The greatest science fiction movies always leave us wanting to know more. Think Alien, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Terminator, Blade Runner, Ex Machina or The Matrix. All are spiked with so much enigma – visions of the future that are only half-explained – that we finish the movie desperate for more information. Was Deckard a replicant? Who built and placed the monoliths? Where did the xenomorphs come from? Should Neo have taken the blue pill? These are the kinds of questions that fuel message board speculation for decades after the movie hit cinemas.
Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 stands up to any of the movies mentioned above in terms of its ability to create a living, breathing science fiction world that both wows the senses with its shocking differences from our own reality and inspires us to look at the inadequacies of our own societal structures. Blomkamp’s ingenious decision to blend the then-fresh found-footage style with racial satire amid the rancid slums of alternate reality South Africa marked out the 2009 film as a rare example of intelligent science fiction on the big screen. It put Sharlto Copley on Hollywood’s radar and briefly saw the director take on the mantle of coming man of futuristic cinema: the middling Elysium followed in 2013, with the underrated Chappie arriving in 2015, but, despite the latter returning us to the mean streets of Jo’burg, Blomkamp’s star never quite recovered its early sparkle.
Now it appears Blomkamp is returning to his breakthrough film. Earlier this week, the director told IGN that District 10 would take cues from “a topic in American history”, adding: “That script continues to be written. It’s looking good. It took a decade to figure out, to come up with a reason why to make that film as opposed to just make a sequel.”
The worry is that after failing to get his Alien project made, the South African film-maker no longer has the clout in Hollywood to get this one over the line – which would be a huge pity. We all want to know what happened to Copley’s callous functionary turned defender of the alien “prawns” Wikus van der Merwe after he was transformed into one of the creatures he once casually persecuted during the events of the original movie. District 9 left so many questions unanswered that it simply demands a follow-up.
Will the extraterrestrial Christopher return to help restore Wikus to his old self? What happened to the prawns left behind on Earth? And will the nasty humans who kept their unfortunate guests in squalor be blasted to smithereens now the aliens have regained control of their heavily weaponised mothership?
There are other questions to answer. Why did Wikus transform into a prawn after coming into contact with the aliens’ fuel in the first place? What the bejesus is in that stuff?! Why were some of the extraterrestrials intelligent, while others appeared more animalistic in intellect? Do the aliens function using something akin to a hive-mind (there were hints in District 9 that they may have crash-landed on Earth due to the death of their “queen”) or are they more individualistic, and therefore human, in terms of their approach?
The idea that District 10 could be based on a moment from American history doesn’t seem to quite tally with the film’s likely Jo’burg setting – the film’s title refers to the new area where the remaining Earthbound prawns were moved to at the end of the first film. Apartheid South Africa’s grimy maelstrom of inequity and prejudice was such a perfect jumping off point for a dystopian satire on xenophobia that it’s hard to imagine a sequel working so well in a different location, even one that has the potential to represent an equally poisonous echo chamber.
On the other hand, while 1980s Jo’burg was a scary place, its citizens didn’t try to storm their own apex of government to try to overturn an election after being riled up by an authoritarian demagogue. There’s an argument that recent US history is more dystopian than anything Hollywood sci-fi film-makers have ever produced on the big screen, though, luckily for American democracy, Donald Trump’s rightwing mob were unable to get hold of as many meched-out exo-suits.