Review: District 9

District 9 poster

Guess what I saw last weekend? Yep, after all the praise from critics and reviewers, I decided to watch District 9. The movie’s about a huge alien ship that was found hovering over Johannesburg, South Africa, about thirty years ago. After the initial pants-wetting fades away, people start noticing the lack of death rays, so a team flies up to investigate. They find a bunch of insectoid aliens cowering inside, starving and miserable, with no way to control the ship. They soon discover that the ship’s command module had already departed and been lost, so the poor slobs left behind had no way of getting home or firing off those awesome death rays I was hoping for. Alien rights activists petition the government to provide a home for the “prawns,” as the aliens are called, because lefties always ruin everything for gun toting rednecks and corporate titans. This leads to the creation of District 9, a slum where the aliens are holed up by military types. Only the prawns keep escaping and bugging their neighbors, so the government hires an evil corporation called MNU (Multi-National United) to move them further from the general population. Poor dopes.

So, the question you’ve been waiting for: is the movie any good?

I would give it a firm “eh.” OK, the movie doesn’t suck. But I didn’t like it nearly as much as the critics did.

The bad

Symbol of prawns and humans working together
It’s always Christmas
in District 9. Hurray!

Like many foreign sci-fi movies and TV shows I’ve seen, the plot is weak and full of glaringly obvious holes. That’s not to say that homegrown sci-fi never suffers from these problems, it just seems like the imported stuff rarely meets my exulted standard of “stories should make sense.” Too bad. Anyway, here are some of the problems I caught in a single viewing.

Warning: watch out for spoilers. They’re everywhere!


1)  There are nearly 2 million prawns aboard the ship, who — somehow — are able to smuggle a lot of technology down to Earth. And I do mean a lot of technology. Like gigantic suits of Robotech-style battle armor and huge guns longer than a man’s torso. How’d they sneak this stuff past security? And if they can maintain this stuff for twenty or thirty years, aren’t they smart enough to build a radio that will let them call for a rescue? Maybe.

2) Apparently the prawn called Christopher Johnson … which is an awesome name, because I used to work for a guy named Chris Johnson … was the leader or one of the leaders of the ship. Turns out the lost command module is under his shack. So he just buried a big ass ship the size of a bus several feet under the ground all by himself and no one noticed? I’ve buried worse things in my back yard. But nothing as big as that. Then again, if their custodians didn’t catch them smuggling battle armor the size of Optimus Prime off the ship, maybe it really is kinda plausible.

Wikus fights
Wikus receives his first anal probe.

3) How the hell did Wikus get out of the lab? Seriously. They were about to dissect his ass and he just got up, shoved somebody, grabbed a hostage, then left. He heads out of a door, and — POOF! — he’s on the outside and hauling ass right for District 9, which is just a brisk walk away. MNU security really is total bullshit!

Seriously, guys — when you get an alien hybrid and you want to conduct evil experiments on it, you don’t want to set up shop in a high school gym. You bury the frickin’ building like ten miles underground and fill it with booby traps so nothin’ gets out alive. And if the alien takes a hostage, you shoot anyway. Why? Because you’re evil and you don’t care! That’s why. Besides, you don’t carry bullets around your precious alien hybrid. You use tasers or something so you don’t kill the merchandise. Sheesh. Who’s running that place?

Christopher Johnson
Chris Johnson: Home But Hiding!

4) Then Wikus and Christopher go back into the lab all by themselves, battle security, and find the precious (but tiny) vial of fuel. Uh huh. So they fight their way through what should have been a very secure location … which is just a brisk walk away from District 9 … where MNU is doing evil experiments on the prawns … and they apparently have like twelve guys guarding the whole base or something. AND they seem to be keeping the vial of fuel in the same room they’re using to vivisect aliens to keep the plot moving. Well, since MNU is stupid enough to stack the odds that highly in their favor, OK I guess… This might explain how Wikus got out so easily. But not why the MNU staff is so stupid.

I have other complaints besides the plot holes. The themes seem to revolve around ideas like “we’re really all the same deep down inside” and “humans are the real evil bottom feeders, not these alien prawns.” Nothing terribly original or exciting there. At least nothing that I picked up on.

Ultimately, the movie didn’t strike me as all that original in general. It was like V or Alien Nation with updated special effects. I understand that it was related to some historic atrocities, apartheid, and all that. Unfortunately, that just didn’t make it “grab” me any better.

The Good

Thankfully, there was some goodness here. The opening scenes where Wikus is duping the prawns into signing his papers and generally being a corporate puppet (not to mention a total dick) were kinda funny. The action was also pretty good. People get blowed up real good in this movie. If that’s your thing, you’ll probably like District 9 enough to go see it in the theater. If not, you’ll probably be better off renting it or watching it on IFC.

There’s also a tragic element to the main character, Wikus. He’s just a poor slob trying to get by. He may be a pencil pushing bureaucrat, but he also loves his wife dearly and desperately wants the approval of his father-in-law. And for that, he gets turned into an animated alien freak who whittles flowers out of junk. Huh. Well, life is cruel sometimes.

End of spoilers.

Conclusion

Prawn ship hovers
If it’s death rays were working, I’d
consider trading in my Chrysler for
this puppy. Otherwise, not a fucking chance.

Overall, District 9 wasn’t great. But it didn’t suck. To my surprise, my wife (a Jehovah’s Witness) liked it despite the violence. Still, if you want something with substance, I can’t really recommend you pay to see in the theater. As I said, I realize this is a story about oppression and apartheid and all that. That sounds like something deep, but mostly, it felt pretty thin to me. The theme just didn’t resonate in this film. For some, it might be worth watching the movie to see stuff git blown up good. Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes seem to think so. Metacritic has given it an 81%, while Rotten Tomatoes has given it an 88%. If I had to do it all again, I’d probably say it’s worth a rental and leave it at that.

Choose wisely.

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About The Atheist Geek

The Atheist Geek is a former Jehovah’s Witness turned secular humanist. He’s a lifelong sci-fi geek and a writer wannabe.

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