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Thirty years ago, aliens made first contact with Earth. Humans waited for the hostile attack, or the giant advances in technology. Neither came. Instead, the aliens were refugees, the last survivors of their home world. The creatures were set up in a makeshift home in South Africa's District 9 as the world's nations argued over what to do with them. Now, patience over the alien situation has run out. Control over the aliens has been contracted out to Multi- National United (MNU), a private company uninterested in the aliens' welfare. The tension between the aliens and the humans comes to a head when an MNU field operative, Wikus van der Merwe, contracts a mysterious virus that begins changing his DNA. Wikus quickly becomes the most hunted man in the world, as well as the most valuable -- he is the key to unlocking the secrets of alien technology. Ostracized and friendless, there is only one place left for him to hide: District 9.
For more about District 9 and the District 9 Blu-ray release, see District 9 Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on December 18, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Sharlto Copley, David James, Vanessa Haywood, Mandla Gaduka, Kenneth Nkosi, Jed Brophy
Director: Neill Blomkamp
» See full cast & crew
District 9 Blu-ray Review
This superbly-crafted film makes for a stellar Blu-ray package.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, December 18, 2009
The entire world was watching him.
Exciting but contemplative. Slick but grimy. Intense but purposeful. Fatiguing but captivating. District 9 is a film of two words, both literally and figuratively. In the literal sense, it features protagonists and antagonists from two planets struggling to co-exist on Earth. Figuratively, the film incorporates plenty of fast-paced action and glossy visuals inside a world that's wholly depressing and subconsciously reflective of the human condition and human history; District 9's juxtaposition of shiny special effects and slick filmmaking consistently clashes with the alien-inhabited slums of Johannesburg, South Africa, where tragedy unfolds upon tragedy and where everyone -- human and alien alike -- is on some level both hero and villain, culminating in several days of upheaval that promise to forever alter the course of human and alien events.
For thirty years, a large alien spacecraft hovered over the city of Johannesburg, South Africa, presumably stranded when a command vessel plummeted to Earth, never to be found. Its first three months were met with speculation and panic, until it was decided to infiltrate the vessel, learn its true intentions, and just as importantly, discover the fate of whatever crew may be aboard. The huddled, sickly, and malnourished aliens were transported to Johannesburg below where they were placed in makeshift camps, but after years of unproductiveness and countless resources that only furthered the creatures' depravity in their slums, and in conjunction with gang infiltration, violence, and the plethora of weapons both human and alien within the slum's walls, the forced relocation of the 1.8 million aliens to a new complex some distance from the city was chosen as the most prudent course of action for both man and alien. In charge of the move was Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley). The process proved difficult as uncooperative aliens and angry Nigerian gangs hindered the operation, but it took a turn for the worse when Wikus accidentally came in contact with an alien liquid that slowly altered his biological structure. Hunted by man for his ability to fire alien weapons rendered otherwise useless in human hands and sought after by the Nigerian gangs for his mutated DNA, Wikus became the central player in a series of events that promised to forever alter man's perception of the aliens and the aliens' place on Earth.
District 9, the brainchild of the relatively unknown Writer/Director Neill Blomkamp and produced by famed filmmaker Peter Jackson (King Kong), is first and foremost a rugged Action/Sci-Fi extravaganza that entwines both pseudo-Documentary and traditional filmmaking approaches, but below the surface lies an unforgiving commentary on forced relocation, profiling, and prejudice. Of course, and in the tradition of classic Science Fiction motifs, the film presents a far-flung and desperate scenario that would challenge even the most honest and compassionate mankind has to offer; it was only after months of deliberation and an effort to do right by the horde of diseased and desperate aliens did man attempt to help the new arrivals, only to see the alien camps decay into chaos that threatened to tear apart the fabric of an already-struggling city but also pit man against man and man against alien in the effort to provide for the stranded creatures' basic needs. Despite its unsettling tone and none-too-subtle message, District 9's thematic undercurrents prove effective even in the context of plenty of hard-hitting action, extreme graphic violence, and the film's attention-grabbing visual style and relentless approach to the material. The allegory is never lost to action or special effects, even when the movie drastically shifts tones from act to act, going from engaging yet depressing to a more standard run-and-gun but no less effective and certainly entertaining third act.
Effectiveness of any allegorical sub-contexts aside, however, District 9's basic structure is one built around tragedy. Personal tragedy, city tragedy, worldly tragedy, and, indeed, even intergalactic tragedy defines every frame of District 9, and Director Neill Blomkamp has effectively woven a picture that, therefore and in conjunction with several other elements, elicits a broad spectrum of emotions. The film's structurally-appealing and rapid-fire first act delivers a barrage of information with such a realistic tone so as to be practically overpowering, the film's Documentary approach and interwoven false news clips effectively throw decades worth of backstory -- backstory that's comprised of what would undoubtedly prove be the most monumental newsmaker in man's history were it real -- as if it were all unfolding freshly and for the first time. Of course, the film also leans on its allegorical overtones to draw out feelings of anger and regret and, at the same time, an understanding of the hows and whys of the conditions, the relocations, and the general human public's outcry towards the "Prawn" infestation. Lastly, District 9 delivers plenty of spine-tingling suspense alongside hardcore and gruesome action. Bullets fly, bodies explode, and the combat sequences are superbly choreographed and intense; even though the general outcome is rarely in question, Blomkamp maintains a strong level of tension throughout. Each element lends to District 9 a distinct feel, and all told the film offers a nonstop roller coaster ride of emotions and visuals that make it one of the year's -- and perhaps the decade's -- most unique motion pictures.
