The pseudo-documentary techniques of Peter Watkins are misapplied to the front and back end of District 9, an academic, numbingly unimaginative science-fiction film, co-produced by Peter Jackson, from New Zealand and the U.S. It is set in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2010; twenty years earlier—a few years prior to the collapse of apartheid—a starship landed, depositing aliens whose government refugee camp has become a filthy, debilitating ghetto: District 9. The huge cricket-like aliens have been dubbed prawns by white South Africans—as they might have been dubbed niggers, wops, what-have-you. Various groups, including Nigerians, have exploited the aliens. Plans are underway for a munitions corporation, which covets their advanced weaponry, to engineer their eviction to District 10, outside city limits. However, the lead field operative becomes contaminated and compromised; a partial “prawn” himself now, he alone among whites can use the alien weaponry, which is integrated with their DNA. His “own kind” will extract from him surgically biological matter that might bring the use of the weaponry into the range of their own use.
Violent, crude, disgusting, cold, unfeeling, sentimental, this is a dreadful actioner. The director, who wrote the thing with Terri Tatchell, is Neill Blomkamp, a Jackson robot. However widely this may diverge from the intent of the filmmakers, District 9 comes across as condescending in the extreme to non-whites, including the insectoid aliens. Part of the problem is that the filmmakers cannot resist their own cleverness as they punch out points of comparison between the aliens and real-world illegal and second-class legal immigrants. They perhaps reach the nadir of their enterprise with the false rumor of sexual intercourse between a white and a “prawn”—a moment that is handled with manufactured pathos.
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