District 9 started out as the small sci-fi film from first time director Neil Blomkamp, to becoming a huge film phenomenon and the darling of many critics “Best Of the Year” lists. Now available on DVD District 9 should gain an even bigger following than its already amassed due to easier viewing experience (shaky cam shouldn't be as bothersome) and a fantastic slew of bonus material for even the most casual viewer.
Mild-mannered government agent Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley) is assigned with evicting a race of aliens, derogatorily referred to as “prawns,” inhabiting a slum in Johannesburg, South Africa. When he's sprayed with a mysterious substance and slowly starts to turn into one of the creatures he is hunted down by those he once trusted, and must take refuge in the mysterious home of the prawns District 9.
District 9 might not have made my end of the year list but that doesn't mean it isn't a fantastic film. For a person who isn't a fan of the genre I was enraptured with the world crafted by director Blomkamp. Detailing an alien race stranded in South Africa, Blomkamp tells a tale that mirrors the real life segregation of the country through apartheid and other social factors. Wikus is a well-meaning man deep in love with his wife and proud of his recent promotion, but he's openly hostile to the prawns. He's not a racist character per se, merely an ignorant man who doesn't understand until he's placed in the aliens shoes. Taken without all the science fiction, District 9 is a strong character film featuring two men on opposite ends of the spectrum. Wikus is the human side while the alien Christopher Johnson allows the audience to identify with the creatures personally. Christopher may not say anything in English but through his body languages and emotions he speaks volumes. The audience learns throughout the film he merely wants to return home and protect his son from hostile humans bent on destruction. Blomkamp takes a quasi-documentary approach to the telling the story of Wikus and Christopher Johnson, using footage with supposed “experts” in the situation happening in South Africa. The audience learns about the Nigerians exploiting the aliens for money and weapons, and about the pharmaceutical companies who want to work the technology for themselves. District 9 is equal parts narrative and hard-hitting documentary focusing on a country that still has its fair share of poverty and problems, but they just happen to include an alien race. One cannot ignore the special effects as well, mainly consisting of the aliens and their weapons. It's surprising that the SFX work is limited to the creatures as they seem to meld seamlessly with the vast and depressing landscape of the country. The aliens are both human and crustacean in nature and they definitely convey emotions. The fine work at Weta Workshop is more than enough to have the film win some technical awards come awards time. Copley is phenomenal as Wikus and will hopefully win some type of recognition for it. Watching this film on DVD allows audiences to appreciate Wikus more as a character if you've already taken in the story and effects.
The special features on the standard DVD are amazing and insightful if you don't want to commit to a Blu-Ray. It's surprising to see a director's commentary on a DVD when so much of that is being relegated to the expensive Blu-Ray presentations. Director Blomkamp gives a delightful commentary that will appeal to any film lover out there. He gives detailed analysis on the back story of the creatures, his attempts to include various themes like apartheid and the current unrest going on in South Africa while working on the script, and he devotes quite a bit of the film's run time to the effects. Even if you only listen to it once you'll gain a far greater understanding of all the bits that went into bringing District 9 to the screen. There's 23 minutes of deleted scenes featuring additional documentary interviews and a few altered and extended scenes with the prawns. It's easy to see why they were excised but it's great to see some of the prawn sequences filmed without the addition of special effects. The Alien Agenda: A Filmmaker's Log is a 34 minute making of featurette that focuses on all the aspects of filming, editing and crafting the movie. There's a lot of in-depth stories told about making this movie and if you wanted more from the commentary it's here. There's also a 2-disc DVD and Blu-Ray that includes additional making-of featurettes.
District 9 was a surprise because I was still transported to the world even on DVD and had the ride of my life. The film offers so much to any movie buff and the DVD is a fantastic addition with many insightful features and a fantastic director commentary worth the price alone.