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American theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Neill Blomkamp|
|Produced by||Peter Jackson|
|Written by||Neill Blomkamp|
|Music by||Clinton Shorter|
|Editing by||Julian Clarke|
|Distributed by||TriStar Pictures|
|Release date(s)||August 13, 2009|
August 14, 2009
|Running time||112 minutes|
District 9 is a 2009 science fiction thriller film directed by Neill Blomkamp. It was written by Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell; and produced by Peter Jackson. The film stars Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope and David James. Copley plays the role of Wikus Van De Merwe, an Afrikaner bureaucrat assigned to relocate a race of extraterrestrial creatures, derogatorily referred to as "prawns", from District 9, a military-guarded slum in Johannesburg, South Africa, to an internment camp outside the city.
The story, adapted from Alive in Joburg, a 2005 short film directed by Blomkamp and produced by Copley, pivots on the themes of xenophobia and social segregation. The title and premise of District 9 were inspired by events that took place in District Six, Cape Town during the apartheid era. The film was produced for $30 million and shot on location in Chiawelo, Soweto, presenting fictional interviews, news footage, and video from surveillance cameras in a part-mock documentary style format. A viral marketing campaign began in 2008, at the San Diego Comic-Con, while the theatrical trailer appeared in July of 2009. Released by TriStar Pictures, the film opened to critical acclaim on August 14, 2009, in North America and earned $37 million in its opening weekend. Many saw the film as a "sleeper hit" for its relatively unknown cast and low-budget production, while achieving success and popularity during its theatrical run.
In 1982, a large spaceship hovers above Johannesburg, South Africa. Reports suggest that the craft became stranded and dropped to Earth after a command module separated from it and was nowhere to be found. An exploratory team discovers a group of one million sick and leaderless members of an arthropod-like extraterrestrial species who are given asylum on Earth. Some of these aliens engage in criminal and destructive activities, which lead to demands from the human population for more control. As a result, the aliens, derogatorily referred to as "prawns", are confined to a government camp inside Johannesburg, called District 9. The camp is secured with a massive police presence, however it soon turns into a slum. In the first decade of the 21st century, Multinational United (MNU) is placed in charge of policing and relocating the now 1.8 million aliens to District 10, a new camp 200 kilometres outside of Johannesburg. They use a private military corporation, headed by Koobus Venter (David James), to enforce the relocation effort with impunity.
Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley), an MNU field operative, leads the relocation with the serving of eviction notices on August 9, 2010. During the eviction Wikus confiscates alien weaponry and orders their eggs to be "aborted" with the use of a flame-thrower. As this continues, some nearby aliens are shown distilling a mysterious fluid into a small canister. One of the aliens, designated as Christopher Johnson (Jason Cope), resists. While raiding the shack of the alien that was helping Johnson, Wikus discovers and removes the container, accidentally spraying some of the liquid onto his face, and his left forearm is injured by one of the aliens the container belonged to. Consequently, Wikus begins to feel sick and sees his nose oozing out a strange black fluid and his fingernails loosen. That night, during a surprise party at his house, he falls ill and is taken to a hospital, where his left forearm is revealed to have mutated into an alien appendage. He is immediately taken into MNU custody. After discovering that Wikus can now operate alien weaponry due to his mutating DNA (the weapons being unresponsive to humans), they force him to test various energy weapons, including against a live innocent alien target, much to Wikus's horror. The scientists then intend to vivisect him before he fully transforms, but a panicked and terrified Wikus overpowers his captors and escapes. Piet Smit, the director of MNU, lies to the press and Tania, Wikus' wife and Piet's daughter, that Wikus had sexual activity with aliens that causes him to become one of them.
Now a fugitive, Wikus takes refuge in District 9 and returns to Johnson's shack. Progressively, Wikus starts to display loosening of his teeth and hair and an obsession with cat food. Noticing Wikus' arm, Johnson reveals to Wikus that the canister contains a fluid that he gathered over 20 years by scavenging, which would allow him to reactivate the dormant mothership. After revealing the location of the lost command module hidden under his shack, Johnson agrees to help reverse Wikus' genetic transformation if Wikus retrieves the canister from MNU. Wikus, who soon finds his skin loosening, revealing the anatomy of an alien, agrees and tries to buy weapons from a local Nigerian gang. Their leader, the paralyzed warlord Obesandjo (Eugene Khumbanyiwa), seizes Wikus, seeking to gain his ability to operate alien weapons. Wikus finds an alien firearm and kills some of Obesandjo's men before stealing a cache of weapons and escaping.
