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MOVIE INFO

Director:
Neill Blomkamp
Cast:
Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, Nathalie Boltt, Sylvaine Strike, Elizabeth Mkandawie, John Sumner, William Allen Young
Writing Credits:
Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell

Tagline:
You are not welcome here.

Synopsis:
From producer Peter Jackson and director Neill Blomkamp comes a startlingly original science fiction thriller that "soars on the imagination of its creators" (Peter Travers, Rolling Stone). With stunning special effects and gritty realism, the film plunges us into a world where the aliens have landed ... only to be exiled to a slum on the fringes of Johannesburg. Now, one lone human discovers the mysterious secret of the extraterrestrial weapon technology. Hunted and hounded through the bizarre back alleys of an alien shantytown, he will discover what it means to be the ultimate outsider on your own planet.

Box Office:
Budget
$30 million.
Opening Weekend
$37.354 million on 3049 screens.
Domestic Gross
$115.502 million.

MPAA:
Rated PG-13

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 1.85:1
Audio:
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
French DTS-HD MA 5.1
Subtitles:
English
French
Hindi
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
English

Runtime: 112 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 12/22/2009

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Director/Co-Writer Neill Blomkamp
• “JoBurg From Above: Satellite and Schematics of the World of District 9” Interactive Map
• 22 Deleted Scenes
• “The Alien Agenda: A Filmmaker’s Log” Featurettes
• “Metamorphosis: The Transformation of Wikus” Featurette
• “Innovation: The Acting and Improvisation of District 9” Featurette
• “Conception and Design: Creating the World of District 9 Featurette
• “Alien Generation: The Visual Effects of District 9” Featurette
• Previews
• Digital Copy


PURCHASE @ AMAZON.COM

EQUIPMENT
Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


District 9 [Blu-Ray] (2009)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 21, 2009)

Going into 2009, it looked like Peter Jackson would make his biggest impact with The Lovely Bones, his first directorial effort since 2005’s King Kong. However, as I write this in mid-December, it looks like that might not be the case. Bones is receiving lukewarm reviews, while summer’s District 9 - a flick Jackson produced – turned into a left-field hit. Given its pedigree, Bones remains more likely to get some Oscar love, but I wouldn’t count out the much-acclaimed D9.

The film sets up an alternate reality in which an alien spaceship set up camp above Johannesburg in 1982 – and nothing happens. Eventually the humans bust into the craft and find its inhabitants in bad health. The South Africans take the sick aliens into their country but isolate them in shantytowns where they soon become second-class citizens.

Stuck in a problematic slum, the humans decide to move the aliens – addressed by the derogatory term “Prawns” due to their resemblance to crustaceans – into another “home”. Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley) works in “Alien Affairs” at Multi-National United, and he’s charged with the evicting the creatures from their seedy locations.

When Wikus examines one shack, he discovers a mysterious container. He opens it and it sprays a strange fluid in his face. It turns out that this causes a transformation in Wikus; after his exposure to this liquid, he slowly starts to turn into a Prawn.

As Wikus goes through this change, he finds himself paired with a Prawn named “Christopher Johnson” (Jason Cope). The two need each other: Wikus wants a way to become fully human again, while Christopher requires Wikus to get the mysterious fluid and restart the long-defunct alien craft. In the meantime, they become involved in various parties’ attempts to develop the use of alien weapons. Those can only be activated by the touch of a Prawn hand, so Wikus may act as the “missing link” that would allow humans to finally control these powerful devices.

If I had to pick my main complaint about D9, I’d focus on its tepid social commentary. Given South Africa’s history of apartheid, the choice of Johannesburg as the location comes with obvious ramifications. Any other big city would lack the same implied racial undercurrent.

None of which really makes a damned bit of difference here. While D9 flirts with the politics of bigotry, I think side of things acts more as a MacGuffin to create a sense of social depth that doesn’t exist. I suppose the setting shows how easily any parties – even those who’ve experienced substantial discrimination themselves – can display negativity toward others they deem to be “beneath them”.

However, D9 does almost nothing to explore this. The concept exists as a minor topic as it sets up the story, but it doesn’t develop the theme, and it really goes by the wayside pretty quickly. I think the racial politics turn into a distraction more than anything else. The tale works well enough on its own merits; it doesn’t need social commentary to succeed.

I do understand that co-writer/director Neill Blomkamp grew up in South Africa, and that those experiences clearly colored his choices. Elsewhere on the disc, he discusses this side of the story and how the treatment of Zimbabweans by South Africans influenced things. Again, I just don’t think theme adds anything to the experience; it’s a tease that has almost nothing to do with the rest of the story.

Once the film gets past these clumsy elements, though, it works pretty well as a sci-fi action flick. I especially like the freaky “buddy movie” side that emerges when Wikus and Christopher join forces. They’re an awfully odd couple, but they fit well together, and they create interesting moments.

Indeed, Christopher – a character who doesn’t exist other than as a computer-generated figure – becomes the film’s most interesting participant. Wikus is the focus, of course, and he goes through the biggest journey, especially since we see him as a bit of a buffoon at the start – and an unsympathetic one, at that. One scene shows his glee as he “aborts” a room full of alien eggs; it’s extremely distasteful.

