IGN Blu-ray Review: District 9

The IGN crew explores District 9. What Blu-ray gems do they unearth?

by | December 21, 2009 | Comments

District 9 is a remarkable work and a truly benchmark science fiction
film. Offering an expert balance of narrative, character, subtext, action,
effects and performance, Neill Blomkamp’s cinematic debut is the film that fans
have been waiting years (or perhaps even decades) for. There is scale here, both
grand and intimate. Its heroes are distinctive; its setting unique. Its action
is spectacular and its drama is equal parts heartfelt and terrifying. Most
importantly, it feels new. There is a mind at work in Blomkamp and District 9
is that rare celebration of science fiction that will undoubtedly help define
the genre for years to come.

When a derelict alien spacecraft drifts into the skies above Johannesburg, South
Africa, the world is stunned to find the remains of a dying alien population
aboard. Brought down into a facility called District 9, the Prawns — as the
humans refer to them — have had nearly 20 years to integrate into society, but
racism and prejudice against the impoverished, shanty-town aliens steadily
increases. The corporation MNU is developed to handle the human-alien relations
and it is during an unprecedented attempt to relocate the more than one million
alien residents that Wikus — little more than an Everyman pencil-pusher — is
unwittingly made the key to the human’s ability to utilize the aliens’
DNA-encoded weaponry. On the run with an alien named Christopher Johnson, Wikus
must find a way to make things right for both himself and the Prawns so that
both species, alien and human alike, can return home.

District 9 is essentially an expanded version of Blomkamp’s short film
“Alive in Joburg.” The short got the attention of producer Peter Jackson and
Blomkamp subsequently attached to the long-abandoned adaptation of Halo.
Using the same documentary-style approach to the material, District 9 is
incredibly grounded, making grand science fiction feel tremendously real. This
is partly due to the fact that the special effects in the film are taken almost
for granted. The massive alien ship hangs in the sky above the city like an
afterthought, hazy and out of focus through the constantly shifting lens of the
camera. The aliens — a triumph of computer animation and digital character work
— feel fully a part of the universe, blurring the line between CG creations and
human performers, the standout of which is Wikus himself, Sharlto Copley.

Score: 10 out of 10 [rtimage]MapID=1190668&MapTypeID=2&photo=22&legacy=1[/rtimage]Video and Presentation

The video is presented in 1080p in the original theatrical aspect ratio of
1.85:1. Despite the low-tech filmmaking techniques at work in District 9,
it comes across very well on Blu-ray. Blomkamp uses a variety of filming styles
to replicate a documentary feel, especially early on, so it doesn’t always look
clean and pretty. That’s not to say that there aren’t some nice-looking images
here. The footage that isn’t meant to be part of the documentary is sharp and
crisp, and the colors, although muted, are consistently natural. Detail is one
of the best elements of this disc, as showcased in the scenes inside the alien’s
cluttered shacks. A fine presentation overall.

Score: 8 out of 10 [rtimage]MapID=1190668&MapTypeID=2&photo=21&legacy=1[/rtimage]
Languages and Audio

District 9 offers up a very busy audio experience, and this 5.1 DTS-HD
Master Audio presentation delivers it all with precision and fidelity. When the
film is in documentary mode, the sounds of the ghetto come from all sides.
Helicopters, military vehicles, blazing fire, gunshots and the chatter of the
aliens all add to the ambiance in the action scenes. This is more of a subtle,
nuanced presentation than a truly bombastic one, however, in keeping with the
overall style of the film. It won’t blow you away, but it will certainly draw
you in. There’s also a DTS-HD MA track in French and a descriptive audio track
in English for the sight impaired.

Score:8 out of 10 [rtimage]MapID=1190668&MapTypeID=2&photo=19&legacy=1[/rtimage]
Extras and Packaging

This two-disc set includes a digital copy for downloading to a media player or
computer. That takes up one disc, while the other contains the feature and all
of the extras. When you pop in the disc, you get a screen with a picture of a
human and an alien. Each represents a different menu screen themed to that
species. Both are pretty cool, but we really dig the blue alien interface.

