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District 9 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

December 18, 2009 by  



Sony Pictures Home Entertainment ends the year with a bang with a fantastic Blu-ray release!  “District 9” is visual eye candy but it’s the good kind of candy that you want from a Blu-ray release.  Awesome picture and audio quality, a lot of special features and overall, a solid film with a thought-provoking storyline!  A Blu-ray release that is definitely recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2009 District 9 Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: District 9

DURATION: 112 Minutes

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:85:1), English, French DTS HD MA.  English: Audio Description Track, Subtitles: English, French, English SDH, Hindi

RATED: R (For Bloody Violence and Pervasive Language)

COMPANY: TriStar/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

RELEASE DATE: December 22, 2009

Directed by Neill Blomkamp

Screenplay by Neill Blomkamp, Terri Tatchell

Executive Producer: Bill Block, Ken Kamins

Co-Executive Producer: Elliot Ferwerda, Paul Hanson

Producer: Carolynne Cunningham, Peter Jackson

Supervising Producer: Michael S. Murphey

Original Music by Clinton Shorter

Cinematography by Trent Opaloch

Edited by Julian Clarke

Casting by Denton Douglas

Production Deisgn by Philip Ivey

Art Direction by Emilia Roux

Set Decoration by Guy Potgieter

Costume Design by Dianna Cilliers

Starring:

Sharlto Copley as Wikus Van De Merwe

Vanessa Haywood as Tania Van De Merwe

Louis Minnaar as Piet Smit, MNU Director

Jason Cope as Grey Bradnam (UKNR Chief Correspondent)

David James as Colonel Koobus Venter

Nathalie Boltt as Sarah Livingston – Sociologist

Sylvaine Strike as Dr. Katrina McKenzie

John Sumner as Les Feldman – MIL Engineer

William Allen Young as Dirk Michaels, MNU CEO

Mandla Gaduka as Fundiswa Mhlanga

Johan van Schoor as Nicolas Van De Merwe

Eugen Khumbanyiwa as Obesandjo

From producer Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings Trilogy) and director Neill Blomkamp comes a startlingly original science fiction thriller that “soars on the imagination of its creators” (Peter Travers, Rolling Stone). With stunning special effects and gritty realism, the film plunges us into a world where the aliens have landed… only to be exiled to a slum on the fringes of Johannesburg. Now, one lone human discovers the mysterious secret of the extraterrestrial weapon technology. Hunted and hounded through the bizarre back alleys of an alien shantytown, he will discover what it means to be the ultimate outsider on your own planet.

Peter Jackson may be known for his work on the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and “King Kong” but as producer for the science fiction film “District 9”, needless to say that with his name attached to this project, many people had high expectations.

“District 9” is a film adapted from a 2005 short film “Alive in Joburg” directed by Neill Blomkamp (known for his visual effects work for “Smallville” and “Stargate-SG1”) that focused on social segregation.  This time around the film (which was budged for around $30 million) would take events that took place in South Africa in District Six, Cape Town during the apartheid era but bring a sci-fi feel that features aliens instead of humans in a camp located in District 9.

Needless to say, TriStar Pictures marketed the film virally on the Internet and despite not having any big name actors in the film, Peter Jackson’s name and the teaser trailers featuring the film’s awesome special effects would help in creating interest and hype a for the film  and in August 2009, “District 9” made $37 million in its opening weekend and eventually making over $204 million worldwide.  Now the film makes its entry to Blu-ray and comes loaded with many Blu-ray exclusive special features and also a digital copy of the film.

“District 9” is about a huge alien spacecraft entering Earth in 1982.  The spacecraft for some reason stops on top of Johannesburg, South Africa and remained stationary for three months.   Military forces went ahead and cut inside to the ship and what was found was over a million aliens of different species malnourished and literally dying.

The aliens are given asylum and are put into camps inside District 9.  “District 9” is shot in two ways: a documentary portion and the cinematic sequences.

In the documentary portion, we see interviews with people who start talking about an incident that took place and news clips being reported to the world.  What we do know from the interviews with people is that an incident involving an MNU worker named Wikus van de Merwe (played by Sharlto Copley) took place and those interviewed are co-workers and family members who reflect back on the incident.  The film features the life of Wikus, Wikus’s life, his promotion in his job and what took place on the day of his new job.

As the aliens start to live in the camps, conditions are bad and some of the aliens become hostile towards humans.  As they try to scrounge for technology or food, many of these aliens (who have received the nickname “prawns” because they are like bottom feeders) who have strayed away from the camps  have led to stealing and killing of people in the area which prompts people living in Johannesburg to demand the aliens to leave their area.

