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Stephanie Ogrodnik [Celluloid 07.15.12] scifi action

On Friday, Neil Blomkamp, director of the surprise sci-fi action success District 9, released debut footage for his second feature project Elysium. Set in 2154, Elysium invites us into two worlds: as Earth continues to deteriorate from disease, overpopulation and poverty, the wealthy thrive in a utopian society, free of sickness and war, on a space station called Elysium.

When Max, a sarcastic unforeseen heroine with a climbing criminal record, is poisoned during an on-the-job mishap, it's apparent that the only way to save his life is to get to Elysium. Through his journey, however, Max realizes that his infiltration will not only mean restoring his health, but also restoring equality between the two worlds. With over three times the budget of his first film, Blomkamp's access to resources have expanded his ability to elaborate on these worlds. However, despite intriguing designs, beautiful cinematography and a common yet topical plotline, the footage appeared less like a triumphant return for the District 9 creator, and more of a high budget rendition of a Bourne film in space.

There is a great deal of aesthetic appeal for this film. With Total Recall releasing an extended trailer only hours before, it seemed that Blomkamp's world, particularly that of his futuristic utopian society, would have competition before its release. Also, considering the set design for Prometheus, I couldn't help but wonder how they were going to top their portrayal of a barren planet with Geiger inspired spaceships. As the film is still going through post-production, gray scale renderings took place of many actual designs. However, the clips that were able to provide glimpses of the ships, the sets and the skeletal contraption built into and around Max, transforming into a human weapon, reflected Blomkamp's meticulous attention to detail. Even the space station itself, shaped as a vertical ring, rather than defaulting on a massive ship or a classic compartmentalized look, exhibits Blomkamp's effort in setting his worlds apart from other sci-fi films. Aside from perhaps, his own.

Set in a future Earth that has been rendered into a nearly barren wasteland, many clips appeared to be an elaboration on the Prawn society Blomkamp developed three years ago, right down to the orange and yellow color. In order to establish the truly dark, decaying setting, Blomkamp carefully staked out and hunted locations that could portray that exact feel, one of them being the second largest dump in the world, located in Mexico. The end result is a gritty shell of land, with cold industrial looking machinery replacing organic life. If anyone cares to question the authenticity of this set, the actors and filmmaker also had a lengthy conversation about the actual decaying sewage smell the entire crew faced on set. The sandstorms you'll see in footage to come aren't even real sandstorms - it's fecal matter kicked up by helicopters. Juxtaposed beside clips of a utopian society of clean vibrant colors of primarily blue and green, the footage provided a truly amplified sense of a financially polarized world - or at least an Earth we definitely don't want to wind up in.

The footage provided a basic expositional overview of the film. Clips of families on Earth sprinting from gunfire in tattered clothes were set beside glances of the sleek, tranquil Elysium. Speaking of Prometheus, the glossy world of Elysium also includes pods designed to spot and eliminate imperfections and disease - oddly similar to the one Noomey Rapace uses for her self-served alien abortion. As Matt Damon's character Max cleans what looks to be a ship (quick cuts of the scene made it difficult to tell), a trigger is kicked and the doors suddenly close. When his body is registered as an unknown piece of organic material, Max is poisoned with a deadly gas. The machine plainly states that he will die and hands him a bottle of prescription pills to cope. The robots are a fusion of smooth plastic exoskeletons with sharp angles and a complex industrial look. The transportation varies, with the ships on Earth appearing like hovercraft versions of armored vehicles, while the cars in the utopia could be constructed by Brookstone.

Matt Damon must capture a gentleman from Elysium and download information from him. As soon as the wealthy gentleman's vehicle realizes it is under siege, however, it's able to alert the passenger, who calmly tells his machine that he wants the perpetrators dead. After the robot rolls a grenade under the vehicle of Max's friends and allies, the footage jumps into a violent showdown that didn't stop until the very end. There will indeed be blood in this film, with not one but two exploded bodies in the sneak peak reel, as well as an up close look at an operation scene that involves implanting a portion of another character's brain into Matt Damon's. This is wonderful if you're looking for a kick ass action movie, but it may be disheartening if you're expecting anything more than an action driven film. Even Matt Damon himself joked about his lack of actual "acting" in the film, stating that Jodie Foster at least has some great dialogue.

According to panel discussions, it's still unclear as to what the major role of Jodie Foster's character will be in the film. Though, as the moderator said, we know that she's a pretty mean woman. Sharlto Copley's character, however, the man in charge of hunting down Max, is sure to be a bloodthirsty villain. As we see him barging into the homes of civilians, partially silhouetted and shot from a low angle to amplify his toned, scraggly frame, it's clear that this character is a far cry from the competent yet awkward Wikus. His appearance during the clip evoked cheers throughout Hall H and though we were only to see a few quick scenes of him, there's a great deal of enjoyment in seeing this actor put his skill and range to new limits.

Jodie Foster stated that her interest in the project came from its remarkable script, dealing with issues that she herself deeply cares about. Little argument can be given over the lack of originality of a film built around the wealthy turning their backs on the poor and virtually cannibalizing the land of an impoverished majority. However, amidst discussions of international economic downturns, the topics of wealth, power, poverty and financial distribution make this film more relevant today than in the past several decades. Also, the film does ask the valid and eerily suggestive question: "What happens when wealth turns its back on the rest of us?" Jodie Foster also lovingly described the film as a perfect marriage between an intellectual story and explosions.

All the actors were congratulatory of Blomkamp and his past success. When asked what brought her on to this project, Jodie Foster stated simply that she saw District 9 as a perfect film and was excited to work with such a talented director. Matt Damon, as well, said that Neil Blomkamp is not simply rising to become one of the greats, he's already there. This praise extended throughout the panel, of course, brings us back to the question of whether Elysium is going to continue that level of ability we've already seen from this filmmaker - thus far, it's unclear. Unlike the heart-wrenching struggle we witness for the prawns in the District 9 trailer, the footage exhibited focused on the underdog protagonist's journey. We get nothing of the victims of impoverished earth and all of Max's struggle to infiltrate Elysium. That said, if you're expecting an in depth film that draws deep into the heart of its characters, as well as the root of human turmoil, this might not be it. If you're looking for a film with social overtones, stunning visuals and Matt Damon kicking ass, it might be more up your ally.

The official synopsis:
In the year 2159, two classes of people exist: the very wealthy, who live on a pristine man-made space station called Elysium, and the rest, who live on an overpopulated, ruined Earth. Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster) will stop at nothing to preserve the luxurious lifestyle of the citizens of Elysium – but that doesn’t stop the people of Earth from trying to get in by any means they can. Max (Matt Damon) agrees to take on a life-threatening mission, one that could bring equality to these polarized worlds.

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agentorange (8 years ago) Reply

Great recap and remarks. This sounds pretty amazing.


Koolz (8 years ago) Reply

I highly doubt your trailer view of a post production film gives you the authority to make a statement like

That said, if you're expecting an in depth film that draws deep into the heart of its characters, as well as the root of human turmoil, this might not be it

give me a break ok! you don't just like the audience have enough info to give that statement!

Trailers can be misleading.


street (8 years ago) Reply

max is a woman?


Tempbot (8 years ago) Reply


by any chance, do you recall what the androids who were protecting Fichtner's character looked like? I was such a huge fan of D9's art design despite the anti-aesthetic approach, so I'm hoping that the robotics and vehicle designs are as memorable as what we saw with D9's guns, exosuit and mothership.

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