NEW YORK – This week’s Entertainment Weekly names District 9, a film with no big names and a small budget, the must see movie of the summer. While many have yet to hear of it, by next week it may be all moviegoers talk about.
It has no stars, it was made for relatively little money ($30 million) by a 29-year-old South African-born director whom nobody’s ever heard of, Neill Blomkamp, and its action-packed plot is tinged with a surprising moral intelligence, but it may turn out to be the most unlikely sci-fi blockbuster of the season. It’s the most satisfying sci-fi thrill ride of the summer, but it also turns out to be sort of an apartheid allegory. R20;ItR17;s an utterly original film,” says District 9’s single A-list name, producer Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings). R20;In an industry that’s looking to make movies out of every obscure TV show, or sequels, or videogames, you look at District 9 and it’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.”
It has been a long time since a sci-fi film made a point larger than Monday morning’s box office grosses, and it has been even longer since a serious space-alien picture has been so riveting and fun. Plus, it’s got plot twists that blow up all the old alien-invasion movie clichés, and action sequences that trump most other cinema spectacles in theaters this summer. R20;IR17;m not trying to make something about apartheid that beats people over the head,” says Blomkamp. R20;IR17;m just trying to portray science fiction in a way that feels like it might have actually been real.”
District 9 wasnR17;t the movie Neill Blomkamp first set out to make with Peter Jackson. In 2006, Jackson and his partner, Fran Walsh, hired Blomkamp to shoot a $145 million big-screen adaptation of the videogame Halo (the plug was pulled by the two studios amid rumors that they doubted Blomkamp’s ability to handle an expensive tentpole movie.) At that point, Blomkamp’s resume consisted largely of visually stunning ads for Nike, Gatorade, and Panasonic, plus a series of sci-fi shorts. But Jackson saw something worth nurturing. R20;Those short films and commercials were very eye-catching,” he says. Blomkamp had a hard time believing his own hype. “I went from zero to a hundred in a few weeks,” he says. R20;It was insane.”
Even the star of the film – Sharlto Copley – believed in Blomkamp in the beginning stages. When Copley was a 20-year-old TV producer, he hired a 14-year-old Blomkamp as a computer graphics designer. R20;I gave Neill his first job,R21; Copley says. R20;And heR17;s certainly returned the favor.” But Blomkamp always knew his buddy (who had virtually no acting experience) had hidden talents: R20;He can become whatever character he wants. He once convinced one of his friends he was in the witness protection program.”
When they realized Halo wasn’t going to happen, Jackson had Blomkamp developing a feature inspired by one of the young director’s short films about aliens living in a ghetto. “You’re not sweating blood because you think [the movie’s] gonna need to recoup all this money,” says Blomkamp. R20;You can take risks.R21; Pushing his luck, he cast his old South African friend Sharlto Copley in the lead role of Wilkus van de Merwe with a single goal in mind: “I wanted the film to be as un-Hollywood as possible.”
Given where much of the movie was shot – a landfill – that wasn’t a huge problem. Copley found his first feature-film experience to be pretty unromantic. “Scrounging through real trash to find a prop sandwich strategically placed in the middle of the stuff – it was brutal,” says the star. R20;TheyR17;d have to comb the area before shooting just to pull the nails out.”
Awareness of the film has increased due to a clever viral marketing campaign, a “secret” screening for fanboys and bloggers at Comic-Con, celebrity tweets, and word of mouth. According to tracking reports, District 9 has already generated more must-see interest among audiences than Cloverfield did prior to its own release. There have been other auspicious indications as well – like talk of a District 9 sequel. Jackson’s plate is pretty full these days, but he isn’t counting out the possibility. R20;Although,R21; he notes, R20;if IR17;ve done my job properly, Neill won’t need me anymore.” As for Blomkamp, he’s clearly up for another. “I would do anything to go back to the world of District 9 again,” he says. R20;Or District 10.”