LAT review: ‘District 9′ is ‘scathing social satire … terrific action’

Aug. 14, 2009 | 11:43 p.m.

Los Angeles Times film critic Betsy Sharkey has delivered a resounding endorsement of the Peter Jackson-produced sci-fi tale “District 9.” Here’s an excerpt …

District 9 stick up

 

Set in South Africa in the not too distant past, the riveting “District 9″ begins nearly three decades after a monstrous spaceship lost power over Johannesburg. There it sits still, suspended over the city like a giant metal thundercloud.

These are stormy days indeed inside District 9, the refugee camp just outside the city built to deal with the huge alien population left stranded by the broken craft. It’s one of those “separate but equal” shantytowns reeking of garbage and growing dissatisfaction among the Prawns, which is as good a slur as any for a race of creatures who look like tall, two-legged cockroach/lobsters on steroids.

“District 9″ is very smart sci-fi, but that’s just the beginning; it’s also a scathing social satire hidden inside a terrific action thriller teeming with gross aliens and regrettable inter-species conflict. And it’s a blast. . . .

Unemployment is rampant in District 9, healthcare is nonexistent — unless you count those secret scientific experiments — and crime is on the rise, helped along by a Nigerian mafia that specializes in guns and ammo. The Prawns spend their days brawling and getting drunk on cat food, which it turns out they have a serious weakness for, sending cat food prices soaring. The locals are fed up and pushing for segregation, again, in South Africa. Don’t we ever learn?

Meanwhile, the Prawns just want to go home. They still don’t speak English, and humans don’t understand much of their synthesized screeches, so what we have here is a failure to communicate (though subtitles help us out.)

The film opens on a drab, workstation-filled floor in what turns out to be headquarters for MNU, the organization well compensated by the world for managing the aliens. A mass resettlement of District 9 is about to get underway, with news cameras rolling and talking heads covering every bit of minutia.

Director Neill Blomkamp, who wrote the screenplay with Terri Tatchell, uses the 24-hour news cycle and its panel of experts to fill out the film’s complex back story in a form that feels frighteningly familiar. But as with everything else about “District 9,” there’s more to it than that…

THERE’S MORE, READ THE REST

– Betsy Sharkey

PHOTO GALLERY: SEE MORE IMAGES FROM “DISTRICT 9″

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CREDIT: TriStar Pictures

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