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Express Elevator to Elysium
By Kevin Jahi Johnson

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Neill Blomkamp came to attention with his brilliant short films and VFX background, so brilliant he attracted the attention of none other than Peter Jackson. They teamed up to make Halo, an adaptation of Microsoft’s killer app. Except for one thing: it cost too much dang money. The studio, I forget which, withdrew its monetary support and Blomkamp and Jackson were left heartbroken. Tons of pre-pro, designs, props, costumes and full-size vehicles were cast aside.

But out of that rubble came DISTRICT 9, one of my absolute favorite films. And now, Blomkamp has followed that up with ELYSIUM, starring Matt Damon, Sharlto Copley and Jodie Foster.

No spoilers allowed.

ELYSIUM is the heir apparent to nothing less than BLADE RUNNER in the pantheon of future-nightmare Los Angeles movies. It’s not as philosophically elegant, but it is as aesthetically complex and dense, and purposeful in its message. Very purposeful. Keenan Ivory Wayans walking up to you in a mailman outfit purposeful.

The things showcased and discussed in this film give it more heft and weight than your usual summer blockbuster. Overpopulation, illegal immigration and abuse of the underclass ain’t exactly popcorn fare, but a spoonful of sugar always helps the medicine go down with the masses. Especially futuristic carnage sugar.

Blomkamp does what Verhoeven did in ROBOCOP, addressing social ills and concerns wrapped up in a kinetic whirl. Not as satirical, mind you, and I’m not doing any favors to Blomkamp by comparing him to such heavy hitters. But I can’t think of any one else that’s doing what Blomkamp is doing in the confines of genre.

The human touches are heavy-handed and in your face, and the characters are simple. Matt Damon plays Matt Damon, a down on his luck Earth dweller that has to make it to the luxurious space station Elysium at all costs, to access their next-gen healthcare. That’s the movie in a nutshell, a basic man-on-the-run story. There’s more to it than that, but like I said, no spoilers. Without Matt Damon though, this film becomes much harder to love. He gives Max De Costa a likable sturdiness and a desperation that represents the downtrodden nature of Earth’s future citizenry.

Where Elysium excels is in its presentation and themes. Design-wise, it’s extremely tactile and like nothing else I’ve seen. This is the most visually committed film I’ve seen since… goodness, I have to say it: THE FIFTH ELEMENT. Syd Mead is one of the conceptual designers, so if that means anything to you, get excited. If not, here’s a link to a Grumpy Cat meme: http://bit.ly/18ceMXb

I mentioned the work on Halo previously because of the influences it has had on Blomkamp’s filmography thus far. The alien gun tech and Warthog-esque Jeeps in District 9. The ringworld and exo-suit armor in Elysium. Halo keeps cropping up in Neill’s films, offering a glimpse of what might have been. These flourishes are exciting for a gamer who’s used to that world, but I’m glad we didn’t get Halo.

I’ve played all the games and know the story; I’d be bored to tears by a film bothering to recount events in a 12-year old game (Holy Crap!). District 9 and Elysium are more original and interesting than any Halo film could ever be, and moviegoers are richer for them.

We need bold visions, scary as they might seem. We need fresh stories, and studios willing to bankroll them. We need films unburdened by PG-13s to show just how unrelenting and intense violence is. We need a filmmaker willing to make something as bold as District 9, willing to forgo the urge to make District 10, and come up with this instead.

If you’re only curious, check out an early showing. But either way, you won’t be disappointed. Well, if you don’t like science-fiction, you might be disappointed. Or if you don’t like action. Or depictions of craptastic future Earths. Or if you don’t like Matt Damon. But if you don’t like Matt Damon, ugh, I can’t even finish that sentence. Everyone Likes Matt Damon!

KJ is just a guy in Los Angeles trying to make sense of the digital age. And rice cookery. Much harder than it looks. Follow all his rice cooking and film adventures on Twitter