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Film review: Elysium Future Imperfect

Philip Cu-Unjieng (The Philippine Star) - September 6, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Tristar Pictures’ Elysium is a film I’ve been looking forward to, based on the fact that it’s written and directed by South African/Canadian Neill Blomkamp whose 2009 District 9 I considered one of the best sci-fi alien/action thrillers of recent years. Filmed on an indie shoestring budget, District 9 boasted of tight plotting, docu-like cinematography, great effects, visceral scenes and wonderful acting by Sharlto Copley. With a major studio now backing him, plus stars like Matt Damon and Jodie Foster, it would be interesting to see what Blomkamp would come up with.

If District took on racism as the story’s over-riding theme, Elysium tackles the gulf between the rich and the poor. In the year 2154, Earth is an overpopulated, ruined planet, while the very rich have moved to a pristine, man-made space station called Elysium. Max (Matt Damon) is an ex-con who lives on miserable Earth, having grown up in an orphanage and turned to a life of theft and crime. When an industrial accident at the defense contracting company he works in leaves him desperate to seek some kind of medical miracle, he’s forced to consider a visit to Elysium as the solution. Meanwhile, on Elysium, Defense Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster) has her own political struggle with the ruling oligarchy, and hatches a coup conspiracy with defense contractor Carlyle (William Fichtner) and her covert Earth asset, the psychopathic Kruger (Sharlto Copley). As these narrative strands intersect, a high stakes game ensues, with not just lives, but the future of the people on Earth, hanging in the balance.

Far more densely plotted than District, Elysium succeeds because the cinematography is downright impressive. His Earth is always gritty, dark and dusty, while Elysium is bathed in “sweet light.” The lighting and the sets reminded me of the care and thought that was such an important element of Blade Runner. The SFX, technology and weaponry are also topnotch, I especially loved the fragmentation bullets, the plasma shield, the exoskeleton suit and the medical reconstruction that are part of the film’s future world. And there’s Blomkamp’s dark sense of humor, like how before the exoskeleton operation, the “doctor” smokes a joint.

Touches such as these keep Blomkamp one of the more interesting directors doing hard-core sci-fi. Copley’s Kruger is a stupendous creation, giving villainy a new standard. And while Elysium may not have the surprise element that District 9 had in spades, it more than shows the promise that Blomkamp exhibited, and I’m more than curious to see what his next film will be.

BLADE RUNNER BLOMKAMP CANADIAN NEILL BLOMKAMP DEFENSE SECRETARY DELACOURT ELYSIUM HIS EARTH JODIE FOSTER KRUGER MATT DAMON SHARLTO COPLEY
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