Page 18 THE VILLADOM TIMES I, II, III & IV • August 26, 2009 Suspenseful ‘District 9’ should not be missed by Dennis Seuling Most science fiction movies about aliens have treated visitors from space as hostile. Think “War of the Worlds,” “Independence Day,” or even the spoof “Mars Attacks.” Occasionally, the folks from beyond Earth are friendly and even sympathetic, as in “ET” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” “District 9” is unique in that it lies somewhere between the two extremes of aliens bent on destroying the planet and those trying to understand us. The setting is Johannesburg, South Africa, where 20 years earlier a huge spacecraft ran into engine trouble and remained hovering over the city. When local authorities went up in helicopters to investigate, they found a starving group of crustacean-like creatures. In a humanitarian move, the authorities relocate the aliens to a camp just below the craft, an area given the designation District 9. The camp soon transforms into a gated ghetto, with the prawns -- the derogatory term adopted by the human populace to describe the ugly, shelled creatures -- turning to violence and petty crime. Afraid of alien attacks, the government hires a private security force to resettle the aliens far from the city. A low-ranking bureaucrat, Wilkus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley), is assigned to facilitate this task and ventures into District 9, backed by heavily armed security forces and Wilkus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley) has learned the secret of operating alien weapons and is now being hunted in ‘District 9.’ armored vehicles, to notify the not-too-happy residents, who live in shacks in virtual squalor. The government depicted in the movie is totalitarian in its policies toward the aliens, content to let them rot in their confined enclosure. To learn the secret of alien weaponry, which their scientists cannot seem to operate, the humans do not hesitate to perform medical experiments on aliens. In addition, the private security force hopes to learn how to unlock the secret of alien weaponry in order to glean further profits on the world market. If this organization sounds like Halliburton, the similarity just might be intentional. Obviously, “District 9” is heavy on allegory. The fact that the aliens have had engine trouble over a country with a scarred history of apartheid leads to innumerable comparisons. The movie is in pseudo-documentary style, with interviews with humans that result in ironic responses. The humans, most of whom are black, spew out bigoted and destructive comments about a race that looks different from them, but has never done them harm. Director Neill Blomkamp balances these scenes with plenty of action, so the movie works on many levels. If you miss the political and social under-text, you still have a nifty sci-fi action flick. But when you see the parallels Blomkamp sets up, the film takes on greater resonance. The effects in “District 9” are quite good, and the design of the prawns both revolting and sympathy-inducing. With their virtual imprisonment, the prawns are forced to deal with a gang of rogue Nigerians who have set up a black market shop on the premises to dispense cat food, the favored delicacy of the prawns. The aliens are helpless victims to these reprehensible exploiters. Perhaps the most amazing feat accomplished by Blomkamp is making one of the prawns, Christopher -- a computer generated image -- an actual character the viewers care about despite his monstrous appearance. Christopher has a son he loves and may have the key to returning home, but he requires assistance from a human, and that human turns out to be Wilkus, neither a first choice for intelligence and quick thinking. “District 9” made me recall the Holocaust, South African and American race relations, and sci-fi films that have come before, particularly “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” in which an alien (Michael Rennie) befriends an earthling (Patricia Neal) who helps him return home. There are several points the movie never addresses. Why has a rescue team never come for the aliens? Why haven’t the aliens revolted since they have been in virtual captivity for 20 years? Haven’t the South Africans learned from their own history that separatism is an expedient, but ultimately destructive, solution to deeper issues? However, these questions arise only after the film is over. 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