Finally, District 9 is a technical achievement in filmmaking. Its special effects are generally seamless but sometimes a bit clumsy and not quite up to par with something like Star Trek, but then again, the film is charged with a far more daunting task of placing complexly-rendered organic beings in the midst of the filth and grime of a South African slum, and on a budget an estimated one-fifth the size of Director J.J. Abrams' summer mega-hit. As alluded to earlier, District 9's now not uncommon but nevertheless here incredibly effective Documentary approach only adds to the gritty visuals and unforgiving tone of the problems and conditions that define the film. Additionally, District 9's cast is devoid of household name actors, but each primary -- both human and digitally-rendered alien -- provide solid performances from top to bottom. In the film's lead role, Johannesburg native Sharlto Copley plays his pencil-pusher-turned-anti-hero character splendidly; gradually transforming from hunter to hunted and undergoing massive physical, emotional, and psychological changes, Copley exhibits a good range and professionalism in his craft, and in his first outing proving a solid leading man, his performance boding well for his big-screen future, set to continue in 2010's sure-to-be summer blockbuster The A-Team.
District 9 Blu-ray, Video Quality
Sony's 1080p, 1.85:1-framed transfer of District 9 is practically of reference quality in every frame. Shot on the Red One high definition digital camera, every square inch of the frame looks extraordinary; only deliberately rough and aged standard-definition footage as seen primarily at the beginning of the film, slightly underwhelming blacks in select scenes, and incredibly minute banding in a couple of high definition shots represent any sort of distraction from what is, overall, a brilliantly rendered high definition image. Colors are marvelously vibrant but never overpowering; the slums of Johannesburg take on a slight earth tone considering the dirt, grime, and rust, but clothing stands apart as particularly striking. Complementing the wonderful color scheme is an incredibly fine level of detailing that's generally nothing short of astonishing. Wikus' sweater as worn at the beginning of the film features a particularly strong texturing. Facial detail in close-up shots reveal beads of sweat, pores, and facial hair stubbles as handsomely and realistically as any other Blu-ray disc to date. Additionally, the rough detail of the slums -- the rust, filth, and broken down shacks and equipment -- as evidenced in most every exterior shot throughout the film offers breathtakingly sharp and finely-rendered imagery. Even distance shots remain sharp, focused, and intricately detailed. This digital high definition image is pristinely clean, with only slight noise to be found in but a few particularly darkened shots. Flesh tones are consistently accurate as well. District 9 is the latest in visual eye candy and another stellar Blu-ray transfer from Sony.
District 9 Blu-ray, Audio Quality
District 9 explodes onto Blu-ray with a mesmerizing DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack. A full and exceptionally balanced presentation, Sony's latest system-pushing sonic extravaganza immerses the listener into the world of of the 9th district, distributing every sound with pinpoint accuracy to create a seamless 360-degree living, breathing environment. From subtle background ambience -- voices over intercoms or shuffling debris around the slums -- to explosive shootouts and high-pitched whines, this DTS mix delivers a full range of sonic goodness that never misses a beat whether the action be near or far, loud or quiet, and anything and everything in between. Gunfire crackles with startling precision as rounds explode in rapid-fire succession from automatic weapons, while the wide array of alien sidearms each deliver a unique and frightening sonic signature. Most impressive about District 9's soundtrack, however, is the tight, clean, and precise bass; a seat-rattling but never overwhelming experience, the low end is decidedly powerful but not abundantly messy. District 9 gives the subwoofer a prodigious workout that's sure to test its limits, not to mention the structural integrity of the surrounding structure. Rounded out by pitch-perfect dialogue reproduction, District 9 delivers a reference-quality lossless soundtrack that perfectly aids the visuals in fully immersing the viewer into the alien slums of Johannesburg.
