Elysium is the latest film from Neill Blomkamp, the guy who brought us 2009’s District 9. I am a huge fan of District 9, and the trailers for Elysium had intrigued me – I’m a sucker for a massive taurus space station!
To be honest, it was pretty standard hollywood action movie fair – big explosions, gun fights and cool special effects. An enjoyable distraction, but I have spent a long time writing this review, trying to decide whether I really did like Elysium or not. Thankfully, some of my students put things in perspective for me: Would I watch it again? Yes. Would I buy it on DVD? Yes. Then it must have been okay.
Lets have a look at some of the reasons I struggled to make up my mind, though…
I loved the gritty, lived in feel of Earth and the opening vista of Los Angeles 2154 was pretty cool with its vast, half constructed sky scrapers. But throughout, I couldn’t help thinking “Wow, that looks a LOT like the South Africa of District 9.” That isn’t a problem, except for the fact it kept pulling me out of the fiction, reminded me I was watching a film, rather than absorbing me into the story.
The disparity between the poor of Earth and the rich of Elysium also threw me. Earthlings drive SUV’s and catch buses, while space folk have cool futuristic space ships; Earthmen are dirty and covered in tattoos while rich folk are immaculately dressed and are neatly branded. I get that Blomkamp was probably trying to draw the viewers attention to real world disparities, whether that be third world nations without wifi or Prius cars, or first world citizens who don’t have health insurance. If that is the case, thanks for smashing me in the face with the concept.
Technology is so advanced and droids so intelligent they can operate independently and even choose to harass people and break limbs to teach a lesson. They cartwheel, shoot guns and are regular action heroes. But a drone can be taken down by a rock.
Unauthorised spaceships about to land on your space station? In space? No problem! Lets shoot at them with a man portable rocket launcher from Earth. Yeah.
Why the hell didn’t the bone-saws remove Matt Damon’s shirt before drilling into him and permanently attaching the exo-frame? Look, I am grateful that I didn’t have to watch his no-doubt impressive abs and bare chest for 90+ minutes, but that shirt is gonna get filthy.
Goofy Latino bad-guy/plot-device/side-kick.
Shaky camera. The fight scene with horrible shaky camera has become a cliche in my book, and I often wonder “Was this done so they didn’t have to choreograph something interesting?” It rarely makes a fight scene feel more visceral or exciting, which is what I am assuming they were attempting to do.
I didn’t hate everything, honest! In fact, I think the film was at its best when it was subtle; I loved that all the people working on Elysium wore smart suits and looked like runway models – it just gave it this surreal edge watching these people perform roles you would expect military personal to execute. Likewise, I really liked the irony of men operating an assembly line to build robots – it hinted at what the people of Elysium valued, and at the current economic state of earth.
I also enjoyed the juxtaposition of Earth and Elysium (yes, I know I said above it annoyed me) – but the squalid existence on Earth compared with the peaceful tranquility of Elysium was well captured. And I really did like the lingering camera on the rotating space station, bringing back memories of all the things I loved about science fiction as a kid.
Elysium isn’t an Oscar winning picture, and there is a lot of hate for it on the interwebs for strange directorial decisions (what was with Jodie Foster’s accent?) and the poor attempt at presenting some kind of message. But it’s a big-budget hollywood movie about a post-cyberpunk, transhumanist future that moves at a fair pace – and I would watch it again.