Tuesday, December 22, 2009

District 9

District 9 is described by its studio as a sci-fi thriller, and while that’s an accurate label in broad strokes, it sells short the film’s startling originality and thought-provoking social commentary. Rather than just presenting a heavily plotted story of aliens stranded on Earth, writer-director Neill Blomkamp utilizes loose acting improvisation and a documentary style to increase its realism and impact. He also sets it in a weighty locale that forces viewers to draw the obvious parallel between his film’s alien fiction and our own all-too-real mistreatment of fellow humans.

The film’s title refers to an internment camp outside Johannesburg, South Africa, where over 1 million stranded aliens have been reduced to life in the slums for over 20 years with no apparent hope of returning home. Amid escalating pressure from the local human populace, the government begins a program of forced eviction in the hopes of moving the aliens and the unsavory element they attract further from the city. Enter Wikus (Sharlto Copley), a nerdy government office drone selected to spearhead the militarized task force responsible for the relocation. His assignment requires door-to-door contact with the aliens as he coerces them to sign documents consenting to the relocation while he also scouts for any illegal alien weapons activity.

When Wikus runs across some mysterious alien goo in the ghetto, he begins a tragic transformation that grants him both human and alien characteristics. He also makes the acquaintance of the brainy alien who concocted the goo and is forced to reconsider his role as an oppressor.

Blomkamp’s alien ghetto is so fully realized that it becomes the most integral character in the film, a vividly detailed and massive shantytown that seems all too real. Aliens rummage through the trash and live in poorly constructed shacks that offer no dignity and very little shelter, adding to their desperate situation. It’s just as shocking as the favela in City of God or the slums of Slumdog Millionaire. The Blu-ray release amps up the minute details of this horrid camp, fully exposing its grime and hopelessness in crystal-clear high definition.

The Blu-ray also boasts a slew of exhaustive bonus featurettes about the film including spotlights on the production design, visual effects, transformation of Wikus, and a three-part documentary. There’s also an exclusive interactive map of the world of District 9, numerous deleted scenes, and Sony’s movieIQ feature that allows viewers to pull up dynamically updated trivia about the film during viewing, such as cast and crew filmographies that will continue to add ongoing entries as long as your player is connected to the Internet. If you want to watch on the go, the package includes a second disc containing a digital file of the film for easy transfer to PSP or other mobile video viewing devices.

But wait, there’s more: a playable demo of Sony’s forthcoming PS3 game release, God of War 3. Sure, the demo takes about twice as long to install on a PS3 hard drive from the Blu-ray disc as it does to actually play through, but players who stick it out also unlock a brief feature about the game’s production. There’s no apparent direct connection between the two properties, but considering the substantial key demographic crossover of the two it’s not at all an unwelcome addition.

District 9 is now available on Blu-ray and DVD. Blu-ray is the clear winner here due to the deep bonus features and the sheer technical beauty of the film. Fine details like the tiny letters in the bottom right corner of the documentary camera’s label overlay to the subtle differentiation between the aliens are displayed in stellar clarity, while the crisp 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track creates a fully immersive audio environment.

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