District 9 has moments of brilliance.
Early on it is an original piece of science fiction. A huge spaceship floats into the atmosphere above Johannesburg, South Africa, and parks. And the ship just hangs there. Nothing happens until humans break into the ship. There they find seemingly simple-minded creatures cringing in fear. It appears that none of them know how to drive the thing.
Now how cool is that? Usually alien ships show up in New York City, Los Angeles or Washington DC or all three.
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The aliens can’t take care of themselves. They are evacuated and placed in a slum called District 9. To feed themselves the aliens — who look like giant prawns and are called that — feed off garbage and cat food. Their caretakers are the honchos of the corporation Multi-National United (MNU) whose real goal is to figure out how to use their super-duper weapons.
Conflicts arise between the aliens and humans, and segregation ensues. This goes on for 20 years until the MNU decides the prawns need to be moved out of District 9 into different, “better,” more manageable accommodations. In other words, it is a different, smaller slum.
It’s a fascinating opening and hooks you completely. Writer/director Neil Blomkamp and co-writer Terri Tatchel give us this information in clever documentary style sequence. Though I’ve never seen Blomkamp’s acclaimed short film introducing this concept, I suspect it covers much of what is seen in the opening scenes.
And then, Blomkamp and his cohort run out of original ideas.
When the main character — Wikus Van De Merwe, who leads the MNU project — gets poisoned by an alien concoction and begins to evolve into one of them, the premise devolves into a common, visual-effects laden, disappointing chase flick.
Blomkamp and Tatchel have the plot probing the fringes of social issues such as apartheid, how greedy corporations take advantage of the poor and uneducated from outside the ghetto, and how equally greedy gangsters suck the life from them from within. Yeah, yeah, yeah, been there, done that with more interesting satire than alienating aliens from an unknown planet.
Left out are the answers to critical questions such as how the aliens got here, why they’re here and why some of them are hopelessly stupid while others are not. The film’s anticlimactic, predictable ending leaves you hanging and demands a sequel.
You may demand one, but to date Blomkamp and producer Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings) don’t have one planned. Ironically, that is the only real surprise found in District 9.
Mr. Movie rating: 3 1/2 stars
Rated R for violence, very mature themes. It opens Friday, Aug. 14 at Regal’s Columbia Mall 8 and at Fairchild Cinemas 12.
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.
2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.