|This is all the setting for the real plot - Wikus's journey from 21st century Hitler rounding up aliens to defender of those very same aliens. This journey is facilitated by Wikus inadvertently spilling a chemical on himself which starts changing him from a human into an alien. When this starts happening, his own corporate bosses seize him and start conducting experiments on him. Why? Because they see a huge profit potential in being able to operate the weaponry they found inside the alien ship - weaponry that can only be used by those who are comprised of alien DNA.
The company, we discover, is less a private prison corporation looking to keep profiting off South Africa's District 9 contract than it is a business hoping to become the most powerful arms dealer in history. And Wikus, because he has accidentally discovered how to fuse human and alien DNA, is their key to unlocking the alien weaponry for human use.
Of course, they have to kill him and experiment on his body parts to figure out all that they need to figure out. And when Wikus hears this, he understandably freaks out - and escapes. The rest of the movie is his journey into hiding in District 9.
I won't offer up any more plot points out of respect for those who don't want the movie spoiled. But what I will say is that this is just a fantastic film on every level.
First and foremost, the graphics are just amazing - and not in a cheesy, glitzy kind of way. Typical alien movies like Signs or The Abyss immediately die the moment they actually show the aliens, because the aliens end up looking so fake. District 9, by contrast, shows the aliens and it works really well. It is able to achieve this by shooting scenes that are mostly real (he shot on location in a township in Soweto), and having the special effects/CGI comprise only small parts of large vistas. That obscures the CGI-ness of the special effects to the naked eye. The result is the most "real" alien movie I've ever seen.
Even more important than the visuals, though, is the plot. By setting the movie in South Africa, the refugee camp/anti-alien racism is a powerful allegory about the universality of oppression. One of the film's most powerful messages (and there are a number of messages in this movie) is that even groups that have been oppressed can themselves turn into oppressors. In the movie, South Africa's black population is just as anti-alien as its white population. In real life, we have plenty of examples of the same kind of thing. As just one of many examples, in Israel, some (but certainly not all or most) Jews - despite their own history experiencing oppression - express extremely racist views about Arabs.
I really can't recommend this movie enough - along with Moon, it's the best of the sci-fi productions this year, and probably since The Matrix came out (and that's saying a lot because like Moon, it was made on a shoe-string budget). In fact, I'm guessing that because the movie was so good and because it leaves a really compelling cliff hanger, District 9 has a real chance to be as big and as good (if not better) series than The Matrix itself.
ADDENDUM: Check out the movie's website here - and also check out its mini-sites. As I noted, District 9 was made on a very small budget for the size and scope of its plot. It therefore had to rely on a viral marketing strategy, which involved the web. As you'll see, they did some really innovative things.