And probably unnecessary. Yes, the scene shows how the humans view the aliens as little more than insects, but I think the sequence makes it hard for us to eventually bond with Wikus. While we do invest in his growth, it becomes more difficult for us to do so after the ugly abortion sequence, especially since Wikus doesn’t demonstrate concern for anyone other than himself until the flick’s end. For the most part, he comes across as a selfish boor. We could more easily invest in him at the end of the journey if he just came across as a jerk; the abortion sequence makes it much harder to ultimately care about him.

At least this makes Wikus a more complicated protagonist than usual, a fact that leaves Christopher as the more interesting/sympathetic party. Again, that’s made more remarkable given his status as a cartoon character. The film integrates the CG Prawns in a seamless manner and allows Christopher to turn into a likable, heroic personality. Since D9 goes with a massively flawed main character, Christopher’s presence becomes more important; we need someone to really care about and put a “human face” on the aliens.

Normally I don’t like movies that go with a documentary style, but this technique works better than usual in D9. Not that it becomes consistently successful, as it falters at times, mostly due to inconsistency. D9 alternates between pro-shot film and “found footage” like images from security cameras and TV news.

This becomes confusing, especially since the movie starts as a wholly documentary affair. We see interview soundbites and other elements that depict a program that will tell the tale of Wikus after the fact; early footage lets us know that his coworkers and family felt betrayed by his actions, so the rest of the movie shows what he did.

If the documentary piece had ceased after that intro, I’d be fine with the format. However, it persists in an erratic fashion. Parts of the film stay with the documentary feel, while others completely abandon it. There’s no consistency involved; the director just uses the format he prefers when he prefers it – logic be damned.

This never becomes a major distraction, though – it’s more of a retrospective nit-pick. As you watch D9, you probably won’t really notice the film’s erratic sense of style, probably because the opening sets the table for the documentary feel; you buy that format early in the flick so it sticks with you even after the filmmakers essentially abandon it.

Even when D9 puts its characters in situations that obviously weren’t shot by documentary crews, it sticks with handheld camerawork. As I’ve often documented, I often hate that choice, and I must admit that when I saw the film theatrically, the moderate levels of shakycam threatened to upset my stomach.

As much as I normally hate shakycam, it works here. The film doesn’t go crazy with a sense of fake reality, so the format feels more natural. I’d still probably prefer a more traditional camera style, but I can’t criticize this flick’s choices, as they serve the production in a satisfying manner.

Though it occasionally feels like the spawn of Independence Day and the Cronenburg version of The Fly, District 9 manages to create its own identity. It doesn’t provide a consistently excellent film, but it succeeds more than it falters, and it turns into a compelling sci-fi adventure.


The Blu-ray Grades: Picture A-/ Audio A-/ Bonus B+

District 9 appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. Virtually no issues emerged during this spotless transfer.

Sharpness was very positive. The only examples of softness that I saw resulted from the various documentary-style forms of photography. This meant some dodgy focus as well as some elements that were intentionally degraded to sit with various non-optimal sources. Those presented expected delineation and didn’t deserve criticism. The vast majority of the movie offered excellent clarity anyway.

I witnessed no instances of jagged edges or shimmering, and edge enhancement appeared absent. Source flaws also failed to interfere. Colors stayed fairly subdued for the most part. The period setting didn’t favor a dynamic palette, but the hues looked reasonably accurate and full. Blacks were dark and deep, while shadows showed generally positive delineation. Overall, I found this to be a strong presentation.

Plenty of good material came with the film’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack as well. At all times, D9 offered an involving soundscape. Of course, the action sequences worked the best, especially toward the end of the film when alien weaponry became a strong part of the mix.

Even when the movie remained more restrained, however, the track boasted a lot of good work. The front and rear speakers presented many isolated elements to form a convincing soundfield. This meant localized dialogue as well as various natural elements. All of these fit together in a convincing manner and added a lot of range to the track.

In addition, audio quality satisfied. Speech was consistently concise and crisp, without edginess or other concerns. Music boasted good punch and power, while effects showed nice clarity. These elements were always clear and accurate, and the louder pieces featured strong bass and impact. I thought this was a terrific mix.

While not jam-packed with extras, D9 comes with a good array of materials. We open with an audio commentary from director/co-writer Neill Blomkamp. He gives us a running, screen-specific chat that looks at the project’s origins and development, its social commentary and reflection of modern-day South Africa, cast and performances, visual effects, story/character elements, sets and locations, stunts, action, character design and photography, and a variety of other filmmaking techniques.

Young directors often provide the best commentaries. Not only are they eager to discuss their work, but also they grew up with the format, so they’re very familiar with it. Blomkamp reconfirms this theory with his excellent chat. He seems quite invested in the process and he delivers a great deal of information about the film. All of this proves to be illuminating and enjoyable to hear.

