District 9

A long-dormant spaceship hangs over the skies of Johannesburg, South Africa, like a giant umbrella. Twenty years ago, its occupants “” insectoid beings roughly the size of humans “” were discovered malnourished and disoriented. Earthlings subsequently herded the aliens to the city below and forced them into a shantytown of razor wire and trash.

Derisively called “prawns” for their crustacean appearance, the aliens are subjected to levels of xenophobia that would make Lou Dobbs blush. And now public sentiment dictates that the creatures be relocated to an even more restrictive encampment far from civilization.

Welcome to “District 9,” an astounding work of speculative science fiction and one of the best films of the summer.

By setting the aforementioned scenario in the land of not-so-long-ago apartheid, producer Peter Jackson and director Neil Blomkamp are not coy about their allegorical ambitions. Still, “District 9″ is no political screed. While it spins from humankind’s darker impulses, it is first and foremost a blockbuster of suspense and action with generous dollops of gore.

Mimicking the urgency of documentary filmmaking, the picture catapults us into its dystopian creation. A military contractor, Multi-National United, is hired to supervise the prawns’ relocation from District 9. Heading the operation is Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley), a dorky, ingratiating bureaucrat who’s married to the boss’ daughter. He clumsily leads MNU goons through the sham eviction, confiscating high-powered alien weaponry while avoiding the Nigerian gangsters who run illicit activities in the slum.

Then Wikus is accidentally doused by a mystery contaminant in a suspicious-looking canister. Within hours, he is hacking up black ooze, losing teeth and watching in horror as his left arm sprouts an alien claw. Suddenly, Wikus is popular for all the wrong reasons. MNU baddies see his genetic transformation as key to figuring out how to use prawn weaponry, which has been encoded only to work with the aliens’ DNA. Hunted by his employers, Wikus seeks refuge in District 9 and enlists the help of a prawn who has been slapped with the decidedly non-E.T. name of Christopher Johnson (Jason Cope).

Blomkamp and cinematographer Trent Opaloch employ a flurry of faux effects “” TV news footage, grainy surveillance video, MNU corporate film “” to inject a sense of gritty immediacy. The shaky-camera shtick became clich


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