher unconscious and powers up the ship himself. MNU's hired mercenaries target Wikus and destroy one of the shuttle's engines, causing it to crash-land inside District 9. A battle between the mercenaries and a local group of thugs begins to rage, both groups want to capture Wikus; MNU wants to dissect him to gain an understanding of how to use alien technology, and the Nigerians believe if they eat his alien arm they will gain his power. In the end of the battle, the thugs manage to capture Wikus.

At the last second before his arm is chopped off, Christopher's son Little CJ gains control of a mechanized battle suit from inside the crashed shuttle and helps free Wikus. Wikus then enters the alien walker battle suit and defends Christopher. Wikus' suit is soon shot by heavy fire, and causes him to fall down. As he is down, he convinces Christopher to return to the shuttle with his son. Before separating, Christopher promises Wikus he will return in three years' time to help him. Christopher then boards the shuttle, and activates a tractor beam which brings the shuttle back to the mother ship.

As the shuttle docks with the mother ship, Wikus is shot in the back and the walker suit ejects him from the cockpit after taking critical damage. Wikus drags himself away from the leader of the merceneries, Kobus Venter, but is quickly caught. Just before the mercenary shoots Wikus, aliens emerge from the surrounding slums and dismember and eat the soldier.

The film concludes with another series of interviews and news broadcasts, showing the humans' view on the events that unfolded. An interview with Wikus' wife reveals a small metal rose was left on her doorstep (Wikus strongly believed a gift was worth more if it was made personally). She mentions that her friends have told her that it could not have possibly been Wikus, but she believes that he is out there somewhere. An alien with a bandaged left arm, and a small blue right eye is then seen standing in a junk yard inside District 9 fashioning a small metal rose out of scrap metal implying that Wikus is indeed alive, his transformation from human to alien is complete, and is still awaiting Christopher's promised return.

CastEdit

  • Sharlto Copley as Wikus van de Merwe, a mild-mannered manager at the MNU Department of Alien Affairs. This was the first time acting professionally in a feature film for Copley, a friend of director Blomkamp.[5]
  • Jason Cope as Christopher Johnson, an alien. Cope also performed the role of Grey Bradnam, the UKNR Chief Correspondent and all the speaking aliens.[6]
  • David James as Colonel Koobus Venter, a PMC mercenary-soldier sent to capture Wikus. He is shown as sadistic and violent, taking pleasure in killing the aliens and treating with violence anyone who opposes him.
  • Eugene Khumbanyiwa as Obesandjo, a paralyzed psychopathic Nigerian warlord.
  • Louis Minnaar as Piet Smit, a director at MNU, and Wikus' father-in-law. He is the one who creates the cover-up that turns Wikus into a fugitive, and tries to turn his daughter against Wikus by saying he had committed adultery with the aliens by having sexual intercourse with them.
  • Mandla Gaduka as Fundiswa Mhlanga, Wikus' assistant and trainee during the eviction. At the end of the film he is shown to be prosecuted for uncovering MNU's illegal activities.
  • Vanessa Haywood as Tania Smit van de Merwe, Wikus' wife.
  • Robert Hobbs as Ross Pienaar.
  • Kenneth Nkosi as Thomas, an MNU security guard.
  • Nathalie Boltt as Sarah Livingstone, a sociologist at Kempton Park University.
  • Sylvaine Strike as Katrina McKenzie, a doctor from the Department of Social Assistance.
  • John Sumner as Les Feldman, a MIL engineer.
  • Nick Blake as Francois Moraneu, a member of the CIV Engineer Team.
  • Jed Brophy as James Hope, the ACU chief of police.
  • Vittorio Leonardi as Michael Bloemstein, from the MNU Dept. of Alien Civil Affairs.
  • Johan van Schoor as Nicolaas van de Merwe, Wikus' father.
  • Marian Hooman as Sandra van de Merwe, Wikus' mother.
  • Stella Steenkamp as Phyllis Sinderson, a co-worker of Wikus'.
  • Tim Gordon as Clive Henderson, an entomologist at WLG University.
  • Jonathan Taylor as the Doctor.
  • Nick Boraine as Lieutenant Weldon, Colonel Venter's right-hand man.

