What Is District 9?

Last summer at the 2008 San Diego Comic Con, the convention center was peppered with random, cryptic signs such as the one pictured here, which featured variations on the phrase "For Humans Only." The signs were bizarre, eye-catching, and kind of adorable, with their strange-looking alien figures and their copy warning against non-existent aliens who were supposedly trying to invade our territory.

Since then, we've learned that the signs were part of an elaborate viral campaign for director Neill Blomkamp's newest film, District 9. For the uninitiated, Blomkamp was a protégé of director Peter Jackson, and was positioned to be the director of a film based on Bungie's Halo franchise (that deal subsequently fell apart). Blomkamp has shown much talent in his short films and commercials, but many wondered if he was ready for a big-budget sci-fi thriller. Hit the jump for an extensive look at the viral campaign for Blomkamp's District 9, and what it reveals about the movie.


The centerpiece of the campaign is the website d-9.com, which features a detailed interactive map containing an area called "District 9." The map is ostensibly a "Local Alert System" provided for by a massive, ominous company called Multi-National United. Users are allowed to enter as a human or a non-human (non-humans can translate instructions on the site into English).

The website provides updates about crime in the area, mostly as it pertains to non-humans. "Following several anonymous tips, police raided a shack in region 15 of district 9, detaining two non-human suspects and confiscating several non-regulation electrical devices," reads one update. The site also provides rules and tips for getting along with non-humans, such as "Non-humans must be treated with respect. Actions deemed abusive will be dealt with by the MNU officials or animal control personnel accordingly (i.e. shoving, yanking tendrils, kicking.)" In some, these entries evoke the chilling nature of a privatized police state quite effectively.


Heading over to Multi-National United's website, we get a nice introduction video promising that MNU is working hard to make our lives better. The video invites you to check out the site's career page, where you can apply for positions such as "Manager of Integrated Marketing," whose description reads: "Manager needed to devlop new marketing strategies for non-humans." A quick examination of the company's history page explains that the non-humans landed on earth in 1989, and that shortly afterwards, MNU was awarded the research, development, and law enforcement rights governing the non-humans. This explains their total control over District 9, as seen at d-9.com.

A timer counts down at the website's top right corner, and will ostensibly reach 0 on the day of the film's release (August 14, 2009). Incidentally, on MNU's "Future" page, we learn that August 14, 2009 is "Breach day," when "MNU probing teams will unlock hidden secrets to the future of a vast array of technological advances." I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that that's probably not going to work out as well as they're hoping.


This is a blog written by one of the non-humans in a different language, although all entries can be translated into English with a click of the button. The entries tells the extensive story of one non-human's oppression and fear at the hands of MNU. This blog is impressive for its scope: There are entries dating all the way back to September 2007! Additionally, many of the blog posts have "comments" which play along with the story being told. You can tell a lot of effort was put into this in the hopes that it would capture readers' imaginations.


This website, which looks like it was designed for children, claims that "our scientists have found a way to enhance the spatial and logic capabilities of the human body. By synthesizing earth-based proteins with DNA from our other-worldly friends, the MFOS program will enhance your natural physical and mental capabilities." In order to find out whether you are eligible for this program, the site invites you to take a math test, which features 8 or 9 simple math questions followed by 1 or 2 monstrously difficult math questions. If you don't get all 10 questions correct, you are ineligible for the project and are booted back to the main page (you're also unable to take the test again, unless you reset your browser cookie).

Sadly, after much work to finally answer all 10 questions correctly, all I was rewarded with was a 404 page at MNU's company page. Very disappointing.


Taken together, these websites indicate that District 9 will most likely be a big-screen adaptation of Neill Blomkamp's short film, Alive in Joburg (Joburg is short for Johannesburg, South Africa, where the film is set):

This 2005 short film portrays an alternate reality in which aliens invaded earth in 1990 and attempted to encroach on human territory and rob the planet of its resources. However, rather than coming in full-force, War of the Worlds style, the aliens allowed themselves to be subjugated and rendered second-class citizens. Themes of apartheid are unsubtly conveyed but the film is notable for its pitch-perfect documentary-style feel and its skillful use of minimal special effects (For the most part; those massive suits still strike me as a bit silly).

The idea of District 9 is exciting to me for a number of reasons. First of all, a lot about Alive in Joburg gives me a real Cloverfield vibe (a film which I enjoyed for its novelty and its spectacular visual effects), and this viral campaign also tries to corroborate the realism of an alternate universe. Whether the film will be filmed in a documentary style or straight-up thriller is anyone's guess at this point, but all signs point to something interesting and unique. Moreover, we've heard rumblings from various sources that this is Blomkamp's attempt to prove to movie studios and to Microsoft that he can indeed handle creating a film of Halo's magnitude. I'm not as much looking forward to that film, as I am looking forward to the possibility that in the process of trying to prove himself, Blomkamp will create something audacious and memorable. Perhaps District 9 will be Blomkamp's Bound. (That film was directed by the Wachowskis to prove that they could handle a $100 million budgeted film, i.e. The Matrix)

Discuss: What do you think? Does District 9 look like an interesting film?restroomd9

[Photo from Flickr user scaldesma. Some research from this article was derived from Firstshowing]