The year is 1981. What can only be described as an alien spaceship arrives and floats menacingly over the city of Johannesburg. The people of South Africa await an attack with bated breath. And they wait. And wait. And wait. But nothing happens. So in a bid to stop the stalemate – an operation to find out what is going on is organised. What they find are malnourished, scared aliens who are simply the ”worker bees” if you like, of their race – no hierarchy, no leader.
So begins a human endeavour to help the poor cockroach-like creatures (that’s the first thing I thought when I saw one!). Fast forward 28 years later and they are still here. The people no longer want them, the government are intrigued by their technology but are forced by the public to do something about the ”prawns”, as they are derogatorily referred to.
So in comes Wikus Van Der Werwe (Copley), a careless employee of the Department of Alien Affairs, a branch of Multi-National United (MNU). He is put in charge of the mass evacuation plan to District 10, another holding area more akin to a concentration camp, but by law is required to give the inhabitants 24 hours notice. So begins a ‘persuasion’ campaign, with Trent the cameraman and the local militia to get them to sign their eviction notices.
This is done in a very realistic documentary style which composes of interviews with different high-ranking officials and the public. The attention to detail is impressive – for example in one interview, in the background can be seen a poster stating ”Infected? Don’t risk it, they are all carriers”. The allegory to the past apartheid regime in South Africa is quite strong and incorporated superbly.
If you know anything about South African history, you will know that a District 6 existed and the ‘set’ if you like is very real. All the shacks and carcasses, bar a few exceptions, are all present in a section of Johannesburg. Even the alien language is reminiscent of the click-like Bantu languages spoken by a lot of South Africans. The CGI is extremely realistic and kudos to Jason Cope who provides a voice to many characters such as Trent the cameraman, the alien with ‘human emotions’ Christopher Johnson and of course is Grey Bradnam.
At first, the aliens are disgusting and draw no sympathy from you! They are savage, hated by humans, manipulated by the Nigerians who co-exist with them and kept hostage by a government who seeks to utilise their weaponry – which can only be triggered by alien DNA. They have no ally until Van Der Merwe, in a display of stupidity, handles a canister that releases a substance that cause him to slowly become what he mocks. Of course now he can operate the alien machinery and becomes the world’s most hunted man.
This almost feels like karma for the man who had, but a few hours earlier, essentially committed murder by setting a hut full of alien eggs on fire and cheerily declaring that, ”It sounds like popcorn”. Then suddenly, and only when you can see their eyes and meet Christopher Johnson, do you see and begin to feel for the aliens and their current predicament – stuck on an unwelcoming planet far from home.
This movie displays humans at their worst and is a sci-fi with a brain! What a debut for Neill Blomkamp. Yet another director who understands that we appreciate action (and gore!) as much as we do a story that engages our hearts and minds. Despite a small budget of only $30m, compared to the Transformers 2 budget of $200m, it outshines and is the summer blockbuster of the year. I daresay nothing quite as thrilling or original regarding outer space invaders since Alien back in 1979. Copley is a revelation as Van Der Merwe considering he never wanted to go into acting and stumbled upon this role, all of his ‘documentary’ scenes are ad-libbed. The relative unknowns cast in this movie make the story all the more unpredictable because anyone can die.
Watch it – you won’t be disappointed.