By Missy Schwartz
August 10, 2009 at 04:00 AM EDT

Starring: Sharlto Copley, William Allen Young
Directed By: Neill Blomkamp
Release Date: August 14

Three years ago, Lord of the Rings guru Peter Jackson handpicked Blomkamp, then a director of music videos and TV commercials, to helm an adaptation of the videogame Halo. When a soaring budget sent that project crashing, Jackson said to himself, ”Okay, let’s just make a cool movie from an original script,” he recalls. The result is the Jackson-produced District 9, a $30 million sci-fi thriller based on Blomkamp’s 2005 short film Alive in Joburg.

Shot docu-style with a cast of South African unknowns, the film follows extraterrestrials who land in Johannesburg in the 1980s. ”They have technology and weapons that are extremely appealing to various forces,” says Jackson. But when the aliens get involved in petty crime, the South African government confines them to an isolated township. ”And that’s where it all goes wrong,” Jackson teases. The story has noticeable parallels to apartheid, but Johannesburg native Blomkamp swears the flick’s not preachy. ”I’m not trying to beat people over the head,” he says. Nor is District 9 a replica of Cloverfield, another recent docu-style sci-fi thriller. ”It’s not somebody running around with a camera, filming everything,” says Jackson. ”We have a mixture of documentary and dramatized scenes.” Sounds like a refreshingly alien concept.