With unrest by the people, the Multinational United (MNU) are then put in charge of policing the slums of District 9 and must relocate the aliens to District 10 miles away from Johannesburg.

Selected to head the group who has to go to District 9 and evict the aliens is MNU Department of Relations employee Wikus van de Merwe.  Wikus is the main protagonist and a man who is married to his loving wife Tania (played by Vanessa Haywood), who also happens to be the daughter of Piet Smit (played by Louis Minnaar) who is the director at MNU.  Wikus is a by-the-books kind of man and just your average guy appointed to lead this operation.  And it helps that he can communicate with the aliens (he seems to understand their language).

So, Wikus along with his assistant Fundiswa Mhlanga (played by Mandla Gaduka) and MNU soldiers go to District 9 to tell the aliens they are being relocated and also discovering whatever illegal activities are taking place.  Wikus is being shot in camera and telling viewers what they are trying to accomplish.  While in District 9, things are quite unstable as you have the aliens residing in the area but you also have a Nigerian Warlord named Obesandjo (played by Eugene Khumbanyiwa) and his men who run an underground arms black market, food (primarily cat food) and prostitution ring for the aliens.

While going through District 9, Wikus was doing his job but when he ventures to a home (in which two aliens conspiring together in obtaining alien materials and filling a canister type of device filled with an alien liquid).  As Wikus sees a lab inside the home, he confiscates the canister but as he ends up trying to open it, the black liquid sprays all over his body.

Not knowing what the liquid is for, Wikus and crew continue to conduct their investigation and eventually get into a confrontation with the aliens in which Wikus injures his arm.  As the day progresses, he begins to vomit and looks very sick.  While leaving District 9 and grabbing some food to eat, he begins to vomit black liquid and continues to do so throughout the day, which leads his wife to take him into the hospital.

As a doctor looks at his injuries that he suffered during his work when he was evicting aliens at District 9, it appears that the black liquid that Wikus had on his body has now starting to fuse alien technology to his own body, turning his hands and arm into that of one of the alien species.

Immediately, MNU looks at this as an opportunity to study the alien biology through Wikus and use him as a lab experiment.  For example, because only the aliens can use their high technology weapons and humans can’t, since Wikus has an alien hand/arm, he can use these weapons and MNU can record what kind of technology these weapons can do.  Unfortunately, Wikus is unwilling to let them use him as a lab rat, so MNU decides to conduct experiments on him by force and torture.  Something that his father-in-law, the director of MNU allows to happen.

But with opportunity, Wikus manages to escape the lab at MNU and now becomes the most wanted man in the world.  Stripping away everything meaningful to him… Wikus must try to find help on how to turn back to the human but that can only mean, going back to District 9 and working with the human-hating aliens.

VIDEO & AUDIO:

“District 9” is featured in 1080p High Definition (1:85:1) and what a gorgeous film does this film turn out to be on Blu-ray.  The film is not only vibrant and colorful, the amount of detail scene is incredible.  From the grime and dirt on Wikus and the surroundings around District 9, to the detail of the clothing and alien and human skin is incredible.  The detail of the broken down, dilapidated slums are brought to life on HD and if anything, this film looks incredible on Blu-ray!  Definitely one of the most amazing looking film to come out on Blu-ray this year from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.  This is a film that is literally “visual eye candy”, “District 9” looks fantastic!

As for audio, the lossless audio soundtrack is featured in English and French DTS-HD MA and also features an English audio description track.  And similar to the picture quality of “District 9”, the lossless audio is also fantastic!  There are many action scenes in this film, so from the radio control communications which you hear on all surround channels, gun shots and alien weaponry blasting to the LFE kicking right when the spacecraft starts to move, I was very impressed.  The soundtrack really creates an immersive soundscape and the fact that all surround channels are being utilized, people who own a 7.1 or higher setup will love how “District 9” will sound on their home theater system.  Absolutely fantastic!