ProductionEdit

Development Edit

Producer Peter Jackson planned to produce a film adaptation based on the Halo video game franchise with first-time director Neill Blomkamp. Due to lack of financing, the Halo adaptation was placed on hold. Jackson and Blomkamp discussed pursuing alternative projects and eventually chose to produce and direct, respectively, District 9. Blomkamp had previously directed commercials and short films, but District 9 was his first feature film. The director co-wrote the script with Terri Tatchell and chose to film in South Africa, where he was born.[7] In District 9, Tatchell and Blomkamp emulated the world explored in his short film "Alive in Joburg", choosing characters, moments and concepts that they found interesting, and fleshing out these elements for the feature film.[8]

QED International fully financed the production of the independent film, underwriting the negative cost prior to American Film Market (AFM) 2007. At AFM 2007, QED entered into a distribution deal with Sony Pictures under TriStar Pictures for North America and other English-language territories, Korea, Italy, Russia and Portugal.[9]

FilmingEdit

The film was shot on location in Chiawelo, Soweto during a time of violent unrest in Alexandra, Gauteng and other South African townships involving clashes between native South Africans and Africans born in other countries.[10] The location that portrays District 9 in itself was in fact a real impoverished neighborhood from which people were being forcibly relocated to government-subsidised housing.[6]

Blomkamp said no one film influenced District 9, but cited the 1980s "hardcore sci-fi/action" films such as Alien, Aliens, The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Predator and RoboCop as subconscious influences. The director said, "I don't know whether the film has that feeling or not for the audience, but I wanted it to have that harsh 1980s kind of vibe — I didn't want it to feel glossy and slick."[8]

Because of the amount of hand-held shooting required for the film, the producers and crew decided to shoot using the digital Red One camera. Cinematographer Trent Opaloch used nine digital Red Ones owned by Peter Jackson for primary filming.[11] "District 9′ was shot on RED One cameras using build 15, Cooke S4 primes and Angenieux zooms. The documentary style and CCTV cam footage was shot on the Sony EX1/EX3 XDCAM-HD."[12] "The District 9 post production team were warned that the most RED footage they could handle a day was about an hour and a half. When that got to five hours a day reinforcements were called and 120 Terabytes of data was filled."[13]

Visual effectsEdit

The aliens in District 9 were designed by Weta Workshop, and the design was executed by Image Engine. Blomkamp established criteria for the design of the aliens. He wanted the species to be insect-like but also bipedal. The director wanted the audience to relate to the aliens and said of the restriction on the creature design, "Unfortunately, they had to be human-esque because our psychology doesn't allow us to really empathize with something unless it has a face and an anthropomorphic shape. Like if you see something that's four-legged, you think it's a dog; that's just how we're wired... If you make a film about an alien force, which is the oppressor or aggressor, and you don't want to empathize with them, you can go to town. So creatively that's what I wanted to do but story-wise, I just couldn't."[14] Blomkamp originally sought to have Weta Digital design the creatures, but the company was busy with effects for Avatar. The director then decided to choose a Vancouver-based effects company because he anticipated to make films there in the future and because British Columbia offered a tax credit. Blomkamp met with Image Engine and considered them "a bit of a gamble" since the company had not pursued a project as large as a feature film.[8] Aside from the aliens appearing on the operating table in the medical lab, all of them were computer generated by CGI Special Effects.[15]

Weta Digital designed the mothership and the drop ship, while the exo-suit and the little pets were designed by The Embassy Visual Effects. Zoic Studios performed overflow 2D work.[8] On-set live special effects were created by MXFX.[16]

ThemesEdit

Like Alive in Joburg, the short film on which the feature film is based, the setting of District 9 is inspired by historical events that took place in South Africa during the apartheid era, with the film's title particularly referencing District Six. District Six, an inner-city residential area in Cape Town, was declared a "whites only" area by the government in 1966, with 60,000 people forcibly removed and relocated to Cape Flats, 25 km (15 mi) away.[17] The film also refers to contemporary evictions and forced removals to new suburban ghettos in post-apartheid South Africa as well as the resistance of its residents.[18][19] This includes the high profile attempted forced removal of the Joe Slovo informal settlement in Cape Town to temporary relocation areas in Delft, plus the attempted evictions of Abahlali baseMjondolo and evictions in the shack settlement, Chiawelo, where the film was actually shot.[6] The temporary relocation area dubbed Blikkiesdorp, has also been compared with the District 9 camp earning a front page spread in the Daily Voice.[20][21]

The film makes a statement about inhumanity in the irony of Wikus becoming more humane as he becomes less human.[22] Throughout the movie, he becomes more aware of the aliens' plight, eventually helping them escape the planet, even turning on his own species to do so. Chris Mikesell from Ka Leo notes that inhumanity is a deep-rooted theme throughout. He writes: "Substitute 'black,' 'Asian,' 'Mexican,' 'illegal,' 'Jew,' or any number of different labels for the word 'prawn' in this film and you will hear the hidden truth behind the dialogue". Alien eggs are destroyed before birth and described as popcorn. He feels that District 9 shows the corruption humans are capable of. M.N.U., the corporation in charge of protecting the aliens, are actually taking away captured aliens and using them as experiments in order to be able to use their weapons.[23]

