I had adored this bizarre and intriguing sci fi movie from the first viewing and managed to get it really cheap and it seemed to have done nothing but piss off the masses, which is good for me, so I suppose this just might be the unpopular review.. fuelled by stretched racial relations and tainted by oppression, power and greed a hint of humanity shines through but not from many of the humans in this mockumentary styled film.
The main premise is that an alien ship has got stuck over the city of Johannesburg, after the initial shock and the rescue of the aliens (who are called “Prawns” as a socially accepted insult), from their own ship, we’re not all that impressed with them, they have been moved to a makeshift shanty town where they are monitored by MNU a weapons company who are acting as temporary care takers but who are more interested in alien technology and who have the laborious task of moving them to a new site. The job to organise this move goes to Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley) an extremely mild mannered pushover sap of a man who encounters a strange chemical on the site which bizarrely links him to the “prawns” in a strange twist of fate it also makes him a target for MNU.
Easing audiences into a alien and yet familiar grotty tale about immigration, segregation and asylum that rings true again and again but on this wider interstellar playing field, humanity comes from the strangest place and we’re left looking so small.
I can’t find a lot of faults with this film, it’s likable on so many levels, visually it’s stunning, and one of the rare films where organic creatures actually look good as CG creations. The soundtrack is stark and yet emotive, arrange by Clinton Shorter and incorporating the evocative talents of Zola and Zulu Mobb it’s like the latter scenes from Black Hawk Down (2001) and really kicks the emotion into the film.one thing that didn’t work too well is that the film couldn’t decide if it was going to be a documentary but after Wikus starts his strange transformation there is no way of detailing his whereabouts as it’s secret so the film becomes more and more of a movie with the odd CCTV and video capture thrown in, but that’s minor compared to the narrative which keeps coming back to “what is humantiy”.
Time and time again we see the huge divide between us and them, and in one of the cities where apartheid had divided a nation only a few years previously, in fact the shanty town that the aliens are being evicted from are actual homes where people has been evicted from it’s that poignant!!. It successfully depicts characters that had no idea just how similar we all are (no matter what planet you’re from), and just how far a little kindness can go. I do think the success comes from the transformation that occurs, how often does Hollywood switch a couple of characters on us but never on his biological scale.
All the acting should be praised, not only for working with fake characters and making it look convincing but also just the sheer strife that Wikus goes through from beginning to end he goes from a complacent happy man through fear, love, hate, into this waste of man who’s been cut, blown up, shot down and through all layers of hell. Another amazing actor would be Koobus Venter (David James) as a tough and brutal army type dude who had his own personal strife having to deal with an apartheid loving father, who was probably a monumental inspiration for his character and how he managed to get it so right.
Thoroughly enjoyable and thought provoking especially in this age of hostilities against immigration despite the dire need of escape. It goes to show just how important this message is and how we all need to grow up and show some heart.
R Alien Nation (1988), Avatar (2009), Alive in Joburg (2005)
L Selected Alien flicks,
A What makes a great alien?
5B Sharlto Copley
Vs Alien Nation vs District 9