Wikus and Johnson break into the MNU offices and retrieve the canister, fleeing back to District 9. Johnson, having just seen that MNU is performing medical experiments on his fellow aliens, tells Wikus that that he will seek help for the other members of his species before curing him, which would take three years. Enraged, a selfish Wikus knocks Johnson unconscious and powers up the command module. Soon after takeoff, one of the craft's engines is shot off by an MNU missile battery and it quickly crashes nearby.
MNU forces led by Venter infiltrate District 9 taking Wikus and Johnson prisoners, but Obesandjo's gang ambushes them. During an intense fire fight between the Nigerian gang and MNU forces, the Nigerian gang captures Wikus. From the downed command module, Johnson's son activates the mothership and an alien mechanized battle suit which frees Wikus and kills Obesandjo by blowing his head apart. Wikus takes control of the suit and rescues Johnson. Promising Wikus that he will return to reverse his transformation, Johnson activates a tractor beam in the mothership, which lifts the stricken command module towards it, while Wikus stays behind to hold off the MNU forces, managing to kill all of them except for Venter. Heavily wounded and in a much more advanced state of his mutation, Wikus crawls out of the wrecked battle suit to be confronted by Venter. His right eye remains blue-human eye and his left eye turns large-yellow alien eye. Just as Venter tries to kill Wikus, several aliens appear and tear Venter apart.
The mothership begins to leave as Johannesburg's residents celebrate its departure. A series of interviews and news broadcasts is shown, with interviewees hypothesizing that Johnson might return for the refugees or declare war on humanity. They also theorize about Wikus' fate, hypothesizing that he may still be in hiding or captured by another government agency. MNU's illegal experiments on the aliens are exposed by Wikus' co-worker Fundiswa Mhlanga, who then undergoes trial. The aliens are shown to have successfully moved to District 10, and are said to have a population of 2.5 million and growing. Wikus' wife, Tania, reveals that, having found a small metal flower on her doorstep, she has hope that her husband is still alive. In a scrapyard, an alien with a bandaged left arm is seen crafting a flower out of metal.
- Sharlto Copley as Wikus Van De Merwe, the main human/alien-hybrid protagonist, a mild-mannered manager at the MNU Department for Relations with Extraterrestrial Civilizations. After he was exposed to a substance that slowly transformed him into an alien, he later becomes horrified and disillusioned about the MNU and their activities after seeing they were dissecting the aliens and using them as shooting targets, and decides to help them gain their freedom. District 9 was Copley's first professional role in a feature film. Actors like Eddie Murphy and Robin Williams influenced Copley's approach to the character. Director Blomkamp was friends with Copley from his time in Johannesburg, and he was able to choose an unknown actor like Copley because he was not constrained by the demands of a large studio.
- Jason Cope as Grey Bradnam, the UKNR Chief Correspondent. Cope also performed the role of Christopher Johnson, the main alien protagonist and all the speaking aliens.
- Eugene Khumbanyiwa as Obesandjo, a Nigerian warlord and one of the film's three primary antagonists.
- David James as Colonel Koobus Venter, a sadistic mercenary sent to capture Wikus. The film's primary antagonist.
- William Allen Young as Dirk Michaels, the MNU CEO.
- Louis Minnaar as Piet Smit, a director at MNU (as well as Wikus' father-in-law), the film's secondary antagonist.
- Mandla Gaduka as Fundiswa Mhlanga, Wikus' assistant during the eviction (who later goes to prison for exposing MNU's activities).
- Vanessa Haywood as Tania Smit Van De Merwe, Wikus' wife.
- Robert Hobbs as Ross Pienaar.
- Kenneth Nkosi as Thomas, an MNU security guard.
- Nathalie Boltt as Sarah Livingstone, a sociologist at Kempton Park University.
- Sylvaine Strike as Katrina McKenzie, a doctor from the Department of Social Assistance.
