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Directed by Neill Blomkamp
By Tony Sheppard
Sitting at the Number 1 spot in this week’s box office rankings and modestly masquerading as a relatively low-budget creature feature, “District 9” is brought to you in a hands-off way by producer Peter Jackson (the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy).
I say masquerading, as it’s really quite an insightful commentary on politics and international power-brokering, both past and current. The story has aliens arriving over Johannesburg, complete with their clearly superior technology and weaponry but also with a broken spaceship and apparently no intergalactic towing service. This results in two outcomes – a giant refugee camp for the stranded “prawns, “as they become known, and a great desire to crack the potentially lucrative mystery of their guns, which don’t operate in human hands. The film unfolds in the style of a news story or reality TV show, as we watch a mid-level manager undertake the manipulative relocation of 1.8 million refugees from their longstanding slum environment to a new purpose-built tent city.
But what is most noteworthy is the effective way that the film reflects our treatment of not just refugees, but people who we deem unworthy of integration. Being set in South Africa, it’s impossible to watch the movie and not think of Apartheid. But it also looks like a cross between Gaza and any number of shanty towns worldwide, with a trapped population driven to desperation in the face of a complete lack of opportunity. It’s also uncomfortably believable to watch the policing of this fictional environment being performed not by the quasi-UN-type organization depicted, but by a multi-national company of mercenaries and arms manufacturing who clearly have a greater vested interest in the hidden arsenal than in the well-being of the prawns.
Like the best of the genre, this is science fiction against a backdrop of our political and social vulnerabilities and shortcomings. The aliens and their city-sized cosmic-utility-vehicle may be hard to believe, but the humans and their actions are all too real. “District 9” is the best sci-fi of the year, with more thought-provoking content than four years at Starfleet Academy—and without all the financial aid.