General release (112 minutes) Reviewer Jake Wilson

WRITTEN and directed by South Africa's Neill Blomkamp, District 9 is a film about apartheid with a science-fiction twist. A spaceship appears in the sky above Johannesburg, carrying a crew of aliens seeking asylum.

Twenty years later, the aliens are the country's latest despised outsiders, living in a ghetto on the city's outskirts and rummaging in garbage for food.

They speak their own guttural language of clicks and groans, and are known contemptuously as ''prawns'' because, as someone reasonably says, ''That's what they look like.''

A private military company known as Multinational United is hired to transport the "prawns" to a concentration camp further away from the city. Wikus (Sharlto Copley) is one of the operatives assigned to this task, but he, too, becomes an outcast when he's sprayed with a mysterious black liquid and begins to mutate.

With producer Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings) helping out with the special effects, Blomkamp has made two films in one. The first is an ambiguous allegory about racial conflict.

The second is an adventure story that uses shaky, first-person video camerawork to make bizarre events seem plausible - the technique used by Danny Boyle in 28 Days Later (2002).

Neither story here completely works. The script runs out of ideas about two-thirds of the way through: the hapless Wikus never becomes an interesting character, and we don't learn much about the culture of the aliens.

As an action director, Blomkamp is no John Carpenter. Parts of the story are not dramatised but narrated direct-to-camera by supposed interview subjects - a lazy device that reduces immediacy and momentum.

But for all its failings, District 9 belongs to an honourable line of B-movies that blend social commentary with pulp excitement, which is more than can be said for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.


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