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Laramie Movie Scope:
District 9

Docu-style drama about alien immigration

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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August 16, 2009 -- This ragged science fiction adventure is put together like a home made documentary film and it overtly and aggressively addresses the issue of immigration. It isn't subtle, to paraphrase Bogey in Casablanca, but it is effective. The story has some serious holes and hand-held documentary filming style gives it an amateurish look, but it works. While not as overpraised as “The Dark Knight” some are already calling this one of the best movies of all time. It isn't that good, but it has an involving story and a serious social message, as any good science fiction film should have.

The story has a sort of alternate time line where a huge alien spaceship hovers over Johannesburg, South Africa. Inside, humans find millions of insect-like aliens who do not seem to know how to operate the space ship, and who haven't mastered the advanced technology it represents. They seem more like slaves, passive and lacking any advanced skills. They become known by the pejorative term “prawns.” They are taken to live in a fenced-off shanty town just outside the city. The hastily-explained back story gives way to the present day, 20 years later, when humans have grown tired of the novelty of having aliens around. A plan is devised to move the aliens to another refugee camp farther away from the city.

In charge of the evacuation is a meek executive, Wikus van der Merwe ((Sharlto Copley) who got the job because he married the boss's daughter. Wikus is a decent fellow, but is really not up to the task. Among Wikus's lack of skills is the ability to delegate authority. He ends up personally serving aliens with eviction notices at their shanties. This is both too time-consuming and dangerous for a top-level corporate executive. While searching a suspicious alien residence, Wikus is exposed to a powerful liquid which causes his DNA to begin changing into that of an alien. When the all-powerful Multi-National United company that Wikus works for (I told you the story was not subtle) discovers that his mixture of alien and human DNA is the key to unlocking the power of the aliens advanced weaponry, MNU decides to kill Wikus and use his body parts to work the alien technology. Wikus escapes and teams up with aliens who need the very same container of alien liquid that changed Wikus to escape Earth. Wikus and the aliens form an alliance to fight against heavy odds to win their freedom.

The film's documentary-style technique seems to be a cross between a Verhoeven-style film like “Robocop” and the low-budget hit “Cloverfield.” It is not for the squeamish. It is brutal and violent, but at the same time it adheres to certain Hollywood conventions, like the bad guys never shoot straight and the good guys can always get away with their plans, no matter the odds against them. This degrades the excitement in what should be the most exciting part of the movie. The film is an odd mix of realism and Hollywood romanticism. While the film has the look of a documentary, it also uses top-quality computer animation, makeup and special effects where needed to make the extraordinary look real and even mundane. The acting is good, even though the cast is made up of actors who are not well known. The film's message, that compassion and humanity extend far beyond our own species, isn't subtle, but it is effective. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2009 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)