District 9

District 9 won the Ray Bradbury Award from SFWA (effectively the Nebula for Dramatic Presentation) the first year after it was repurposed, beating Avatar, Coraline, Moon, Star Trek and Up. As previously noted, it actually topped the nominations poll for the Hugo and came close to winning. In a surprising divergence, it ranks 5th on one IMDB rating but only 32nd on the other.

None of the cast had been in previous Hugo, Nebula or Oscar-winning films; they are all South African, and this is the first of any of those films set in that country.

This was as good as people had assured me it would be. It is set in Johannesburg in a slightly different timeline to ours, where several years ago, a spaceship full of aliens arrived in the sky over the city and millions of them came down to the earth’s surface; they are all accommodated in appalling squalor in a camp near the city, and the authorities (mostly white South Africans) decide to forcibly move them to another more distant camp, which will be equally squalid and violent but less visible to the world.

To start with what I didn’t like so much, there are not all that many black characters, though it has to be said that almost all the human characters are pretty evil and most of them are white, which tells its own story. The plot is centred on one white man who finds himself transforming into an alien, and undergoes a character shift as a result. There are so many interesting roots here – the body horror is reminiscent of The Ark in Space, the situation with the aliens from Ian McDonald’s Sacrifice of Fools, the aliens themselves are very well realised.

Also, the action sequences, well done as they are, go on a bit too long, to the point that you start to notice that there is not a lot of actual plot.

But it’s still pretty good. The standout performance is Sharlto Copley as Wikus van der Merwe, set up as the stooge for the alien clearing operation. This was his first major film appearance; apparently he improvised most of his lines. He is tremendously watchable and human, even while he becomes more physically alien – and of course that is part of the message.

Unusually, this is based on a short film rather than a written work or a play. Alive in Joburg, from 2006, has a very similar scenario, but is only six minutes long, and lacks the Peter Jackson production values.

This is the 51st Hugo, Nebula and Bradbury-winning film that I have watched in this sequence. I have been trying to do overall summaries when I reach every tenth film, but miscounted this time. My definitive and unassailable ranking of them all is as follows (the eleven most recent in red):

51) The Canterville Ghost (Retro Short, 1945)
50) Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (Retro Short, 1944)
49) Curse of the Cat People (Retro Short, 1945)
48) The Sixth Sense (Nebula, 1999)
47) Heaven Can Wait (Retro Long, 1944)
46) The Incredible Shrinking Man (Outstanding Movie, 1958)
45) A Boy and His Dog (1976)
44) Pinocchio (Retro Short Form, 1941)
43) Destination Moon (Retro, 1951)
42) Slaughterhouse-Five (1973)
41) The War of the Worlds (Retro, 1954)
40) Sleeper (Hugo/Nebula 1974)
39) The Incredibles (Hugo 2004)
38) The Princess Bride (1987)
37) 2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984)
36) Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1990)
35) Fantasia (Retro Long Form, 1941)
34) Return of the Jedi (1982)
33) Edward Scissorhands (1990)
32) Bambi (Retro, 1943)
31) The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
30) WALL-E (2009)

29) Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
28) Howl’s Moving Castle (Nebula 2006)
27) Moon (2010)
26) Young Frankenstein (Hugo/Nebula 1975)
25) Soylent Green (Nebula 1973)
24) The Picture of Dorian Gray (Retro, 1946)
23) The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
22) District 9 (Bradbury 2010)
21) Serenity (Hugo/Nebula 2005)
20) Stardust (2008)

19) The Truman Show (1998)
18) Aliens (1986)
17) Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
16) Dr Strangelove (1965)
15) Jurassic Park (1993)
14) Pan’s Labyrinth (2007)
13) A Clockwork Orange (1972)
12) Superman (1978)
11) Contact (1997)
10) Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Hugo/Nebula 2001)
9) Galaxy Quest (Hugo/Nebula 2000)
8) Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
7) Blade Runner (1983)
6) Back to the Future (1985)
5) 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
4) The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
3) Star Wars (Hugo/Nebula 1978/77)
2) The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
1) Alien (1979)

Next: Inception.