Themes of racism and xenophobia are put forward by the movie in the form of speciesism applied to the aliens. The use of the word "prawn" to describe the aliens is a reference to the Parktown prawn, a king cricket species considered a pest in South Africa.[24] Copley has said that the theme is not intended to be the main focus of the work, but rather that it can work at a subconscious level even if it is not noticed.[25]

Duane Dudek from the Journal Sentinel wrote that "The result is an action film about xenophobia, in which all races of humans are united in their dislike and mistrust of an insect-like species".[26]

An underlying theme in District 9 is state reliance on multinational corporations as a government funded enforcement arm. As MNU represents the type of corporation which partners with governments, the negative portrayal of MNU in the film can be seen as a statement about the dangers of governments, particularly in their outsourcing of militaries and bureaucracies to private contractors.[27][28]

MusicEdit

The music for District 9 was scored by Canadian composer Clinton Shorter, who spent three weeks preparing for the film. Director Neill Blomkamp wanted a "raw and dark" score, but one that maintained its African roots. This was a challenge for Shorter, who found much of the African music he worked with to be optimistic and joyful. Unable to get the African drums to sound dark and heavy, Shorter used a combination of taiko drums and synthesized instruments for the desired effects, with the core African elements of the score conveyed in the vocals and smaller percussion.[29] Both the score and soundtrack feature music and vocals from Kwaito artists.

MarketingEdit

Sony Pictures launched a "Humans Only" marketing campaign to promote District 9. Sony's marketing team designed its promotional material to emulate the segregational billboards that appear throughout the film.[14] Billboards, banners, posters, and stickers were thus designed with the theme in mind, and the material was spread across public places such as bus stops in various cities, including "humans only" signs in certain locations and providing toll-free numbers to report "non-human" activity.[30][31] Promotional material was also presented at the 2008 San Diego Comic-Con, advertising the website D-9.com,[32] which had an application presented by the fictional Multi-National United (MNU). The website had a local alert system for Johannesburg (the film's setting), news feeds, behavior recommendations, and rules and regulations. Other viral websites for the film were also launched, including an MNU website with a countdown timer for the film's release,[33] an anti-MNU blog run by fictional alien character Christopher Johnson,[34] and an MNU-sponsored educational website.[35][36] An online game for District 9 has also been made where players can choose to be a human or an alien. Humans are MNU agents on patrol trying to arrest or kill aliens. Aliens try to avoid capture from MNU agents whilst searching for alien canisters.[37]

ReceptionEdit

Box office Edit

District 9 opened in 3,049 theaters in the United States and Canada on August 14, 2009, and the film ranked first at the weekend box office with an opening gross of $37,354,308. Among comparable science fiction films in the past, its opening attendance was slightly less than the 2008 film Cloverfield and the 1997 film Starship Troopers. The audience demographic for District 9 was 64 percent male and 57 percent people 25 years or older.[30] The film stood out as a summer film that generated strong business despite little-known casting.[38] Its opening success was attributed to the studio's unusual marketing campaign. In the film's second weekend, it dropped 49% in revenue while competing against the opening film Inglourious Basterds for the male audience, as Sony Pictures attributed the "good hold" to District 9 's strong playability.[39] The film enjoyed similar success in the UK with an opening gross of £2,288,378 showing at 447 screens.[40] As of November 4, 2009 (2009 -11-04), it has grossed an estimated $115,646,235 in the United States and Canada and $83,801,844 in other territories, for a worldwide total of $210,816,205,[41] making it a huge box office success, considering the production budget was only $30 million

CriticsEdit

The film has received very positive reviews, with Rotten Tomatoes reporting that 91% of critics gave the film a positive review, based on a sample of 244, with an average score of 7.8 out of 10. The website wrote of the consensus, "Technically brilliant and emotionally wrenching, District 9 has action, imagination, and all the elements of a thoroughly entertaining science-fiction classic."[42] At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the film has received a score of 81 based on 36 reviews, indicating "Universal Acclaim".[43] On Spill.com it received their highest rating of 'Better Than Sex!'. IGN recently listed District 9 as 24 on a list of the 25 Great Sci-Fi films ever.[44]

Sara Vilkomerson of The New York Observer writes, "District 9 is the most exciting science fiction movie to come along in ages; definitely the most thrilling film of the summer; and quite possibly the best film I've seen all year."[45] Christy Lemire from the Associated Press was impressed by the plot and thematic content, claiming that "District 9 has the aesthetic trappings of science fiction but it's really more of a character drama, an examination of how a man responds when he's forced to confront his identity during extraordinary circumstances."[46] Entertainment Weekly 's Lisa Schwarzbaum described it as "... madly original, cheekily political, [and] altogether exciting ..."[47]