To look at the film’s locations, we head to an interactive map called JoBurg From Above: Satellite and Schematics of the World of District 9. This allows you to check out parts of MNU Headquarters, District 9 and the Alien Mothership and learn facts about each from the “MNU Database”. In execution, it can be a bit clunky, but it gives us interesting details about various aspects of the film.

22 Deleted Scenes fill a total of 23 minutes, 28 seconds. With so many available, I won’t describe all of them. A couple of them focus on an MNU agent named Toby; he seems to act in the same regard as Wikus, which makes me wonder if the filmmakers changed/recast the role or if Toby was just supposed to be one of Wikus’ colleagues.

As for the other clips, most just offer embellishments to material already in the film. We get more detail about the alien society in District 9 as well as related elements like MNU. One of the more interesting comes from an interview with the MNU CEO; it would’ve been a clunky fit in the final film, but it provides some intriguing thoughts. We also find a bit more embellishment of various relationships and roles as well as a lot more evictions. None of this would’ve done much to alter the flick, but it’s fun to see.

By the way, some of the scenes show the aliens pre-effects. We see the live-action reference actor perform his parts of the sequences. We check out more of this in the various featurettes, but I still thought I’d mention that the deleted scenes come with this fun twist; it’s a blast to view the segments without the final effects.

Under The Alien Agenda: A Filmmaker’s Log, we get 34 minutes, 19 seconds of footage. It features comments from Blomkamp, producer Peter Jackson, co-writer Terri Tatchell, director of photography Trent Opalach, special effects supervisor Max Poolman, lead set decorator Gary Potgieter, art directors Emelia Weavind and Mike Berg, production designer Philip Ivey, sound designer Dave Whitehead, supervising sound editor Brent Burge, film editor Julian Clarke, and actors Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, Vanessa Haywood, Mandla Gaduka, and David James. “Agenda” looks at the short that led to D9 and aspects of its development, script/story/character elements, alien design, rehearsals, sets and locations, cinematography and the flick’s visual style, cast and performances, action and effects, sound and editing.

Inevitably, some of the information in “Agenda” repeats from Blomkamp’s excellent commentary. Nonetheless, the show provides a lot of good footage from the set, and it digs into many elements that don’t appear in Blomkamp’s commentary. “Agenda” moves quickly and throws out a lot of useful material.

Four featurettes follow. Metamorphosis: The Transformation of Wikus lasts nine minutes, 52 seconds and includes notes from Copley, Blomkamp, and prosthetics makeup supervisor Sarah Rubano. As implied by the title, “Transformation” looks at the practical effects used to slowly make Wikus into an alien. We see the work done on Copley and also hear some thoughts about other concepts for his character’s development. The visuals can look pretty gross, but we learn a lot about the subject matter here.

During the 12-minute, five-second Innovation: The Acting and Improvisation of District 9, we hear from Blomkamp, Tatchell, Copley, Cope, Gaduka, James, and casting director Denton Douglas. As expect, the program looks at the cast and their work on the film, with an obvious emphasis on the improv elements. This doesn’t become quite as fascinating as I’d hoped, but it still throws out some good info.

Conception and Design: Creating the World of District 9 goes for 13 minutes, 18 seconds as it provides info from Blomkamp, Tatchell, Ivey, Berg, prosthetics effects supervisor Joe Dunckley, Weta Workshop lead concept designer Greg Broadmore, Weta Workshop design and effects supervisor Richard Taylor, Weta Workshop lead creature designer David Meng, Image Engine visual effects supervisor Dan Kaufman, Embassy Visual Effects visual effects supervisor Robert Habros and Kliptown liaison David Bloem. “World” investigates the design of props, sets, ships and aliens. This material consistently seems fascinating, and I especially like the up-close looks at the various designs.

Finally, Alien Generation: The Visual Effects of District 9 runs 10 minutes, 18 seconds and includes statements from Blomkamp, Habros, Kaufman, Cope, Dunckley, Copley, and Embassy Visual Effects on-set VFS supervisor Winston Helgason. “Generation” shows us the effects technique to bring the digital aliens to life. The show seems awfully brief for such a significant topic, but it provides a satisfactory take on the subject matter.

A few ads open the disc. We get clips for Moon, Michael Jackson: This Is It, 2012 and Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day. These also appear under Previews along with a promo for Zombieland. No trailer for District 9 appears here.

One note about the disc: for reasons unknown, it ran much more slowly than the average Blu-ray. This became awfully frustrating, as I felt like I was trying to run a program on a clunky 15-year-old computer. Maybe my Blu-ray player was just having a bad day, but I found it annoying and slow to move through the disc.

The ever-popular – with studios, at least - Digital Copy arrives on a second disc. As usual, this allows you to transfer the film to another medium. Have fun!

Despite some questionable – and unnecessary – social commentary, District 9 emerges as a satisfying cinematic surprise. While the movie does little to reinvent any wheels, it still feels original and involving as it shows a tale of human/alien interaction in an unusual setting. The Blu-ray boasts excellent picture and audio along with a broad, engaging collection of supplements. District 9 offers a quality flick, and the Blu-ray presents it well.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.3157 Stars Number of Votes: 19
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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main