Problems with District 9–Movie Review

poster_district9-03I’ll get the obvious remarks out of the way first—District 9 was brilliantly made, had wonderful special effects, had believable aliens with distinct personalities, had entertaining action and bla, bla, bla. In short, technically speaking, District 9 was made the way movies are supposed to be made.

There, now that that’s done with, I can focus on what I’m really interested in—the social messages the movie is trying to push.

The military and everyone in it is evil. This is the major theme of the movie. All military characters in the film lack any conflict whatsoever. They are simply caricatures. The lead military villain even went so far as to say, and I quote, “I just LOVE killing prawns” (prawns being the derogatory label given to all aliens). Who says that? I don’t even think Hitler would say that. Can you imagine Hitler standing in a concentration camp, licking his lips and saying, “I just LOVE killing Jews!” Come on.

Some movies at least attempt to show the military’s side, to show some soldiers with conflicted emotions, or some ounce of goodness. But no, not with District 9. Every man who wields a gun is mindless, heartless and a species…-ist, who loves killing. Great message we are sending to our troops.

Guns are baaad. In the movie, a private contracting company (I see what you did there) runs the “alien relocation” movement, for the sole purpose of stealing alien weapons (which humans can’t use) for… profit? It’s all about finding alien guns an stealing alien guns, then experimenting on aliens to find a way for humans to use aliens guns. Guns, guns, guns. There is even a moment when one of the social workers says, “Where there are weapons, there is crime”. Uh, really? Gee, so I suppose before guns there was no crime. Oh, that’s right, they had swords and arrows and stuff back then. Ok, so before iron/bronze/stone-age weapons there was no crime, right? Oh, that’s right, men are still equipped with fists. So if men just didn’t have hands there would be no crime, right?

Weapons are not the reason there is crime. People are the reason there is crime. Any time you skip over the cause to wage a crusade against something else, you do not fix the issue, and instead cause demagoguery.

Africans have no morals and are backward. That’s right, the alien ship appears over Nigeria, and Nigerian scammers (I again see what you did there…) set up prostitution rings and trade… um, cat food, for alien weapons. Not only that, but the Nigerians have voodoo priests who cast spooky spells and convince each other that if you eat the aliens you can absorb their power. And when it never works I guess they just… uh, did it wrong… that time. So Nigerians are stupid too? Whew, this is getting tense.

Cat Food. What on EARTH is with the cat food? In the movie, aliens are driven batty by cat food. Cat food is to aliens what catnip is to cats. But cat food is just meat, and each cat food manufacturer makes their cat food a little differently. What is this magic ingredient that is amazingly found in all cat food that makes the aliens batty over it? Once you discover it, why not just give the aliens that? Come on.

Action and SFX are all you need. If District 9 is a lesson at all, it’s that you don’t need your plot to make sense to sell tickets. Let’s go over the major plot wtfs:

  • The alien ship. Why did it come to earth? How did it get stranded above earth for 20 years? Are there no other ships from that obviously space-traveling species that can come and save their friends?
  • The aliens. Why were they starving to death in the ship? Why did no alien leaders talk with humans and tell them why they came? Why did they allow themselves to be taken off the mother ship and placed in slums, when they have superior speed, strength and natural armor compared to humans?
  • The weapons. So, the alien ship was filled with super-awesome alien weapons that only aliens can use. And the humans cut a hole in the ship and forced the aliens into slums. Why didn’t the aliens use the weapons to fight of the humans? As we see in the climax, one alien with alien weapons blasts into a military facility, kills dozens of humans, kills dozens of Nigerians, kills dozens of more military men, and blows up lots of tanks. Forgive me for asking, but if the military keeps invading the slums in order to steal these super-awesome alien weapons away from the poor, underprivileged, captivated aliens who would fight and kill, as they prove at the end, to get out of the slums… why don’t the aliens just use their own weapons? Why do I have to even ask this question? Why doesn’t the blasted movie explain?
  • The plot hole. So, one alien spends 20 years collecting super-special alien fluid so he can start up some sort of alien transport vehicle so he can reach the mother ship. Ok that’s all fine and good, except that humans have helicopters and a way to get to that ship any time they want. Why must the alien wait 20 years? Why don’t they just steal a human helicopter with their super-awesome alien weapons they refuse to use? Ok, so maybe the ship needs the special alien fluid in order to work. That is also fine, except for that the mother ship magically moved on its own without the need of the fluid before the smaller ship even docked with it. Wut?

So yeah, I’m frustrated and confused after watching District 9. Still, I am glad I went. It had great action. It had great SFX. And for those reasons alone, I will gladly see District 10 when it comes out.