Roger Ebert praised the film for "giving us aliens to remind us not everyone who comes in a spaceship need be angelic, octopod or stainless steel," but complains that "... the third act is disappointing, involving standard shoot-out action. No attempt is made to resolve the situation, and if that's a happy ending, I've seen happier. Despite its creativity, the film remains space opera and avoids the higher realms of science-fiction."[48] New York Press critic Armond White lambasted the film for its outlandish premise and perceived racial insensitivity toward its apartheid allegories. He asserts that "Blomkamp and Jackson want it every which way: The actuality-video threat of The Blair Witch Project, unstoppable violence like ID4 plus Spielberg's otherworldly benevolence: factitiousness, killing and cosmic agape. This is how cinema gets turned into trash."[49] The review was initially defended by Roger Ebert, but soon after Ebert referred to White as a troll[50] though White countered that Ebert was in fact the troll, claiming Ebert was pressured by his employers to retract his support. Josh Tyler of Cinema Blend says the film is unique in interpretation and execution, but considers it to be a knockoff of the 1988 film Alien Nation.[51]

ControversyEdit

"The idea that it's not only Nigerians, but all Africans who behave in that way, will be spread across the world. I find that to be a painful thought. The manner in which the Nigerians are depicted cannot be justified."
—Hakeem Kae-Kazim[52]

Many Nigerians, both in the country and overseas, were deeply offended by the film. Nigeria's Information Minister Dora Akunyili asked movie theatres around the country to either ban the film or edit out specific references to the country, because of the film's negative depiction of the Nigerian characters as criminals and cannibals. Letters of complaint were sent to the producer and distributor of the film demanding an apology. She also said the gang leader Obesandjo is almost identical in spelling and pronunciation to the surname of former president Olusegun Obasanjo.[53] The film was later banned in Nigeria; the Nigerian Film and Video Censors Board was asked to prevent cinemas from showing the film and also to confiscate it.[54]

Many Nigerians also accused District 9 of being xenophobic. Online petitions and Facebook groups were started called "District 9 Hates Nigerians". Hakeem Kae-Kazim, a British born Nigerian actor also criticized the portrayal of Nigerians in the film telling the Beeld newspaper Africa is a beautiful place and the problems it does have can not be shown by such a small group of people.[52]

AccoladesEdit

District 9 was named one of the top 10 independent films of 2009 by the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures. The film received four Academy Awards nominations, seven British Academy Film Awards nominations, five Broadcast Film Critics Association nominations, and one Golden Globe nomination. It is the fourth film ever nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards for TriStar Pictures behind As Good As It Gets, Jerry Maguire and Bugsy. It won the 2009 Bradbury Award from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.[55]

Home releaseEdit

The Blu-ray Disc and Region 1 Code widescreen edition of District 9 as well as the 2-disc special edition version on DVD was released on December 22, 2009.[56] The DVD and Blu-ray Disc includes the documentary "The Alien Agenda: A Filmmaker's Log" and the special features "Metamorphosis: The Transformation of Wikus", "Innovation: Acting and Improvisation", "Conception and Design: Creating the World of District 9", and "Alien Generation: Visual Effects".[57] The demo for the video game God of War III featured in the 2009 Electronic Entertainment Expo is also included with the Blu-ray release of District 9 playable on the Sony PlayStation 3.[58][59] The film is currently available on Netflix "Instant Watch" feature.

MerchandiseEdit

WETA released (in July 2010) Christopher Johnson and Son as sculptures.[60]

SequelEdit

On August 1, 2009, two weeks before District 9 was released to cinemas, Neill Blomkamp hinted that he intended to make a sequel if the film was successful enough. During an interview on the "Rude Awakening" 94.7 Highveld Stereo breakfast radio show, he alluded to it, saying "There probably will be." Nevertheless, he revealed that his next project is unrelated to the District 9 universe.[61] In an interview with Rotten Tomatoes, Blomkamp stated that he was "totally" hoping for a follow-up: "I haven't thought of a story yet but if people want to see another one, I'd love to do it."[62] Blomkamp has posed the possibility of the next movie in the series being a prequel, though audiences wanted to see Wikus cured from the transformation.[63] In an interview with Empire magazine posted on April 28, 2010, Sharlto Copley suggested that a follow-up, while very likely, would be about two years away, given his and Neill Blomkamp's current commitments.[64]

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