Subtitles are in English, English SDH, French and Hindi.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“District 9” comes with the following special features featured in High Definition and in English Stereo.  Included are:

  • BD Exclusive: MovieIQ – If you have a Blu-ray profile 2.0 player that can connect to the Internet, MovieIQ connects you to access real-time information on the cast, music, trivia and more while watching the movie!
  • BD Exclusive: CineChat –If you have a Blu-ray profile 2.0 player that can connect to the Internet, you can send on-screen instant messages to your friends around the world while you watch the movie together.
  • BD Exclusive: Joburg From Above: Satellite and Schematics of the World of District 9 – Interactive Map – Using your remote, people can see a satellite view of District 9, the alien mothership and MNU headquarters.  When you click on one of the locations onscreen, you get detailed information and video.  Definitely a pretty cool feature for those who want to learn more about the surroundings of key areas in the film.
  • BD Exclusive: GOD OF WAR III playable PlayStation®3 Game Demo and unlock an exclusive making-of the game. – For those that own a Sony PlayStation 3, they can play a demo of the video game and making-of video.
  • Director’s Commentary – Audio commentary with director/co-writer Neill Blomkamp who is giving commentary before the film came out in theaters.  What is interesting is a discussion about how polluted the area where they shot the film (slum area) with asbestos and chemicals all around.  But overall, good insight from Blomkamp and overall an informative and entertaining commentary.
  • Deleted Scenes – (23:26) A total of 23 deleted scenes.  The deleted scenes are actually quite good and could have added more info. to the film.  But I can understand that they were trying to reduce the time for better pacing but definitely worth watching after the film.
  • The Alien Agenda: A Filmmaker’s Log — Three-Part Documentary – (34:19) The documentary features how Peter Jackson chose Neill Blomkamp, the collaborative writing project with Terri Tatchell and Blomkamp, filming in South Africa and working with the film with a limited budget.  The second part features the behind-the-scenes of making “District 9” and working with the talent.  The third and final part is an interview with Blomkamp and talent during post-production.   Incorporating the sounds, CG and the special effects for the film and how they were accomplished and the challenges of editing the film between documentary and cinematic sequences.
  • Metamorphosis: The Transformation of Wikus – (9:52) Discussion of Wikus transformation and Sharlto Copleys experience of having to go through the various transformation.
  • Innovation: Acting and Improvisation – (12:04) Behind-the-scenes with how the director’s worked with many actors and how the dialogue was mostly improvised.
  • Conception and Design: Creating the World of District 9 – (13:18) The conceptual art design and set design for the film.
  • Alien Generation: Visual Effects – (10:18) Creating the visual effects for the film and working on a budget.

Note: Before the film starts, you get a menu which you can choose human or alien.  As far as I’ve seen, the changes are just menu driven – one featuring humans with a red color scheme with the other featuring aliens and blue color scheme.  I have not found any easter eggs or anything at this time to show anything significantly different by choosing a certain menu.

The trailers for “District 9” may showcase the film a human vs. alien type of sci-fi film but once you start watching the film from beginning to end, you realize how many layers this film has.  It was not meant to be a political film but yet, the film uses the aliens and the segregation that took part in South Africa and so there is a deep underlying tone to the film.

Typically when I see a Summer film or any film that is pushed virally, films such as “Cloverfield” have left me felt that there was over-reliance on CG and special effects and at first, before watching this film, I was thinking that “District 9” would be a film with not much substance but all visually eye candy.  “District 9” is visual eye candy but it’s the good kind of candy that you want from a Blu-ray release.  Awesome picture and audio quality, a lot of special features and for the most part, a film that goes beyond the average “popcorn-flick” flair.

Sure, Peter Jackson’s name is attached to the film but in truth, you have to hand it to first time director Neill Blomkamp (and also screenwriter Terri Tatchell)  who adapted his short film and was expected to take that short film and make this monstrous sci-fi film with only $30 million dollars.  In contrast, to other 2009 films “G.I. Joe – Rise of Cobra” cost $170 million to make, “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” cost $200 million to make and here is a film that was shot by a first-time director, features no major stars, shot in a hazardous area, dialogue that was improvised and yes, they director and crew had to cut corners but what an amazing film “District 9” turned out to be for its low budget, considering how immense this project and film actually came to be.

Actor Sharlto Copley (who plays Wikus Van De Merwe) who has never really acted in a major film was incredible and almost like an Ed Norton who got his first big break with “Primal Fear”, “District 9” definitely puts Copley on the map and will be a talent to watch for more and more in the near future.

Overall, “District 9” turned out to be a pretty smart and deep sci-fi film.  It definitely was not what I was expecting and that’s good because it turned out to be much more fulfilling.  Is it a great film?  No.  But it’s a pretty solid, thought-provoking sci-film that features a gripping screenplay, awesome special effects and also solid acting.  All from a director, crew (aside from producer Peter Jackson) and cast that we have never heard of.  An ambitious film that looks and feels like it should have cost a lot more to make but in the end, Blomkamp made it happen with a low budget.   The Blu-ray release of “District 9” actually enhanced my appreciation for this film  and in the end, I feel that this “District 9” is just too awesome of an HD  release on Blu-ray and definitely earns my recommendation!






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