But I’m still annoyed.


is best known as his alter-ego Oxhorn, author of popular machinima movies. When he's not wearing suspenders with a certain sort of finesse, he's reading, writing, blogging, doing web design, making movies and more often than not enjoying a classy drink with an even classier cigar. Watch his movies at and feel free to stalk him on Twitter and Facebook.

Posted in Essays, Film
13 comments on “Problems with District 9–Movie Review
  1. Jesse Cox says:

    All in all – I loved the hell outta the movie. The second the first guy exploded, no plot hole could sink this ship.

  2. Jesse Cox says:

    ooooh and for some of the WHY questions Oxhorn

    1. Why did it stop at earth. They didn’t explain it, but I was under the assumption that it was the closest planet nearby and that they stopped becuase of #2

    2. Why were they starving and just sitting on the ship? I believe one of the “interviews” answered that. They said that the queen/leader was dead. And that these aliens ( they reason why they acted so unruly and brutish) were “workers”. Without leadership they were simply unable to run the ship or do anything. This doesn’t explain why theone alien has the abilities he does – I assume he’s the pilot – that’s why. But…meh. Who knows. Best answer I can give.

    3. The weapons thing was strange. I don’t understand why they didn’t use the weapons…
    the best I can figure was that since the beginning explains we spent a good year or two trying our hardest as good people of earth to help them, that they accepted our help and decided not to kill us. Then when they became addicted to catfood (I guess it’s their crack) they decided it was more important than weapons. Now if I was an alien I would blast the hell outta the nigerians and take the cat food…but..I supposed that falls back on the “they are stupid worker drones” thing.

    4. I think the one “smart” alien explained or tried to his son that the mothership’s controls were damaged and this ship could be used to fly the mothership home. I think…
    i know that’s what I got out of it.

    but ya… PEOPLE EXPLODED!!! go see it!

  3. AXL says:

    Some great points about the political undertones of the film, as well some fairly large plot holes.

    Will also point out a question I kept wondering, there are over a million aliens, and we can now communicate with them in a rudimentary way. Can’t you just recruit a group of the aliens together with the weapons only they can use and sell them together? You know, since we are an evil corporation, surely, slavery or even catfood trade for services can’t be out of our reach?

  4. Demiakumu says:

    Ox, It wasn’t a movie about military or government bashing, it was about how corrupt MNU had become in it’s quest to get the alien weapons to work and capitalize on their technology.

    As for the command module, it was a freaking command module, the mother ship didn’t move after it left the ship, and didn’t move again until the module was repowered. the more I think about this movie the better it gets.

  5. Ric says:

    I agree with the plot hole problems. Assuming leadership died, and the whole of Alien labor capital is reduced to 2.4 million “worker bees” and 1 rationally aware worker, either a pilot or systems engineer of some type. I understand that the workers would mill about aimlessly like shown in the movie, but the 1 aware alien is a game changer. He could have opened up negotiations, threatened reprisal once rescue got here, and a host of other tactics. With a 2.4m private army and the best small arms on earth, he realistically had the upper hand. Not to say he could take over the world, but he could cause far more problems for his prison masters than trying to keep them there is worth. Also, as little is known about the aliens, one could just bluff. “hello UN, help me collect this liquid and depart your planet. If you help we won’t vaporize your cities when the fleet arrives, and we will give you plans for X, X, and X”

    One thing everyone can agree on is that if the Prawns came in force, there would be little to stop them. That fear alone would keep the prawns in hotel accommodations in the real world.

    The idea that the Prawns would be treated with anything other than respect by the powers that be is laughable. Who wants to be running concentration camps when the liberators arrive?

  6. Zomzom says:

    I would like to address the plot-hole a tad: the humans complained about the aliens searching them for technology and or beating them for said technology. I don’t believe that it was just the few digging for technology they could use. The movement had to have been larger.

    Perhaps some things can be explained in the sequel as to their origin (if there is one *cross-fingers*) but seeing as the ‘prawns’ seem (note: s-e-e-m not a-r-e) aquatic (amphibious?): perhaps the fish in cat-food was what drove them crazy for it? They were malnourished when they were found, perhaps some driven mad from hunger/starvation; to the point of creating weaponry for food (knowing the humans couldn’t use them, so as a whole they profited while the few died). Sure, they had beef to eat.. maybe that wasn’t enough.

