#136. Go see District 9. Last night was the premiere of the movie that everyone is talking about. Aliens in Johannesburg, weapons caches, biotechnology, a Nigerian warlord, some voodoo and an anti-hero called Wikus van der Merwe. Irresistible.
Crowds thronged The Zone in Rosebank from around 6pm to collect their tickets — with the movie starting close to 9pm. Around 1000 people had come to see the film that was booked out in all of The Zone’s 8 cinemas. There was a crazy queue on the red carpet that snaked past Primi Piatti and out the building, a bank of TV cameras and lots of interesting snacks doing the rounds. “What’s the drama?” said someone I bumped into in the queue.
This ain’t Hollywood baby – but last night came close. The organisers had left nothing to chance – from the lift doors emblazoned with posters warning against non-humans to the benches at the cinema and the little themed gift being handed out post-movie — it was all a massive promo for District 9.
The scene was made complete by the many hangers-on who hung around the ticket tables dolefully watching as people “on the list” and there were a few lists, ala Vanity Fair’s Oscar Party (all the way from “A” to “you are pathetic but lucky to be here”) collect their access passes. And the movie? Well, it’s a sci-fi thriller that is gritty and sharp, with lots of action and great special-effects, a little too many exploding body parts, some pathos, humour, and an authentically South African tone that is … well, refreshing. There was a time when South African accents would make an audience shift about in their seat uncomfortably (hey, there was a time when being South African could make you shift about in your seat uncomfortably) — sometimes though it was because it would be so badly pulled off as it was in Lethal Weapon 2. Not so with District 9 where most, if not all of the actors are local.
The hero is the mild-mannered, slightly bumbling Wikus van der Merwe played by Sharlto Copley who gives an astounding performance – getting his own back on all South Africans for the “Van der Merwe” jokes that were a staple of growing up here in the 70s (the local equivalent of the blonde joke with bad punchlines like “Why did van der Merwe keep a pair of scissors in his racing car? To cut the corners with.”) I would hate to give anything away — so I won’t. Suffice to say the movie is a great sci-fi action-packed thriller. It’s a cleverly constructed story (written by Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell with Blomkamp directing) and it’s also awash with all sorts of local in-jokes, references and symbolism which all explains why it will resonate with a global and a local audience. There are forced removals, corporate politics, a family drama and some very bad Nigerian mutha******. The humans turn out to be not-so-human, the “non-humans” show the way, the shacklands that are the home of the aliens are a reminder that as a society we have made aliens of the poor, and that xenophobia is not restricted to a fear of “strangers”.
It’s been hailed by the LA Times as Blomkamp’s “kingmaking debut”. They also reported that: “Over the course of its opening weekend in theaters, the sci-fi thriller “District 9″ earned $37 million at the box office, surpassing all commercial expectations and, moreover, hauling in $7 million more than the scrappy quasi-documentary cost to produce. As of Tuesday night, the film had pulled in $10 million more, earning a total $47.1 million domestically en route to its new, unofficial designation: the surprise hit of summer.
For anyone who follows Hollywood’s behind the scenes machinations closely, though, “District 9″ isn’t just a surprisingly thoughtful sci-fi stand-out in a season characterized by big, dumb studio tent-pole movies; it’s a revelation.”
In the words of Wikus Van der Merwe: “Bliksem!”. This movie is worth seeing.