The full list of special features includes:

— Cinechat
— MovieIQ
— Commentary with Director/Co-Writer Neill Blomkamp
— Joburg From Above: Satellite and Schematics of the World of District 9 –
Interactive Map
— Deleted Scenes
— The Alien Agenda: A Filmmakers Log
— Metamorphosis: The Transformation of Wikus
— Innovation: The Acting and Improvisation of District 9
— Conception and Design: Creating the World of District 9
— Alien Generation: The Visual Effects of District 9
— Previews
— Playable Demo for God of War III

As we’ve come to expect from the studio with the biggest stake in Blu-ray,
Sony loads this release with the usual innovative features, including Cinechat,
which allows you to connect with other users and chat while watching the film
and MovieIQ, providing access to trivia and updated information about the cast,
crew and bookmarks that let you save your place in the film. A link to the
outside BD-Live site is pretty much standard at this point.

Blomkamp recorded his commentary in July of this year, after the first public
screening, but before the film had come out in theaters. At the time, he had no
idea how the film would be received by the general public, and his personal
stake in the work comes through from the start. Blomkamp is articulate about his
intentions, and listening to the commentary really helps put the film in a
historical context in terms of the parallel with the real-life politics of South
Africa.

In the Blu-ray-exclusive “Joburg From Above” you can explore the various
locations referenced in the film by clicking on an interactive map of the city.
The interface is cleverly designed, with streaming surveillance footage, a
faux-live information feed and a satellite view of the city. You can explore
various areas within District 9, MNU Headquarters and the Alien Mothership.
Clicking on an area will give you information on objects and characters found
there. There are even banner ads for MNU.

There are a grand total of 22 deleted scenes, many of them providing a deeper
look at the aliens and their society. It’s not hard to see why they didn’t make
it into the final film, but they are worth watching to add some context and
background to the story. You can watch them separately or all at once via “Play
All.”

The “Filmmakers Log” is divided into three parts. “Chapter 1: Envisioning
District 9
” runs at just under eight minutes and kicks off the making-of
documentary from the point where Blomkamp first conceived the short “Alive in
Joburg.” The cast and crew provide interviews, as does producer Jackson.
“Shooting District 9” is 16 and a half minutes and focuses on the
production itself and the logistics of shooting on a miniscule budget in
difficult conditions. The final chapter, “Refining District 9,” is a
10-minute look back at the film via the post-production process.

As if this weren’t enough, there are four more featurettes focusing on the
make-up, performances, production design and visual effects. These are all
pretty interesting, and are filmed more in the style of a documentary than an
electronic press kit. The piece on the visual effects especially (although this
is true of all four featurettes) really gives you an idea of all the unsung work
that went into the film. It’s only through segments like these that you can
really appreciate the hard work of the craftsman and artists, whose goal is to
make all that effort invisible to the audience.

Finally, there’s a playable demo for God of War III included for those
who have a PS3. You can play through a level of the game and unlock an exclusive
behind-the-scenes piece about the making of the game.

Score: 8 out of 10[rtimage]MapID=1190668&MapTypeID=2&photo=18&legacy=1[/rtimage]The Bottom Line

Disguised as an unassuming foreign sci-fi film, District 9 sneaks up on
you with its engrossing story and layers of social commentary that are artful,
if not subtle. In addition to including some pretty neat features, the producers
have put some nice touches on this disc and the interface that show a respect
for the film and its subject matter. Well done, Sony.

Overall Score: 9 out of 10 (not an average)[rtimage]MapID=1190668&MapTypeID=2&photo=17&legacy=1[/rtimage]
For additional IGN coverage on Blu-ray, including more reviews, news, and
previews, visit bluray.ign.com. And for RT’s
own coverage, visit our Blu-ray
HQ
.

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