Ed reviews "District 9" 

I don't want to tell you too much about District 9. I went in knowing the basic premise and little more. I'd like for you to get to experience it the way I did. To do so, you'll need to avoid all the TV ads and refrain from reading the cover story of this week's Entertainment Weekly.

Here's what I feel comfortable saying. District 9 is a dark, surprising, exciting, whip-crack smart sci-fi thriller that grabs you from the beginning and never lets you go. The story deals with alien refugees (the kind from outer space) that have been living in a shantytown outside of Johannesburg since their ship broke down 20 years ago. Now the powers-that-be want them moved to a "camp" farther away from the humans in the South African city.

Writer Terri Tatchell and writer-director Neill Blomkamp have cooked up a ripping-good yarn that's both thought-provoking and way-cool. The Johannesburg location is alien to most of us, forcing us to examine our preconceptions about post-apartheid South Africa. Though bigotry and xenophobia runs rampant in the movie, the filmmakers never get preachy. Elements of traditional storytelling pop up throughout the production, but the movie is one-of-a-kind. The cinema verite-style camera work is remarkably effective -- the sense of verisimilitude is overwhelming.

Be prepared, the devastating, yet invigorating story gets necessarily gross at times -- if you're squeamish, you may need to avert your eyes on occasion. Like the remarkable City of God, most of the tale is set in squalor, incorporating the poverty while telling a story that is bigger than despair and anger. The special effects are so well done that you stop thinking of them as effects. The aliens -- each has a distinct look, deftly incorporating the markings made by the South African government with the alien culture's approach to fashion. I could go on -- I want to -- but I'll leave you with this. I'm not used to giving out five-star ratings for new films. In the days since the District 9 screening, I looked for an excuse -- any reason at all -- to knock it down to four, if only to keep you from entering the theaters with unreasonably high expectations. You see the results.

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