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District 9

Year: 2009
Production Co: Key Creatives
Studio: Sony
Director: Neill Blomkamp/Terri Tatchell
Writer: Neill Blomkamp
Cast: Sharlto Copley

Most film fans know director Neill Blomkamp from his short on which District 9 is based, Alive in Joburg, but it wasn't the first time YouTube made him famous. If you've ever seen the Citroen Transformer ad where the car comes to life to dance on roof of a Seattle parking garage, you'd already seen what he could do.

It doesn't have quite the full handycam/YouTube approach as Cloverfield, but the news footage throughout the beginning of the film does a great job of establishing a doco feel, and seamless effects do the rest.

Nerdy, low level Afrikaaner bureaucrat Wikus (Copley) works at the private contractor given the task of securing a slum on the outskirts of Johannesburg, the racial tensions and public outcry swirling around it looking nastily like apartheid.

But although District 9 looks familiar, complete with North African gang lords dealing in contraband and giving the security forces a run for their money to keep the peace, the enormous starship that's been floating above the capital for 20 years reveals why we're firmly in sci-fi territory. When the military finally approached the apparently-stranded ship, they cut inside to find the insectoid inhabitants slowly dying of starvation, having simply run out of fuel and unable to get their ship open.

Now, South Africans have had enough of them in their midst, and it's the job of Wikus' employer to move them all to a new shantytown far from the city's gaze.

During the operation, Wikus gets a little too close to an alien substance and later discovers to his horror that he's apparently infused their DNA, growing an alien appendage where his hand used to be.

He breaks out, going on the run in District 9 and teaming up with the alien inside who was developing a new fuel (the nasty chemical that doused him) that will restart their ship. His employers are also close behind, hoping to harvest his now mutated DNA to enable the powerful alien weaponry to work.

The film contains some of the best digital effects you've ever seen on a cinema screen, the enormous mothership hanging over Johannesburg astounding in its realism no matter what the time of day or camera angle, and District 9 is the perfect blend of idea and execution we wait to see in movies for far too long. Audiences agree, returning peter Jackson's miniscule $30m budget almost fivefold so far.

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