District 9’s awesome ad campaign has done such a good job of concealing all but the barest premise for the film, it’d be a shame to divulge too many details here. But seriously, go see it. Writer-director Blomkamp’s first feature-length film strands a stalled-out spaceship full of insectoid aliens, workers with no queen, over his native Johannesburg, South Africa. The couple-million aliens are quickly segregated in a fenced-off ghetto, and the metaphor for apartheid (the aftermath of which, the on-location settings indicate, is still very much felt today) is obvious but not belabored. Blokamp seems more interested in seeing just how cruel human nature can get when faced with the unfamiliar. (The answer, for those who’ve just landed here, is “pretty damn.”) District 9 offers a few surprises, but sticks fairly close to the 1984 playbook for dystopian sci-fi (though it’s definitely worth noting that the film takes place in an alternate-timeline 2010, and the world apart from the aliens is frighteningly recognizable), so a few spoilers wouldn’t exactly ruin your experience. Blomkamp’s too good a screenwriter to rely on cheap plot-twist mindboning, but he does manage to create genuine suspense through the kind of character building and intelligent plotting we rarely get to see in films with special effects this good. The film has a few flaws — the pseudo-doc framing device is often distracting, and the third-act resolution comes too simply — but District 9 is the rare movie that makes a $30-million budget look like $100 million while crafting a story good enough to’ve worked on a shoestring. Blomkamp takes some blatant cues from Aliens, but I’ll be shocked if James Cameron’s Avatar is anywhere near this good.
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