American theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Neill Blomkamp|
|Based on||Alive in Joburg
by Neill Blomkamp
|Music by||Clinton Shorter|
|Editing by||Julian Clarke|
|Distributed by||TriStar Pictures|
|Running time||112 minutes|
District 9 is a 2009 South African science fiction film directed by Neill Blomkamp. It was written by Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell, and produced by Peter Jackson and Carolynne Cunningham. The film stars Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, and David James. The film won the 2010 Saturn Award for Best International Film presented by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, and was nominated for four Academy Awards in 2010: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Visual Effects, and Best Editing.
The story, adapted from Alive in Joburg, a 2005 short film directed by Blomkamp and produced by Sharlto Copley and Simon Hansen, pivots on the motifs of humanity, 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 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 achieving success and popularity during its theatrical run, despite a modest budget and relatively unknown cast.
In 1982, a large alien spacecraft stops directly above Johannesburg in South Africa. An investigation team enters the ship, discovering a population of sick and malnourished extraterrestrials. The aliens, derogatorily referred to as "prawns", are confined to District 9, a government camp just outside Johannesburg. Periodic unrest then occurs between the aliens and the locals and subsequently the South African government hires Multinational United (MNU), a private military company, to relocate the aliens to a new internment camp.
In August 2010, Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley), an Afrikaner bureaucrat, is appointed by Piet Smit (Louis Minnaar), an MNU executive and his father-in-law, to lead the camp relocation by serving the aliens with eviction notices. Meanwhile, three aliens — Christopher Johnson (Jason Cope), his son, and a friend — search for alien technology among the trash heaps and detritus of District 9, from which they distill a fluid, storing it in a small canister. While raiding the shack of Christopher's friend, Wikus discovers and seizes the canister, which sprays the fluid onto his face. Christopher's friend is subsequently killed by Koobus Venter (David James), a soldier leading the military side of the operation.
The fluid slowly begins mutating Wikus into a prawn, beginning with his arm. MNU forces Wikus to test various alien weapons which only function when alien DNA is present. The MNU scientists then decide to vivisect Wikus, but Wikus overpowers his captors and escapes. Smit orders Venter and his men to hunt down Wikus, while a story is released to the media stating that Wikus is infected with an alien STD.
Wikus finds refuge in District 9 and stumbles into Christopher's shack. A lost command module from the ship is revealed underneath the shack, and Christopher discloses that the fluid in the canister is fuel which would allow him to reactivate the dormant mothership and reverse Wikus' mutation. The canister is held at MNU headquarters, so Wikus and Christopher agree on a plan to get it back by first obtaining weapons from superstitious Nigerian arms-dealer Obesandjo (Eugene Khumbanyiwa) and his gang.
After acquiring the weapons, Wikus and Christopher attack the MNU offices, retrieve the canister, and flee back to District 9 with MNU forces in pursuit. Appalled by the illegal experiments on his fellow aliens at MNU headquarters, Christopher says he must use all the fuel to get help before curing Wikus, but the trip to the alien planet and back will take three years. Wikus becomes enraged and attacks Christopher, then hijacks the command module which is almost immediately shot down. Venter and his men seize Wikus and Christopher, but Obesandjo's gang ambushes the MNU convoy and captures Wikus, as Obesandjo believes that eating Wikus' mutated arm will give him the ability to use alien weaponry. Obesandjo's base is then surrounded by MNU and a firefight ensues.
In the downed command module, Christopher's son activates the mothership and an alien mechanized battle suit which saves Wikus by killing Obesandjo and his men. Wikus takes control of the battle suit and rescues Christopher, shielding him as they run to the command module. Wikus aids Christopher's escape by staying behind and holding off the MNU troops. Christopher promises to return in three years before making his way to the command module. Wikus kills all the troops except Venter, who cripples his suit and forces it to eject him. As Wikus is cornered by Venter, a group of aliens ambush Venter, tearing him to pieces. Christopher leaves in the mothership with his son as Johannesburg's residents celebrate its departure.
