‘District 9’ rescues sci-fi genre from tired stereotypes

David Wiens

When it comes to movie genres, science fiction is about as unpredictable as you can get, and the normal cues we often take from advertisements and trailers just don’t seem to work.

True to form, the trailers for “District 9” showed absolutely nothing to help me figure out if it was worth seeing. Still, I had a responsibility to my legions of probably fictitious readers, and a powerful boredom that told me I had to take the chance.

I almost feel bad telling you about the details of a movie that actually managed to conceal most of its plot in the trailers, but it would be kind of hard to review a movie without any reference to its plot.

“District 9” adds a new dimension to the “first-contact” story. Unlike previous films, where aliens are vicious creatures susceptible to cheap plot devices (see “War of the Worlds”), explosively violent robots prone to racial stereotypes (“Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”), and creatures built-up for the entire length of the movie only to find out you don’t get to see them (“Contact”), the aliens in “District 9” are merely the laborers and low-ranking crew members of a spaceship that comes to Earth.

In the documentary-style exposition that peppers the film, we learn that the essential crew and equipment necessary to fix the spaceship and leave were both seen falling off the mothership as it approached Earth, and, despite searches in the surrounding areas, they were never found. The setting of the movie takes place 20 years later as tensions between these alien refugees, dubbed “prawns” by locals, and the residents in the surrounding areas have become unbearable. Multi-National United, or MNU, has been hired to relocate all the alien residents into an isolated area called District 10. This job is headed up by the main character, Wikus van der Merwe, whose assignment is to make everything legal while searching for viable alien technology.

The movie is absolutely loaded with themes, parallels and moral questions regarding issues such as human rights, capitalistic greed and privatization, but they are presented so subtly that they do not intrude on the movie unless you want them to, offering you a wide spectrum of enjoyment possibilities that range from thought-evoking to mind-numbing.

Still, what really made me want to recommend this movie was the absolute and brutal honesty of the characters. The aliens have varied personalities, and the characters react realistically to the situations they are thrust into instead of trying to endear themselves to the audience by acting selflessly and heroically.

“District 9” is a refreshingly thought-out take on the science fiction concept film, which TV had ruined so many times that I’d forgotten it could actually be good. I recommend it, provided you don’t have a weak stomach.