Friday, August 9, 2013

Blomkamp’s sci-fi yarn ‘Elysium’ has its moments, but pales to his ‘District 9’

By Steve Crum

Elysium concerns the haves and have-nots, featuring a society with no middle class, only the rich and poor, and a strictly enforced border to keep the two classes separated. Why, it’s a documentary about 2013 USA! No, it is a sci-fi yarn set in “the late 21st Century” which paints a bleak future for the world. Like the Tom Cruise vehicle Oblivion that came and went earlier this summer, Elysium is all about the social mores of control, particularly government control. Just to emphasize the connection to the status quo, there are references to Homeland Security. 

Current paranoia about our federal government is realized here, probably enough to reinforce those who reportedly are storing up their guns and ammo in fear of some kind of takeover. In Elysium, there are indeed stored guns, but per se underground, accessed through illegal means. Earth’s leaders do not permit its slave-like citizenry to have weapons. 

Director-screenwriter Neill Blomkamp, who imprinted the movie history map with his incredibly original District 9, does not equal that triumph. But portions of Elysium come near. Reminiscent of District 9 is the overall slum that earth has become. Blomkamp frequently and wisely cuts to overhead establishing shots so we are reminded. Ground zero is a life of filth, disease and squalor, gang graffiti-splattered walls, and raggedly dressed civilians kowtowing to robot policemen figuratively and sometimes literally keeping them in line. When central character Max DeCosta (Matt Damon) snidely jokes with one cop, he is immediately beaten to the ground for insubordination. In fact, his jesting nearly gets him arrested with another robot. In flashback, we find DeCosta has been a rebellious back talker since he was raised by orphanage nuns. 

DeCosta’s childhood friend and sweetheart, Frey (Alice Braga) is now a nurse supporting a terminally ill little daughter. By the time DeCosta reunites with her, he has a criminal record, and is soon to contract a cancer virus thanks to an accident at his workplace factory. The plot really gets interesting when he, his old girlfriend, and her child shuttle off to the luxurious, high tech space station Elysium. Think the stereotypical circular space station depicted in 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the indoor track astronauts would jog. Multiply the size of the station by about 10, and you have Elysium, within which a huge city exists with manicured lawns, trees, modern buildings, and swimming pools. 

Factor in that DeCosta has willingly been transformed into an android to sustain his life by giving him superhuman strength. In the trailers, one can see metallic additions from his bald head and down. Since Elysium citizens have access to MRI-like machines that rid one’s body of any imperfections, including diseases, both DeCosta and Frey definitely want to take advantage. 

Elysium turns out to be not so utopian after all, since it is on the verge of a coup due to the rambunctious and cold blooded Secretary of Defense Delacourt (Jodie Foster) wanting control over the slightly more humanistic President Patel (Faran Tahir). 

Blomkamp definitely has a flair for sci-fi, and does well with the look and feel of a future earth. Action sequences are very well done, but, like most movies of this genre, acting overall is secondary to the action. However, both Damon and Copley stand out. Jodie Foster is virtually wasted with little dialogue and no memorable scenes. Her best line is representative: “Send them to deportation! Get them off this habitat!” Incidentally, the always watchable William Fichtner is notable as a factory CEO. 

Oh, and add some drones the government uses to keep its earthlings in line. Surely Blomkamp is not referencing anything to do with 2013. 
GRADE on a scale of A to F: B
Check out the Elysium trailer:

1 comment:

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