District 9

  • Reviewed by: Tim Salmons
  • Review Date: Apr 08, 2010
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Director

Neill Blomkamp

Release Date(s)

2009 (December 22, 2009)

Studio(s)

Wingnut Films/TriStar (Sony)

Review

Science fiction has been covered from every conceivable angle that you can possibly think of, particularly over the last couple of decades.  So it’s refreshing to know that there are still some relatively original and thought-provoking ideas left in a system that is currently remaking and re-imagining everything to death.

District 9 is probably the best science fiction film of the last 20 years, and I would go so far as to put it in the same class as Blade RunnerRoboCopAliens or Predator.  Based on Neill Blomkamp’s original short film Alive in Joburg, it was optioned by Peter Jackson for a big screen adaptation after their proposed film based on the Halo video game franchise caved in.  Taking place in modern-day Johannesburg, it follows the story of a South African community after an alien ship comes to Earth and hovers over the area for 28 years.  Unable to leave Earth without rescue, the aliens (known derogatorily as “Prawns”) are forced to live in slums in an area known as District 9.  The bureaucratic Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley) is sent in to evict and move them to a new location, District 10.  The Corporate giant M.N.U. (Multinational United), which has taken direct control of the area, is soon on the hunt for Wikus when it’s discovered that he has learned the secrets to the alien’s technology, which have unwittingly changed him forever.  He suddenly becomes embroiled in the seedy underground and back alleys of District 9, doomed like the Prawns to fight for his own survival.

Being a big fan of the original RoboCop, you can clearly see that film’s influence here.  District 9 is more or less is a gritty throwback to the blood-soaked action-oriented movies of the 1980’s.  Xenophobia, corporate take-over and racial segregation are just a few of the themes that the film conjures up.  It also deals with the humanity of its characters, played out most obviously by Wikus, who is on a harrowing journey of self-discovery.  Downbeat to the core, this film is by no means a product of modern-day Hollywood.  It’s almost documentary-like, using interviews and news footage to give the story its backdrop.  The film is also a metaphor for the very real tensions taking place in South Africa and other parts of the world, only with extraterrestrials in the mix.

The video presentation on this Blu-ray is extremely detail-oriented.  Featuring one of the dirtiest and most interesting milieus ever captured on film, the transfer reveals all of the fine details.  The only thing at odds with such a gorgeous picture is the news footage interweaved throughout the movie.  Some of the footage is extremely soft and disorienting, which took me out of the moment at times.  It’s a deliberate choice by the filmmakers, but one that I wish they had done differently.  In the sound department, you get two DTS-HD tracks, one in English and one in French.  The English track really kicks out the decibels and is very well mixed, so it’s nothing you’ll be complaining about.  You also get two English Dolby Digital tracks in 5.1 and 2.0, as well as a set of subtitles in English SDH, French and Hindi for those who might need them.  There are also subtitles for the audio commentary, as well.

In the extras category, the disc opens with previews for MoonMichael Jackson’s This is It2012The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day and Zombieland (you can also access these through the main menu).  After the previews, you get a choice of two different menu options: one for humans and one for Prawns.  The layout of each menu isn’t really different, but the footage that plays over each menu is, giving each menu scheme the point of view of whichever being that you’ve selected.  The audio commentary by Neill Blonkamp is perhaps the most interesting feature you’ll find on the disc.  I loved hearing this level-headed and confident first-time director talk about the film and his experiences with it.  He hardly takes a breath for the entire two hours, but never gets boring.  Next, you get a multitude of deleted scenes (23 in all), most of which are scene extensions and additional interviews with the characters.  There’s nothing here that really should have been left in, but it’s nice to see them included.  There’s also several behind-the-scenes featurettes and documentaries to whet your appetite: The Alien Agenda: A Filmmaker’s Log – Three Part Documentary (which is a little over 30 minutes long), Metamorphosis: The Transformation of WikusInnovation: Acting and ImprovisationConception and Design: Creating the World of District 9 and Alien Generation: Visual Effects.  There’s a lot of great stuff here to explore, including hearing Sharlto Copley talking about his part in the film and Neill Blonkamp’s allusions to a possible sequel.

If you buy the Blu-ray instead of the DVD, you get a couple of additional, exclusive extras.  Joburg from Above: Satellite and Schematics of the World of District 9 is an interactive map that lets you explore the alien ship, the District 9 compound and the M.N.U. Headquarters.  It’s a pretty nifty little feature, giving things a little more depth and explaining some of the things that the film didn’t have time for.  There’s also some great BD-Live content, including MovieIQ (which lets you get information about the movie in real time) and Cinechat (which allows you to connect with other people and chat with them while you watch the movie).  Rounding it all out is a Digital Copy of the movie and a God of War III playable demo (for PS3 owners only).

The bottom line is that this is fantastic release for a top of the line action/sci-fi film.  It will take you hours to sort through the wealth of material here and it’s definitely worth the effort to do so.  If District 9 gets an additional release down the road, I can’t imagine what else they could do with it, except perhaps add a larger documentary and include some outtakes or a gag reel.  Who knows?  For now though, this Blu-ray is more than satisfactory, as well as a must-buy.

Tim Salmons

 

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