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District 9

Peter Jackson is on the phone from New Zealand to dish on District 9, the film he produced about aliens held captive in South Africa. It’s a little film that might just blow the summer whales out of the water. “Little” from the wizard of The Lord of the Rings? Jackson laughs. “It’s fun watching […]

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Peter Travers Jun 21, 2009
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Peter Jackson is on the phone from New Zealand to dish on District 9, the film he produced about aliens held captive in South Africa. It’s a little film that might just blow the summer whales out of the water. “Little” from the wizard of The Lord of the Rings? Jackson laughs. “It’s fun watching people trying to compare this to other films. Is it like 28 Days Later? No, it’s not. Is it like Cloverfield? No.”

Also on the line is Jackson’s protégé Neill Blomkamp, who wrote and directed District 9 based on his short Alive in Joburg. Jackson and Blomkamp had planned to team on a megabudget epic of the video game Halo. When the money dried up, they decided to do District 9 on their own.

Blomkamp: “I was a science-fiction nut when I was growing up in Johannesburg. I just wanted to see that kind of imagery in a Third World setting with the complex political history of South Africa. The film doesn’t beat you over the head with subtext. But it’s there.”

Jackson: “These aliens arrived 20 years ago in a dead, derelict mothership, which hovers above Johannesburg. It’s enormous, like the size of 10 football fields. The aliens have ended up in a Soweto-style township beneath the ship. It’s clear that they’re not really integrating into society. They like to scavenge things, rip up train tracks. So the authorities shift them 200 miles away, into the African belt. They’ve built a concentration camp.”

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Blomkamp: “The residents of Joburg want them gone.”

Jackson: “You see the aliens right away. No gimmicks. It’s the banality of these aliens living in Johannesburg without being integrated. That’s how it gets out of control.”

Blomkamp: “The film has almost a disregard for visual effects. Like, the aliens are so mundane and so part of the geography that you don’t really focus on them at all.”

Jackson: “Neill has built in these teasing glimpses of alien culture, like gangs that spring up among them. Part of the fun is learning how the alien society has taken its lead from Earth society and from its own original thoughts. The film has this documentary rawness to it. It’s original, which is good, because the film industry today only wants to remake every Seventies TV show and superhero graphic novel. District 9 is not your typical summer film. Let’s hope that’s a good thing.”

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