Today Neill Blomkamp made his return to Comic-Con and Hall H after appearing in 2009 for the film that launched his career, “District 9.” “I actually feel like I belong out there amongst the darkness and the flashing lights where I can’t really see anyone’s faces,” Blomkamp tells the crowd. “I’m a fan.”
Blomkamp wastes no time getting to what he knows fans are really waiting for, the first footage of his second film, “Elysium,” which up until today is a relative unknown outside of some vague bits of viral marketing. Plot details recently disclosed the story of a future society in which the wealthy have escaped a ravaged Earth to live on a utopian space station called Elysium. Matt Damon’s character, Max, threatens to disrupt the status quo while Jodie Foster portrays Secretary Rhodes, a high-ranking government official determined to keep Elysium pure.
To preface the footage, Blomkamp warns that some effects aren’t finished, the usual pre-footage screening warning we get for projects so far away from release. “Elysium” is currently slated for release March 1, 2013. “This has never been seen before,” says Blomkamp. “You guys are the first ones to see this.” The crowd erupts and Hall H goes dark.
Earth’s future looks dim. Overhead views of a ravaged, almost post-apocalyptic landscape. The look of the dystopian future is not dissimilar to the ghettos of “District 9," a point which Blomkamp acknowledges later in the presentation.
Dressed in a workman’s jumpsuit, Damon’s Max is approached by two robot guards who ask what he has in his bag. “Hair products mostly” jokes the bald Max, which doesn’t amuse the guards who proceed to kick his ass. In a potentially unrelated scene, Max is the victim of a work accident and is exposed to a deadly substance and given only days to live. Desperate to survive, Max partakes in an underground “enhancement,” which turns him into a semi-cyborg. Sharlto Copley’s villainous character Kruger is shown only briefly, but the crowd reacts immediately.
Much of the rest of the footage is difficult to decipher in terms of its context or sequencing within the plot of the film. Description doesn’t really do it justice. But suffice to say Blomkamp is no dummy when it comes to knowing what the Con crowd likes. Big ships, big gunfire, explosions and slick, shiny visuals. Blomkamp did plenty with the relatively meager $30 million he had to work with on ‘District 9’ and from the looks of it, he has upped the stakes quite substantially with the purported $120 million budget for "Elysium." The footage wows the crowd, but looks to merely skim the surface of the visuals and storyline. Noticeably absent from the nearly seven minutes of footage is Elysium itself, part of which is shown only in unfinished pre-visualization footage.
The cast of Elysium – Damon, Foster and Copley – and producer Simon Kinberg are introduced next. Here’s what the cast had to say about what drew them to the project.
Damon: “After I saw ‘District 9,’ if Neil had just called me out of the blue and asked me to be in his next movie, I would have said yes. But he actually had a lot more information than that. He not only had this great script, but he had an entire graphic novel on his computer with this entire world. Such incredible detail. There was a whole corresponding book of weaponry and then a whole other book of vehicles. It was just incredible.”
Foster: “I saw ‘District 9’ and I felt like it was a perfect film. I wished that I had directed the film. After I got over the jealousy, I just said I want to work with this guy. Luckily the script came in and there was a girl in it. It’s about all sorts of things that matter to me and its interesting to see somebody be able to marry an intellectual idea with beautiful primitive gut-wrenching explosions and death and all that other good stuff.”
Copley: “It’s incredible. And it’s amazing to be back here. When I read the first draft, I said, ‘You didn’t say which character. This villain seems to be something that I could really do something original with.’ So he definitely allowed me to do something different from what you might expect.”
Other highlights from the presentation include Damon’s recollection of shooting in the second largest dump in the world. “They told us that the dust was comprised mostly of fecal matter. So at the end of these scenes where Sharlto and I are just sweating, we would be black with dust. And we would look at each other and go, ‘This is fecal matter.’ (Laughs) And Neil would come up and pull his respirator off and say, ‘I promise you, the photography looks great.’ (Laughs)
And if fecal matter wasn’t enough, pig urine takes the proverbial cake. “There is a great moment with Matt where his character is under a cart that is filled with pigs,” recalls Kinsberg. “There is a helicopter kicking up all the pig slop and everything from the ground. Matt actually hides under the cart and Sharlto’s character comes looking for him. That’s all close-ups with Matt and then we got him out of there. So the pigs had already been so riled up by the chopper that by the time Shawn, Matt’s stunt guy, got under there, the pigs just basically urinated on him while the chopper kicked up everything else.” (Laughs)
“Shawn was covered in pig urine,” adds Damon. “It was horrible.” “Shawn was a guy who always had a smile on his face and I think that was the one time he didn’t.”
We’ll have more on "Elysium" this weekend from our exclusive interview with Neill Blomkamp.