In all the movies about aliens landing on earth, few have treated life from other planets as banally as in District 9. This film, produced by Peter Jackson, reduces visitors from the stars to illegal, er, aliens.

District 9 is almost two separate movies: a pseudo-documentary and an action flick. The first half of the movie, shot in documentary style, tells of the aliens' arrival and current state. Twenty years ago a massive spaceship appeared, hovering over Johannesburg. The aliens -- tall, insectiod beings given the nickmame "prawns" -- were removed from the ship and taken down to District 9, little more than a slumtown with Nigerian gangsters, poor living conditions, and military forces keeping them inside. The alien mothership just hovers above the town immobile (speculation is that a command module fell off when the ship arrived), and the lethal alien weaponry only works when held by an alien.

Nerdy bureaucrat Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley) is in charge of getting the aliens' signatures (or any marking on a paper) to relocate the whole population of District 9 to a new location further away from humans. He happily guides a film crew through the alien world, explaining how the "prawns" love cat food and gleefully torching a building with alien eggs.

District 9 changes direction when, during his tourn, Wikus gets sprayed by a cannister of alien material. This begins transforming Wikus into one of the aliens, especially an inhuman left hand. In almost no time Wikus is experiencing the same prejudice he exhibited, plus both the government and gangsters want to take apart Wikus. There's another storyline about an alien father and son who can get back to the mothership, but only with Wikus' help...

Director Neill Blomkamp does a good job creating a modern slum filled with futuristic beings, and he seamlessly bridges the work between his human actors and the cgi aliens. District 9 does suffer in the shift from social commentary in how the aliens are treated to a straight-up action flick involving running, shooting, robotic body armor and beam weapons that make targets explode in a bloody mess. District 9 has an intriguing premise, but its diverted focus weakens its message and potential.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch

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