"District 9" has one major difference from most films that have come out in the last decade or so: its previews tell the audience nothing about its major plotline. They give you a peek at the world it's set in and a feel for the film's tone, and that's about it. As a long-time moviegoer, I found it rather refreshing, so this review isn't going to discuss the main plotline at all. (For a longer review, including discussion of the plot, see www.ealasaid.com/writing/reviews/.)

The underlying premise of "District 9" is that about 20 years ago, an alien ship coasted to a halt above the city of Johannesburg, South Africa. The aliens on board were found huddled together and starving to death, so a humanitarian (alienitarian?) effort moved them to the surface, into an area called District 9. The human residents are not happy about this, and soon the aliens are segregated and their area becomes a slum. The slum is run by Multinational United (MNU), a vast corporation with its own merciless private security forces.

The aliens, commonly referred to as "prawns" because of their crustacean appearance, are not the sort of aliens we're used to. They're not particularly intelligent and have none of the unearthly grace of the gray, big-eyed aliens in other films' flying saucers. These aliens are fast, ugly, and frightening and entirely computer-generated. After a few minutes it becomes pretty easy to forget that, though, and simply hang on for the ride.

"District 9" is an odd


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blend of subtlety and heavy-handedness. It's mostly a documentary presented by unreliable narrators, and much is presented without explanation and left for us to figure out on our own, or with the viral publicity information floating around. For example, I knew going in that the aliens had all been forced to take human names because I've been reading mnuspreadslies.com. Those who haven't may be confused by aliens with names like "Christopher." There's a very dry and sometimes very dark sense of humor threading through the film as well, but it has no background music and comedic cinematography to make it obvious.

There's nothing subtle at all in the film's allegory about racism and apartheid, though. The aliens are discriminated against and treated in much the same way as blacks were under apartheid. Even the name of their slum is a reference to the notorious District 6 in Cape Town, whose black residents were forcibly evicted. This is director Neill Bloomkamp's first feature-length film, which at once explains a lot and makes "District 9" even more impressive. For a first film, this is something of a masterpiece.

Ultimately, whether you'll like "District 9" or not depends heavily on your tolerance for its strange blend of subtlety and hamhandedness, and your willingness to simultaneously suspend disbelief and think a little. It's not a perfect film, but it is a very good one, and well worth watching for fans of science fiction. It does have some pretty disgusting moments, though, as well as some sequences of torture, so the faint of heart may want to stay away.

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Ealasaid A. Haas is a local film buff and freelance writer. Contact her at reviewer@ealasaid.com, or check out her Web site: www.ealasaid.com.