    The drop-ship the child was in was the command module, so its not entirely far-fetched that he could control the mother-ship from it. Also, to address the weapons issue: they were under missile surveillance as well as kept under heavy guard, perhaps the aliens realized “if they have THAT much, perhaps they have more”. I know i wouldn’t try something that could potentially endanger my race.

    The crazy degenerate Nigerian issue… it was a slum… many criminals tend to live in slums yet not everyone that is in a slum is bad. (although in this case: they were) its not coincidence that they were african, its not a message saying all africans are backwards. But crazy people do what crazy people do. Maybe it would’ve softened the blow if some of the gangsters had been white? Doubt it. A crazy gang leader like that was probably a racist.

    I doubt the writers of this film really intended for all of these messages to come out this way. People constantly attach meanings to things where there were none during inception, many many good media succumb to this (Star Wars, Lord of the Rings). The message that sticks in my mind overall is that racism and xenophobia (in any format) are unacceptable yet inevitable states of society and business. That’s the only one (to me) that really seems hammered home. It’s science-fiction, not all of it has to make sense in the real world; that’s why its fun right?

  7. Zomzom says:

    I’d like to make an edit on the 4th paragraph: removal of the sentence in parentheses.. that was an ill choice of words..

  8. Quinny says:

    The biggest problem I have with this review is the “Africans have no morals and are backwards” section. It wasn’t all of the people living there who were behaving criminally, it was the gangs that were bad. They have the interviews with the people who worked at the MNU and they were African and weren’t insane voodoo priests or gangsters.

    More importantly, one thing you haven’t commented on is that throughout the entire movie there is the one common theme; racism is bad. All of the humans do not want the aliens in their city or planet, even. They simply see the stereotypical image of the aliens without believing they could be intelligent or anything more than bottom-feeders.

    On the topic of why the aliens came to Earth and why they were sickly is that the beginning is very much like a documentary, and the truth is that the humans weren’t able to find out because they were more interested in the alien technology than anything. This movie is taking a realistic approach on an impossible scenario and the government, as soon as finding the aliens in the mother ship, move them down to Earth, the location quickly turning into a slum. Who are they supposed to question?

    Overall, this is my favorite movie of the summer, but, in disagreement to the review, I like it for its plot and realistic approach on a bizarre situation. This movie doesn’t rely on CG, this film understands that battle is more intense when you see the characters you care for in danger. I can’t wait for District 10.

  9. Morten Ottesen says:

    Alright, so… Two flaws with your review as I see it.

    First off. No, bad Oxhorn! Yes, there are Nigerians in the movie. That doesn’t mean it takes place in Nigeria. The ship parked over Johannesburg, the capitol of South Africa. The american “equivalent” would be a movie filmed in LA, featuring mexican drug cartels.

    Also, speaking of not explaining any plot.
    Why is there NO mention of how they communicate. You’re telling me what seems like a whole city learns to speak a very alien language in the span of 20 years? Not likely to happen.

    Otherwise fine points you bring up.

    • tom says:

      Also, you missed a salient point. “As we see in the climax, one alien…” not only one alien, but it was a child alien.

  10. Daniel says:

    The film was set south africa, not nigeria! The film was meant to show racism/speciesism can come from all sorts of people – arikaaners towards black south africans, black south africans towards nigerians, nigerians towards prawns … The South African setting is pretty important for the film…

    I really enjoyed the film, but I thought I did so despite the problems I had with it – the main one being the unnecessary, cheesy action-movie lines like he one you highlight, “I just LOVE killing prawns!”

  11. Sharon says:

    I agree with all of the comments…what stood out to me as a problem was the idea that the aliens didn’t retaliate against the humans. Even the slowest people know when they are being done a wrong, and a most natural response to abuse is retaliation and with those weapons that would have been inevitable. For being so mistreated. I feel if they had explained that a little bit more it would have made me less frustrated with the movie.

    I loved the movie and I felt that even though that particular part wasn’t explained, the point was driven home about racism. The movie makes it profoundly clear that it doesn’t matter what color you are people have a certain amount of prejudice with things they don’t understand or that are different or that their threatened by. Even if its irrational.

    Using South Africa as the back drop character in the movie exemplified this point and drove it home. Using Wikus was interesting because he seemed to the middle of the the road racist, and maybe the most dangerous, because I believe he is most of us as humans. We don’t like them but we don’t want people to think we don’t like them and we have convinced ourselves that as long as we think we are helping we are helping. Justifiying our racist thinking.

    • tom says:

      i know this is a stretch, and i don’t know how common Wikus is. But i kept thinking of the name Ipkiss every time it was said. something about alien stuff on the face turning you into a force of nature….

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