- John Sumner as Les Feldman, a MIL engineer.
- Nick Blake as Francois Moraneu, a member of the CIV Engineer Team.
- Jed Brophy as James Hope, the ACU chief of police.
- Vittorio Leonardi as Michael Bloemstein, from the MNU Dept. of Alien Civil Affairs.
- Johan van Schoor as Nicolaas Van De Merwe, Wikus' father.
- Marian Hooman as Sandra Van De Merwe, Wikus' mother.
- Stella Steenkamp as Phyllis Sinderson, a co-worker of Wikus'.
- Tim Gordon as Clive Henderson, an entomologist at WLG University.
- Jonathan Taylor as the Doctor.
Like Alive in Joburg, the short film on which the feature film is based, the setting of District 9 is inspired by historical events that took place in South Africa during the apartheid era, with the film's title particularly referencing District Six. District Six, an inner-city residential area in Cape Town, was declared a "whites only" area by the government in 1966, with 60,000 people forcibly removed and relocated to Cape Flats, 25 km (15 mi) away. The film also refers to contemporary evictions and forced removals to new suburban ghettos in post-apartheid South Africa as well as the resistance of its residents. This includes the high profile attempted forced removal of the Joe Slovo Informal Settlement in Cape Town to Temporary Relocation Areas in Delft, plus the attempted evictions of Abahlali baseMjondolo and evictions in the shack settlement, Chiawelo, where the film was actually shot. The temporary relocation area dubbed Blikkiesdorp, has also been compared with the District 9 camp earning a front page spread in the Daily Voice.
Themes of racism and xenophobia are put forward by the movie in the form of speciesism applied to the aliens. The use of the word "prawn" to describe the aliens is a reference to the Parktown prawn, a king cricket species considered a plague in South Africa. Copley has said that the theme is not intended to be the main focus of the work, but rather that it can work at a subconscious level even if it is not noticed.
An underlying theme in District 9 is state reliance on multinational corporations as a government funded enforcement arm. As MNU represents the type of corporation which partners with governments, the negative portrayal of MNU in the film can be seen as a statement about the dangers of governments, particularly in their outsourcing of militaries and bureaucracies to private contractors, effectively turning them into government-funded corporations.
Producer Peter Jackson planned to produce a film adaptation based on the Halo video game franchise with first-time director Neill Blomkamp. Due to lack of financing, the Halo adaptation was placed on hold. Jackson and Blomkamp discussed pursuing alternative projects and eventually chose to produce and direct, respectively, District 9. Blomkamp had previously directed commercials and short films, but District 9 was his first feature film. The director co-wrote the script with Terri Tatchell and chose to film in South Africa, where he was born. In District 9, Tatchell and Blomkamp emulated the world explored in his short film "Alive in Joburg", choosing characters, moments and concepts that they found interesting, and fleshing out these elements for the feature film.
QED International fully financed the production of the independent film, underwriting the negative cost prior to American Film Market (AFM) 2007. At AFM 2007, QED entered into a distribution deal with Sony Pictures under TriStar Pictures for North America and other English-language territories, Korea, Italy, Russia and Portugal.
The film was shot on location in Chiawelo, Soweto during a time of violent unrest in Alexandra, Gauteng and other South African townships involving clashes between native South Africans and Africans born in other countries. The location that portrays District 9 in itself was in fact a real impoverished neighborhood from which people were being forcibly relocated to government-subsidised housing.
Blomkamp said no one film influenced District 9, but cited the 1980s "hardcore sci-fi/action" films such as Alien, Aliens, The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Predator and RoboCop as subconscious influences. The director said, "I don't know whether the film has that feeling or not for the audience, but I wanted it to have that harsh 1980s kind of vibe — I didn't want it to feel glossy and slick."
Because of the amount of hand-held shooting required for the film, the producers and crew decided to shoot using the digital Red One camera. Cinematographer Trent Opaloch used nine digital Red Ones owned by Peter Jackson for primary filming, as well as several Sony EX1 and EX3s.
