"District 9" no alien to Oscar buzz

Fri Nov 27, 2009 2:02pm EST
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By Iain Blair

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - In a year full of surprise hits without stars, "District 9" stands out as an even more unlikely box office champion than the crowd-pleasing comedy "The Hangover" or the supernatural thriller "Paranormal Activity."

The low budget production (it cost an estimated $30 million) with a cast of unknowns directed by another unknown (Neill Blomkamp) bucked conventional Hollywood wisdom by proudly wearing its message on its alien sleeve and slyly combining an apartheid allegory with a good dose of action.

The result? "District 9," which boasted the guiding hand of "Lord of the Rings"' Peter Jackson as producer, cleaned up at the box office, raking in over $200 million globally.

Even more impressively, the film, featuring a non-actor -- South African Sharlto Copley -- in the lead, also became one of best-reviewed releases of the year.

"That was the real surprise, the great critical reception we got," Copley, 35, told Reuters. "I'd anticipated that people would find all kinds of holes (in the plot) and problems with my performance, but I think critics overlooked a lot of things simply because it's such a fresh film."

"District 9" combines familiar commercial elements like aliens and violence with a new setting, some sharp political subtext and a character - Copley's nerdy bureaucrat Wikus -- that is unexpected in a genre piece.

Copley plays a South African official in charge of relocating some 2 million extra-terrestrials from a shanty town in Johannesburg but who ends up being hunted by his own employers.

"I made the film for me, which is the only way I think you can make a film as a director," said Johannesburg-born Blomkamp. "It's the only yardstick you have, and I thought it would appeal to a small core of diehard sci-fi fans, so all the mainstream critical praise just caught me off guard."   Continued...