District 9

District 9 on Blu-ray disc

When its TV ads hit, the intriguing view of the mother ship hovering over the city, attached to the name of Peter Jackson, made for a great tease.

The movie is even better.

Now on Blu-ray, District 9 is a nicely done video disc version of one of the more interesting and innovative science fiction movies of recent years. In its look and its pseudo-documentary feel it's a bit reminiscent of Cloverfield – though it isn't shot first person – and it just goes to show what good writing (are you reading this, James Cameron, "Mr. Avatar"?) can do to advance not only a storyline but ideas as well.

District 9 is a Johannesburg-area shanty town that's home to over a million crustacean-like aliens humans refer to derisively as "prawns". They came to earth some 20 years earlier on the aforementioned mother ship, discovered inside later by humans who found them starving and weak and apparently hopeless.

What's a self-respecting human race supposed to do faced suddenly with a million new mouths to feed – and what do they eat anyway? – and no where to put them? District 9 appears to have been an unhappy solution to an unhappy problem and while it has turned into a crime-infested slum, it works for the most part - aliens and humans aren't completely at each others' throats.

Or it worked, anyway. After all these years the situation between the humans and the prawns has deteriorated to the point where crime and violence are increasing, and not just limited to inside District 9. So the powers that be have come up with a new solution: move the prawns to a new, tent city – which is more like a concentration camp, alas – farther away from the humans.

Easier said than done, of course, especially since for legal reasons they have to get each alien to sign the eviction order.

Enter our hero, Wikus Van De Merwe (played to perfection by Sharlto Copley), a pleasant if bland civil servant who suddenly finds himself in charge of the eviction project. He means well and works hard and all he wants to do is get the job done. Then all of a sudden he comes across some suspicious stuff in one of the shanties and gets it spilled on him.

Thus starts his horrible adventure, a trip that takes him from Everyday Joe to – well, you'll just have to experience this great flick for yourself to find out.

The story could have been just your typical earth versus aliens story, or just a shoot 'em up, or so many other formulaic stories we've seen a thousand times before. Heck, it could have been a reverse Avatar! But writer/director Neill Blomkamp and co-writer Terri Tatchell have taken all the clichés, the old sci-fi saws, and imbued them with a freshness that makes it all seem new again even though we've seen this type of thing so many times before – from The Fly and The Thing to The Blob to Independence Day, The Day the Earth Stood Still, This Island Earth, Videodrome etc. etc. etc. etc.

It's violent – graphically so – which means it may not be for kids. But it's never really gratuitous – just realistic – and by the time the credits roll you don't know whether you should love the aliens or hate them, or love or hate the humans. There are good guys and bad guys all over the place, exciting situations, and even some unexpected laughs. There's even some pretty nifty alien technology and weaponry that comes into play in an interesting way.

It didn't have a schmaltzy happy ending, either, but it did leave itself open for a sequel that we'd love to see.  

The Blu-ray comes with the movie and its extras on one disc and a digital copy on a second disc. The movie is presented in 1080p widescreen (1.85:1) and the picture is spotless – clean and sharp and bright, which comes in really handy when things start getting creepy.

Audio is presented in dts HD Master Audio, and envelopes you in the action beautifully. Sound quality overall is rich and clean – and the low frequency effects channel gets a nice workout.

Extras include a director's commentary, filmmaker's log, deleted scenes, and a three part documentary on the genesis of District 9, including a look at how much of the action/dialogue was improvised for extra realism (and boy, did it work!).

Blu-ray exclusives include "Joberg From Above" (an interactive map), a playable PS3 demo and Movie IQ, which uses BD Live to give you real time access to film info, as if the movie itself won't hold your attention.

A smart sci fi film. Highly, highly recommended.

District 9, from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
112 min. 1080p widescreen (1080p, 1.85:1), dts HD Master Audio
written by Neill Blomkamp &Terri Tatchell, directed by Neill Blomkamp

Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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