District 9 Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
District 9 lands on Blu-ray with an impressive array of extras, the collection headlined by a commentary track with Director/Co-Writer Neill Blomkamp. Recorded before the film was released to theaters, Blomkamp covers a nice array of materials with an easygoing and friendly tone. He speaks on his relationship with actor Sharlto Copley, his previous short film Alive in Joburg and District 9's connection to it, the realism of film's visual effects, parallels with real-life problems that plagued South Africa at the time of filming, the film's metaphors, Wikus' personality traits and his character's arc, shooting locations, the social hierarchy and subsequent physical design of the aliens, Peter Jackson's contributions, the film's gory visuals, shooting the action and ensuring its authenticity (including a good discussion on the film's weaponry), and much more. Blomkamp's commentary is solid from beginning to end, and fans will definitely want to give this one a listen. Joburg From Above: Satellite and Schematics of the World of 'District 9' -- Interactive Map allows viewers to navigate around a map of the places seen in District 9 -- the alien mothership, MNU Headquarters, and the district itself -- and learn more about crucial areas within each one. Detailed imagery of select locations reveals the ability to further study materials such as text biographies and backgrounds of characters, learn the basics of alien biology, view conceptual drawings and 3-D schematics of vehicles, see clips from the film, and much more. This interactive piece offers enough in-depth material to keep District 9 fans busy for some time.
The Alien Agenda: A Filmmaker's Log (1080i, 34:19) is a three-part feature broken into three segments. Envisioning 'District 9 (7:49) is a piece that examines the film's origins in Alive in Joburg, the story's evolution from that film to this, the story's themes, creature design, and more. Shooting 'District 9' (16:34) offers a solid behind-the-scenes look at the making of several scenes and the challenges of the shoot, intercut with cast and crew interview clips. Finally, Refining 'District 9' (9:54) looks at the finalization of the film's sound effects and score, cast and crew reflections on the experience, and more. Next up is Metamorphosis: The Transformation of Wikus (1080i, 9:52), a fun segment that looks at the gruel and the skill of applying the 100% practical make-up used on Wikus throughout the film. Innovation: The Acting and Improvisation of 'District 9' (1080i, 12:05) is another solid piece that looks at the importance of improvisational dialogue in crafting a more realistic film that blends with the Documentary approach. Conception and Design: Creating the World of 'District 9' (1080i, 13:18) offers a fascinating glimpse into the set dressing and prop design, creating alien biology and technology, crafting the mothership and its nods to 1970s and 1980s Science Fiction, designing one of the effects that plays central to the film's climactic action sequence, and more. Alien Generation: The Visual Effects of 'District 9' (1080i, 10:18) examines the challenges of bringing the film's digital aliens to life.
Also included is a collection of 22 deleted scenes (1080p, 23:28); a playable demo of God of War III, accessible via the Playstation 3's "Xross Menu Bar" (or "XMB") under the "Game" tab when the disc is inserted into the player; Sony's Cinechat functionality; Sony's "MovieIQ" that offers live, up-to-date details about every scene, including cast and crew filmographies and biographies, soundtrack listings, and more; BD-Live functionality; and additional 1080p trailers for Moon, The Boondock Saints II: All Saint's Day, Michael Jackson's This is It, 2012, and Zombieland. This set also features two digital copies of District 9, one on the Blu-ray disc itself and for replay on a PSP portable gaming device, and the second on a standalone disc for playback on a computer or select portable devices. Unfortunately, the PSP digital copy was unavailable for download at time of publication. However, the included iPod-compatible Digital Copy contained on disc two was sampled on a Second-Generation iPod Touch; the video quality delivers clear, sharp details; solid color reproduction; and a fair sense of depth. The audio is surprisingly spacious across the two channels, with crisp dialogue, strong ambience, and loud and clear sound effects.
District 9 Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
While Producer Peter Jackson's name has been attached with everything -- and its promotional materials in particular -- revolving around District 9, Writer/Director Neill Blomkamp's film stands solidly on its own two feet. It's not an example of a pet project with only a name behind it to get it noticed, but instead a one-of-a-kind, intricately structured, breathtaking, attention-grabbing roller coaster ride of most every emotion, including awe, excitement, and despair. Few films grab the attention so vigorously and never let go quite like District 9, and through its many layers -- allegory and hard-hitting action in particular -- the film gels wonderfully from beginning to end, every angle falling into place for one of the summer's most exceptional films and one of the decade's most unique Science Fiction experiences. Sony's Blu-ray release of this impressive film is up to the task. Boasting startlingly clear visuals, a faultless lossless soundtrack, and plenty of bonus materials, District 9 is yet another feather in Sony's cap, a perfect example of why the studio may very well be Blu-ray's best and most consistent. District 9 comes highly recommended.
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District 9 Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Blu-ray Sales, Dec. 21-27: District 9 Wins the Week - December 31, 2009
During the week ended December 27, 'District 9' was the top-selling title on Blu-ray, according to Nielsen VideoScan. The South African science-fiction movie with an allegorical subtext also had a substantial 41% of its unit sales coming from high definition. 'The ...
• Today on Blu-ray - December 22nd - December 22, 2009
Typically, the week before Christmas lacks big name releases due to studios admission that the majority of holiday shopping has already taken place, and there is no room for last minute purchases like a new Blu-ray release. In fact, the week after Christmas is ...
• District 9 Blu-ray Lands a Week Earlier - November 12, 2009
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has moved forward the release date of the science-fiction sleeper hit 'District 9', which will now hit store shelves on December 22, in time for Christmas shopping. Disc specifications and special features remain unchanged from ...
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