Elysium – Futuristic version of the 1%

August 6, 2013 by Tom Ferda 

Published in Film Trailers Magazine August 6, 2013

Film director Neill Blomkamp came up the ranks as a SFX guru and burst onto the film scene with his first feature called “District 9” in 2009. Critics praised Blomkamp’s filmmaking style and audiences around the world swarmed the box office to the tune of $211M to support District 9’s originality and innovation. The film also grabbed the attention of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences who nominated the movie for Oscars® for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Blomkamp is back. This time bringing sci-fi thriller “Elysium” to the big screen.

Blomkamp who wrote and directed this project, draws two distinct worlds in “Elysium”. One world is an overpopulated, crumbling Earth and the other, known as Elysium, is a man-made space station for the extremely wealthy. Sounds like a futuristic look at the 1%.

“Back in the ‘70s, people were actually discussing the idea of leaving Earth and building space stations for us to potentially live on one day,” said Blomkamp. “I like the idea of taking this well-known concept and caking it with wealth, diamonds and Bel Air-style mansions. The idea, the image, of putting these exorbitant, ridiculous mansions on a doughnut-shaped space station became something I wanted to make a movie about.”

Photo: Stephanie Blomkamp - Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Photo: Stephanie Blomkamp - Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Here’s a NASA fact for you space geeks out there. As you are reading this, about a half dozen astronauts live and work on the international space station that is orbiting 250 miles above Earth, they’ve been rotating out personnel and occupying it for over a decade.

But in Blomkamp’s futuristic vision that takes place 150 years from now, a man-made space station has become the home for the extremely rich and powerful.

“The idea of taking up stone, and mortar, and concrete, and swimming pools and everything you’d need to build these mansions in a space station is satire,” said Blomkamp. “It just reinforces the central idea of the film; the people of Elysium have unimaginable wealth, and they use those resources to build a synthetic environment for themselves.”

But the heart of the conflict in this plot is very real and inspired Blomkamp when he visualized Elysium. When people compare the wealth of Elysium with the poverty of many places on Earth, the same picture gets painted. In places like Mexico City, Johannesburg and Rio, you have pockets of extreme wealth bordering a sea of poverty.

“I think that’s where the cities of the US are going to end up, too; that’s why the movie is set in Los Angeles,” said Blomkamp. “But that disparity can’t last. And I don’t know what we’re going to get; whether we’re going to pull ourselves forward or self-implode. Elysium is the fork in the road.”

At the center of the chaos between the two worlds, is Max, a guy stuck on Earth, played by Matt Damon. “Max needs to get to Elysium to save himself, but in his desperation, he gets involved in a plot that makes him realize that the problem is much bigger than him,” says Blomkamp. “And he ends up fighting for something more than himself, fighting to save other people on Earth.”

Photo: Kimberly French

Photo: Kimberly French / Courtesy of Sony Pictures

Max offered a different look for Damon; shaven, tattooed and muscle-bound. “Neill was very specific about every detail and how he wanted the character to look,” says Damon. “He provided us all with pictures of the characters. I don’t think anybody had ever done that for me before; literally handed me a picture of the character with his shirt off. So I went to my trainer and I said, ‘Make me look like that,’ and a great trainer can do that.”

Damon says that he was inspired to join the project by the chance to work with Blomkamp. “Like everybody, I saw District 9, and like everybody, I freaked out,” said Damon. “Neill jumped to the top of the list of people that I wanted to work with. So when I heard that he wanted to meet with me about his next movie, I met him for coffee. He pulled out a kind of graphic novel that he had designed himself that explained the whole world of Elysium. He’d designed it all, built it all already. He just needed us to help him bring it to life. And that was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”

The film was primarily shot in two locations: Mexico City, which doubles for Los Angeles in 2154, and Vancouver, which doubles for Elysium.

Filming in some of the poorest parts of Mexico, the irony was not lost on the cast or crew. “As we were filming, I couldn’t help but feel that we are living in our own private Elysium; our own version of this story,” says actor William Fichtner who plays the character John Carlyle. “The fact that the people of Elysium want to keep their perfect place for themselves, well, that’s not unlike our circumstances today.”

Photo: Kimberly French / Director Neill Blomkamp and Matt Damon on set

Photo: Kimberly French / Director Neill Blomkamp and Matt Damon on set

Jodie Foster stars opposite Damon as Secretary Delacourt, the hardline official determined to protect Elysium for the wealthy. “As the Secretary of Defense, she sees it as her job to keep immigrants out of Elysium,” says Foster. “She sees Elysium as a utopia – what Earth could have been, but wasn’t. She’s finding herself handcuffed by a new, more liberal administration, but she’s 108 years old; she remembers when Earth was falling apart and why they created Elysium in the first place. She knows what will happen if you let everybody in; it’ll end up just like Earth.”

So do we have a CGI sci-fi action thriller that makes you think? Sounds like it.

Contact Tom via email: tom@tomferda.com

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