Thursday, June 26, 2014


Back in 2009, a movie was released that really made a big splash in the science fiction realm of cinema called District 9.  Recalling the trailers for it, I remember it was a bit different, had a documentary feel to it that no other sci-fi film had tried, almost like a found-footage type of movie.  It was mysterious and had a realistic feel to it like we were really watching a never-before-seen look at human interaction with aliens.  I also recall in the trailer that, for some reason, when the alien was speaking, its vocal orifice was blurred or digitized out—that intrigued me as well.

Cut to a few months later, when the movie was released, I didn’t go see it and I can’t recollect why—I guess I wasn’t sold over enough to go watch it during its theatrical run.  However, most critics—especially science fiction critics—praised the film and cited its comparisons to the turmoil South Africa went through during the apartheid era.  It was praised as a success, staying on top of the box office and, after hitting home media, I went out and purchased the Blu-Ray—sight unseen.  After watching it, I agreed with the critics.
As a result of the critical success of District 9, two stars emerged from the film: the actual star of the film, Sharlto Copley, and the director, Neill Blomkamp.

Although Copley has gone on, and is still going on, as a successful actor (his part as Murdock in The A-Team was the best thing about that movie), the main focus after the release of District 9 was on the director, Neill Blomkamp.  From what I’ve heard, right after the film was released, Blomkamp was considered the go-to-guy for sci-fi films.  His name has been rumored for a while to be the director of Steven Spielberg’s production of Halo.  Understandably, Blomkamp left the production citing the long delays and how he likes to do his own thing.  I can appreciate that and the latter explanation makes sense as he wrote and directed District 9 and also did the same for 2013’s Elysium.

In 2154, the Earth is over polluted and over crowded with all the wealthy living on a space station called Elysium.  Head of security for the space station is Delacourt Rhodes (Jodie Foster) and she makes sure no illegal immigration will happen, keeping the floating paradise safe for only the rich and making sure any
unauthorized ships are blown out of the sky.  On Earth, Max Da Costa (Matt Damon) is a lowly worker at a robot factory who is also on parole, complete with an ankle home/work arrest bracelet.  Although his friends try to get him back into a life of crime, he resists, citing he wants to live a life of simplicity.  As it so happens, Max reconnects with a girl from the past, Frey (Alice Braga), who he had loved, and finds out she has a daughter with leukemia.  At work, when getting a group of robots ready for particle emission, a mishap causes Max to get a lethal dose of radiation, giving him only five days to live.  Knowing full well that Elysium has medical chambers that can cure him, he decides to do whatever he can in order to get to Elysium so that he can save his life.

Now, one thing you’ll notice about this film is that there’s the parallel real-life struggle of immigration, like we’re experiencing these days in America.  But Elysium shows such a simplistic view of it that the point really doesn’t come across that well.  It’s only a vague connotation that most countries in the world go through today, so it’s quite forgettable.  But I don’t think he wanted that as a basis to this film anyway, nor did he want to convey any type of message as he had before, in my opinion.  Instead, I think he wanted to give us a big, special effects laden spectacle with a hero overcoming tyranny.

Now, if there’s anything I have a problem with is the casting of Matt Damon as the Hispanic, Max Da Costa.  Damon is the epitome of Caucasian and I found it hard to accept him as anything but.  He did a fine job and has always pulled off heroic characters in other films, so as long as you forget he’s supposed to be Hispanic, you can enjoy his performance.

Jodie Foster as Delacourt wasn’t bad, but she was playing the part with a strange British accent that came and went.  I get that fact that the space station was housing wealthy people from all over the world, making the station a world with no boundaries, but she could’ve played the part with her normal accent.  As the movie’s villain, she was believable and you were able to understand why she was perceived as malicious—she wasn’t evil just for evil’s sake.

The contrast between the world of Elysium and the world of Earth was very well done, showing us such beautiful settings on the space station with lush green scenery and the capability to cure any disease—even the slightest indication that skin cancer may sit in after laying out by the pool—with the medical chambers accessible throughout.  With the comparison to Earth’s atmosphere, how the skyline is hazy with plumes of black smoke and the downtrodden look of the remaining populace, Elysium looks like paradise.

Finally, like the special effects we’d witnessed in District 9, the scenes in Elysium are spectacular and jaw-dropping.  The robots appear pretty real-looking and I found myself thinking that they were actors in robot suits.  They move around fluidly with CGI-use unnoticeable so that it doesn’t take you out of the movie.

Earlier, I had mentioned that I didn’t think the director was trying to pass forth a particular message with this film, but with the look of the futuristic Earth, maybe he was.  With the narrative of Elysium, I think Blomkamp tries too hard to push this fictional poisoned and diseased world down our throats, trying to make us believe Earth will soon be too inhabitable and polluted to accommodate the world’s population.  I found myself asking why the people chose to stay in Los Angeles and why they didn’t travel to some other part of the world.  Are we to believe that every inch of the Earth looks this way?  Pretty far-fetched if you ask me.  Since global warming has been a hot topic for the last decade or so, and every time I hear debates on how we’re going to destroy the planet one day, I’ve always remembered the preface to Michael Crighton’s “Jurassic Park” novel.  I’d like to copy & paste it here in this post, but it’d be way too long.  Instead I’ll leave you the link to read at your leisure, here.  Paraphrasing it, it’s basically telling us, as humans, that we’re pretty vane to think that we can destroy this planet, emphasizing that this planet has always contained life and will continue to do so, no matter what we, as humans, will ever do to it.

Okay, so I’ll step down from my soap box and give you my final “bit” on Elysium.

It’s an interesting science fiction flick, giving us an unlikely hero to stand up against oppression in the future.  With a lot of special effects titivating the screen, you’ll like it a lot, but I doubt you’ll take anything away from it.  The heavy-handed, yet insignificant, messages may put you off, but if you can get past that, you’ll enjoy this movie for the few merits it contains.

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