The aliens in District 9 were designed by Weta Workshop, and the design was executed by Image Engine. Blomkamp established criteria for the design of the aliens. He wanted the species to be insectile but also bipedal. The director wanted the audience to relate to the aliens and said of the restriction on the creature design, "Unfortunately, they had to be human-esque because our psychology doesn't allow us to really empathize with something unless it has a face and an anthropomorphic shape. Like if you see something that's four-legged, you think it's a dog; that's just how we're wired... If you make a film about an alien force, which is the oppressor or aggressor, and you don't want to empathize with them, you can go to town. So creatively that's what I wanted to do but story-wise, I just couldn't." Blomkamp originally sought to have Weta Digital design the creatures, but the company was busy with effects for Avatar. The director then decided to choose a Vancouver-based effects company because he anticipated to make films there in the future and because British Columbia offered a tax credit. Blomkamp met with Image Engine and considered them "a bit of a gamble" since the company had not pursued a project as large as a feature film. Aside from the aliens appearing on the operating table in the medical lab, all of them were computer generated by CGI Special Effects.
Weta Digital designed the mothership and the drop ship, while the exo-suit and the little pets were designed by The Embassy Visual Effects. Zoic Studios performed overflow 2D work. On-set live special effects were created by MXFX.
The music for District 9 was scored by Canadian composer Clinton Shorter, who spent three weeks preparing for the film. Director Neill Blomkamp wanted a "raw and dark" score, but one that maintained its African roots. This was a challenge for Shorter, who found much of the African music he worked with to be optimistic and joyful. Unable to get the African drums to sound dark and heavy, Shorter used a combination of taiko drums and synthesized instruments for the desired effects, with the core African elements of the score conveyed in the vocals and smaller percussion. Both the score and soundtrack feature music and vocals from Kwaito artists.
Sony Pictures launched a "Humans Only" marketing campaign to promote District 9. Sony's marketing team designed its promotional material to emulate the segregational billboards that appear throughout the film. Billboards, banners, posters, and stickers were thus designed with the theme in mind, and the material was spread across public places such as bus stops in various cities, including "humans only" signs in certain locations and providing toll-free numbers to report "non-human" activity. Promotional material was also presented at the 2008 San Diego Comic-Con, advertising the website D-9.com, which had an application presented by the fictional Multi-National United (MNU). The website had a local alert system for Johannesburg (the film's setting), news feeds, behavior recommendations, and rules and regulations. Other viral websites for the film were also launched, including an MNU website with a countdown timer for the film's release, an anti-MNU blog run by fictional alien character Christopher Johnson, and an MNU-sponsored educational website.
District 9 opened in 3,049 theaters in the United States and Canada on August 14, 2009, and the film ranked first at the weekend box office with an opening gross of $37,354,308. Among comparable science fiction films in the past, its opening attendance was slightly less than the 2008 film Cloverfield and the 1997 film Starship Troopers. The audience demographic for District 9 was 64 percent male and 57 percent people 25 years or older. The film stood out as a summer film that generated strong business despite little-known casting. Its opening success was attributed to the studio's unusual marketing campaign. In the film's second weekend, it dropped 49% in revenue while competing against the opening film Inglourious Basterds for the male audience, as Sony Pictures attributed the "good hold" to District 9's strong playability. The film enjoyed similar success in the UK with an opening gross of £2,288,378 showing at 447 screens. As of November 4, 2009 [update], it has grossed an estimated $115,646,235 in the United States and Canada and $83,801,844 in other territories, for a worldwide total of $203,600,000, more than six times its estimated production budget of 30 million.
The film has received critical acclaim, with Rotten Tomatoes reporting that 90% of critics gave the film a positive review, based on a sample of 227, with an average score of 7.8 out of 10. The website wrote of the consensus, "Technically brilliant and emotionally wrenching, District 9 has action, imagination, and all the elements of a thoroughly entertaining science-fiction classic." At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the film has received an average score of 81 based on 36 reviews.
Sara Vilkomerson of The New York Observer writes, "District 9 is the most exciting science fiction movie to come along in ages; definitely the most thrilling film of the summer; and quite possibly the best film I've seen all year." Christy Lemire from the Associated Press was impressed by the plot and thematic content, claiming that "District 9 has the aesthetic trappings of science fiction but it's really more of a character drama, an examination of how a man responds when he's forced to confront his identity during extraordinary circumstances." Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum described it as "... madly original, cheekily political, [and] altogether exciting ..."