A series of interviews and news broadcasts are shown, with people theorizing about Wikus' whereabouts and the potential return of the mothership, and what it could entail. MNU's illegal experiments on the aliens are uncovered by Wikus's Bantu assistant, Fundiswa Mhlanga, and exposed (for which "crime" against the powerful MNU Mhlanga has been imprisoned and will be tried). District 9 is completely demolished, with all the aliens having been moved to the new larger District 10 farther from the city. Wikus' wife Tania finds a metal flower on her doorstep, giving her hope that Wikus is still alive. The final scene shows what appears to be a fully transformed Wikus crafting a similar flower in a scrapyard.
- Sharlto Copley as Wikus van de Merwe, a mild-mannered manager at the MNU Department of Alien Affairs, whose blasé and callous attitude to the aliens changes as he comes to see things from their point of view. This was the first time acting professionally in a feature film for Copley, a friend of director Blomkamp.
- Jason Cope as Christopher Johnson, an alien. Cope also performed the role of Grey Bradnam, the UKNR Chief Correspondent and all the speaking aliens, as well as for the cameraman Trent.
- David James as Colonel Koobus Venter, a PMC mercenary-soldier sent to capture Wikus. He is shown as sadistic and violent, taking pleasure in killing the aliens and responding brutally to anyone who opposes him.
- Eugene Khumbanyiwa as Obesandjo, a paralyzed psychopathic Nigerian warlord who believes that eating alien body parts will give him the ability to operate their weapons.
- Louis Minnaar as Piet Smit, a director at MNU, and Wikus' father-in-law. He is the one who creates the cover-up that turns Wikus into a fugitive, and tries to turn his daughter against Wikus by saying he was an adulterer who had sex with the aliens.
- Mandla Gaduka as Fundiswa Mhlanga, Wikus' assistant and trainee during the eviction. At the end of the film he is prosecuted for uncovering MNU's illegal 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.
- Nick Boraine as Lieutenant Weldon, Colonel Venter's right-hand man.
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 alluding to 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. Blikkiesdorp, a temporary relocation area in Cape Town, has also been compared with the District 9 camp earning a front page spread in The Daily Voice.
The film makes a statement about inhumanity in the irony of Wikus becoming more humane as he becomes less human. Throughout the movie, he becomes more aware of the aliens' plight, eventually helping them escape the planet, even turning on his own species to do so. Chris Mikesell from the Hawaii newspaper, Ka Leo, notes that inhumanity is a deep-rooted theme throughout. He writes: "Substitute 'black,' 'Asian,' 'Mexican,' 'illegal,' 'Jew,' or any number of different labels for the word 'prawn' in this film and you will hear the hidden truth behind the dialogue". Alien eggs are destroyed before hatching and described as popcorn. He described that District 9 shows the corruption of which humans are capable. MNU, the corporation in charge of protecting the aliens, is actually taking away captured aliens and using them as experiments in order to be able to use their weapons.
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 pest 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.
Duane Dudek from the Journal Sentinel wrote that "The result is an action film about xenophobia, in which all races of humans are united in their dislike and mistrust of an insect-like species".
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 outsourcing militaries and bureaucracies to private contractors.
Producer Peter Jackson planned to produce a film adaptation based on the Halo video-game franchise with first-time director Neill Blomkamp. Due to a 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 returned to the world explored in his short film Alive in Joburg, choosing characters, moments and concepts that they found interesting including the documentary style filmmaking, staged interviews, alien designs, alien technology/mecha suits, and the parallels to racial conflict and segregation in South Africa, 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[by whom?] to government-subsidised housing.
Filming for District 9 took place during the winter in Johannesburg, South Africa. According to director Neill Blomkamp, during the winter season, Johannesburg "actually looks like Chernobyl", a "nuclear apocalyptic wasteland". Blomkamp wanted to capture the deserted, bleak atmosphere and environment, so he and the crew had to film during the months of June through July. The film took a total of 60 days of shooting. Filming in December raised another issue in that there was much more rain. Due to the rain, there was a lot of greenery to work with, which Blomkamp did not want. In fact, Blomkamp had to cut some of the vegetation in the scenery to portray the setting as desolate and dark.
