At a Comic-Con style presentation this morning at The Grove, we finally caught a glimpse of Neill Blomkamp’s “Elysium,” the ambitious sci-fi follow-up to his acclaimed indie hit, “District 9,” which opens August. 9. The trailer (watch below) and additional 10 minutes of socially-conscious, high-octane action didn’t disappoint.
Despite the allure of major stars (Matt Damon and Jodie Foster) and bigger studio toys worth $120 million, Blomkamp has not compromised his personal vision; he’s merely broadened his imaginative scope. “Elysium” is a grander version of “District 9,” only here the have and have-nots are divided by the wealthy inhabitants of a Bel Air-inspired space station and Earth, which has been reduced to a shambles.
Fittingly, after ushering in the popular dystopian trend with “District 9” in 2009 (and snagging a best picture Oscar nomination), Blomkamp has managed to stay ahead of the competition with his visual brilliance and idiosyncratic storytelling. True to his South African roots, though, the director still embraces such hot button issues as immigration, health care, class disparity, and the environment.
It’s 2154 and living on Earth in total poverty is a death sentence. Imagine the South African shanty town horror of “District 9” magnified to almost “Wall-E”-like devastation. Damon plays a bald blue collar worker desperate to get to Elysium (overseen politically by Foster) to save his life. But in exchange for his way out with the aid of grungy military armor, he must get a hold of the secret intel that will help destroy Elysium and save the planet.
“In here and in ‘District 9,’ proper science was thrown out the window a little bit in favor of metaphor and story,” Blomkamp suggested. “Building a space station was like marble and slate [and not the best idea]. But the metaphor of Bel Air in space is correct. So my approach is to start out with something ridiculous and then try and use the most realistic portrayal of the ridiculous as you can. So I’m painting ridiculous ideas with a brush of realism.”
They shot ruined Earth on the outskirts of Mexico City and the lavish scenes on Elysium in Vancouver (enhanced by VFX from Weta Digital, Image-Engine, which worked on “District 9″) and found interesting parallels in terms of class divisions.”I’m a visual artist first, ” Blomkamp continued. “It’s like a western, graveyard kind of Lockheed mind that comes up with this kind of stuff.”
But the director said he isn’t irresponsible enough to use a popcorn movie to try and make a difference politically. He’d make a documentary if that were his intention. Yet he believes there’s nothing wrong with playing with real issues within the backdrop of a unique world and a popular genre. “It’s a mirror of how the West is with immigration,” he explained. “A lot of people want to help out the rest of the world…. Other people want to close the borders.”
This is what makes Blomkamp so exciting as a filmmaker — the way he combines iconic images with compelling, if witty, narratives as a visual stylist — and what draws talent to him.
For Damon’s part (who participated in the event via a video hookup from Germany), he said he was blown away by “District 9” and jumped at the chance to work with Blomkamp. He was particularly impressed by the director’s detailed book of concept art that laid it all out and enabled him to fully embrace the physical challenge of the role.
Meanwhile, Sharlto Copley, the impressive hero of “District 9,” returns to play a baddie, the black opps undercover officer assigned to stop Damon. Copley admitted that after working so hard in “District 9” to steer clear of the villainous South African stereotype, he found himself embracing that very stereotype in “Elysium.” However, even though this new movie was much more tightly scripted, in the end, his director buddie let him improvise to transform the baddie into something much more unique because of his unpredictable energy.
“You let the Sharlto be Sharlto.” And evidently you let the Blomkamp be Blomkamp.
Check out an in-depth analysis of the “Elysium” trailer here.