Roger Ebert praised the film for "giving us aliens to remind us not everyone who comes in a spaceship need be angelic, octopod or stainless steel," but complains that "... the third act is disappointing, involving standard shoot-out action. No attempt is made to resolve the situation, and if that's a happy ending, I've seen happier. Despite its creativity, the film remains space opera and avoids the higher realms of science-fiction." New York Press critic Armond White lambasted it for its outlandish premise and perceived racial insensitivity toward its apartheid allegories. He asserts that "Blomkamp and Jackson want it every which way: The actuality-video threat of The Blair Witch Project, unstoppable violence like ID4 plus Spielberg's otherworldly benevolence: factitiousness, killing and cosmic agape. This is how cinema gets turned into trash." Josh Tyler of Cinema Blend says the film is unique in interpretation and execution, but considers it to be a knockoff of the 1988 film Alien Nation.
In South Africa, the film grossed five times more than the award-winning Tsotsi, with much less exposure. The Rude Awakening team from 94.7 Highveld Stereo, a local Johannesburg radio station, led by Jeremy Mansfield and Sam Cowen, were the first South Africans to interview the director and lead actor, applauding the performance and overall story of the film. In the interview, Neill Blomkamp called it "a South African Hollywood film," and the RAW team agreed.
The Nigerian government was deeply offended by the film. Information Minister Dora Akunyili asked movie theatres around the country to either ban the film or edit out specific references to the country, because of the film's negative depiction of the Nigerian characters as criminals and cannibals. Letters of complaint were sent to the producer and distributor of the film demanding an apology. She also said the gang leader Obesandjo is almost identical in spelling and pronunciation to the surname of former president Olusegun Obasanjo. The film was later banned in Nigeria; the Nigerian Film and Video Censors Board was asked to prevent cinemas from showing the film and also to confiscate it.
Awards and honors
The Blu-ray Disc and Region 1 Code widescreen edition of District 9 as well as the 2-disc special edition version on DVD was released on December 22, 2009. The DVD and Blu-ray Disc includes the documentary "The Alien Agenda: A Filmmaker's Log" and the special features "Metamorphosis: The Transformation of Wikus", "Innovation: Acting and Improvisation", "Conception and Design: Creating the World of District 9", and "Alien Generation: Visual Effects". The PlayStation 3 God of War III demo from E3 2009 is also included with the Blu-ray of District 9 on the same disc.
On August 1, 2009, two weeks before District 9 was released to cinemas, Neill Blomkamp hinted that he intended to make a sequel if the film was successful enough. During an interview on the "Rude Awakening" 94.7 Highveld Stereo breakfast radio show, he alluded to it, saying "There probably will be." Nevertheless, he revealed that his next project is unrelated to the District 9 universe.
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- ^ Box Office Mojo - District 9
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- ^ Blikkiesdoprp housingdisaster has become Cape Flats' own...District 9 in the Daily Voice, South Africa, 3 October 2009
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- ^ Lisa Schwarzbaum. "Movie Review: District 9". http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20297361,00.html. Retrieved 2009-08-12.
- ^ Roger Ebert. "Throw another prawn on the barbie". http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090812/REVIEWS/908129987. Retrieved 2009-08-12.
- ^ Armond White. "From Mothership to Bullship". http://www.nypress.com/article-20206-from-mothership-to-bullship.html. Retrieved 2009-08-12.
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- ^ "Govt bans showing of District 9 film in Nigeria". Vanguard. September 25, 2009. http://www.vanguardngr.com/2009/09/25/govt-bans-showing-of-district-9-film-in-nigeria/. Retrieved September 25, 2009.
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- District 9 Official Site
- District 9 at MySpace
- District 9 at the Vancouver Film School
- District 9 at Allmovie
- District 9 at the Internet Movie Database
- District 9 at the TCM Movie Database
- District 9 at the Movie Review Query Engine
- District 9 at Rotten Tomatoes
- District 9 at TopTenReviews
- District 9 at Metacritic
- District 9 at Box Office Mojo
- District 9 at The Numbers