The film features many weapons and vehicles produced by the South African arms-industry, including the R5 and Vektor CR-21 assault rifles, Denel NTW-20 20mm sniper rifle, BXP submachinegun, Casspir armored personnel carrier, Ratel infantry fighting vehicle, Rooikat tank, Atlas Oryx helicopter and militarized Toyota Hilux.
Blomkamp said no single 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. According to HD Magazine, District 9 was shot on RED One cameras using build 15, Cooke S4 primes and Angenieux zooms. The documentary style and CCTV cam footage was shot on the Sony EX1/EX3 XDCAM-HD. Additionally, the post-production team was warned that the most RED footage they could handle a day was about an hour and a half. When that got to five hours a day reinforcements were called in and 120 Terabytes of data was filled.
Visual effects 
Already as a young child living in South Africa, Blomkamp was captivated by artwork and visual effects. “I knew I wanted to be in movies…So I thought I wanted to be in special effects, like model-making and prosthetic effects." The combination of knowing he would find a career in the visual effects area and the advancement of technology allowing better computer graphics capabilities led him to work at a Canadian post-production company as a visual effects artist. The aliens in District 9 were designed by Weta Workshop, and the design was executed by Image Engine.
Blomkamp wanted the aliens to maintain both humanistic and barbaric features in the design of the creatures. According to Terri Tatchell, the director’s writing partner, “They are not appealing, they are not cute, and they don’t tug at our heartstrings. He went for a scary, hard, warrior-looking alien, which is much more of a challenge.” The look of the alien, with its exoskeleton-crustacean hybrid and crab-like shells, was meant to initially evoke a sense of disgust from viewers but as the story progresses, the audience was meant to sympathize with these creatures who had such human-like emotions and characteristics. Blomkamp established criteria for the design of the aliens. He wanted the species to be insect-like 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 created using CGI visual effects.
Weta Digital designed the 2.5 km diameter 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 South African roots. This was a challenge for Shorter, who found much of the South 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. An online game for District 9 has also been made where players can choose to be a human or an alien. Humans are MNU agents on patrol trying to arrest or kill aliens. Aliens try to avoid capture from MNU agents whilst searching for alien canisters.
Box office 
As of November 4, 2009[update], District 9 had grossed an estimated $210,816,205, of which $115,646,235 was from Canada and the United States  making it a huge box office success, with a revenue 7 times its original production budget of only $30 million.
It opened in 3,048 theaters in Canada and the United States 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 cinemas.
Critical response 
The film received critical acclaim, with Rotten Tomatoes reporting that 91% of critics gave the film a positive review, based on a sample of 244, 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 weighted average rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the film has received a score of 81 based on 36 reviews, indicating "Universal Acclaim". IGN listed District 9 as 24 on a list of the 25 Great Sci-Fi films ever.
Sara Vilkomerson of The New York Observer wrote, "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." 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.
Nigeria's 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.
Hakeem Kae-Kazim, a British born Nigerian actor also criticized the portrayal of Nigerians in the film, telling the Beeld newspaper Africa is a beautiful place and the problems it does have can not be shown by such a small group of people.
District 9 was named one of the top 10 independent films of 2009 by the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures. The film received four Academy Awards nominations, seven British Academy Film Awards nominations, five Broadcast Film Critics Association nominations, and one Golden Globe nomination. It is the fourth film ever nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards for TriStar Pictures behind As Good as It Gets, Jerry Maguire and Bugsy. It was also the first mockumentary style film to be nominated for Best Picture. It won the 2009 Bradbury Award from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.
Home media 
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 demo for the video game God of War III featured in the 2009 Electronic Entertainment Expo is also included with the Blu-ray release of District 9 playable on the Sony PlayStation 3.
WETA released (in July 2010) Christopher Johnson and Son as sculptures.
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. In an interview with Rotten Tomatoes, Blomkamp stated that he was "totally" hoping for a follow-up: "I haven't thought of a story yet but if people want to see another one, I'd love to do it." Blomkamp has posed the possibility of the next movie in the series being a prequel. In an interview with Empire magazine posted on April 28, 2010, Sharlto Copley suggested that a follow-up, while very likely, would be about two years away, given his and Neill Blomkamp's current commitments.
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