Sony / 2013 / 109 mins / R
Director Neill Blomkamp surprised everyone in the summer of 2009 with his original science fiction film, District 9. It was unlike anything ever conceived in the genre and was visually stunning for a small budget. For his first feature-length film debut, he certainly gained the audience's attention and made us hungry for more. And while his second sci-fi feature isn't exactly a mediocre film, it does come as a bit of a disappointment in comparison to District 9.
For starters, the film's plot is a little too simple of a scenario. Earth is now a slum planet of overpopulation as the wealthy have escaped to the man-made, off-planet settlement known as Elysium. The inhabitants of Elysium not only live the lavish lifestyle, but are also treated to the miracle of healthcare with a device the can literally cure anything. The people of Earth are not so lucky with crowded hospitals and as a result risk death to escape up to Elysium.
One unlucky Earthling, Max (Matt Damon), ends up with severe radiation poisoning while working the line of a robot factory. With only five days to live and zero compensation outside of some pills, Max makes it his primary goal to break into Elysium. But in the process, he ends up uncovering a secret coup helmed by Elysium's shrewd secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster) as well as running afoul of crazed mercenary Kruger (Sharlto Copley).
With its base dialogue and a far too simple happy ending, Elysium is a very blunt tale of classism and healthcare. It hardly even tries to display more than one angle to the whole structure of this world. Matt Damon is the tragic hero, Jodie Foster is a heartless suit and Sharlto Copley is just the kill-everything villain. Some of the characters are so base in driving home these key points that they almost become parodies. Sharlto Copley's character in particular is so over-the-top evil with an accent thicker than the Crocodile Hunter.
However, Blomkamp does deliver on his trademark visuals. Every bit of design from the interiors of Elysium to the robotic security forces are incredibly detailed with a lot of care put into the design and production. I really did buy into this world and rarely felt like I was staring at heaps of CGI. It's that seamless blend and subtle use of effects that truly makes Blomkamp stand out as one of the most unique sci-fi directors out there. I just wish that he put as much thought into the story as he did the designs since that seems to be what he originally started out with when going into this project.
Throughout the film, there are several key elements that keep relating back to District 9. The poor state of Earth, the structure of the characters, the visual effects and the action scenes all echo Blomkamp's previous film. The only difference is that District 9 had a far better script and ideas to make it unique and original. This just felt like more of the same, filtered down by a producer who doesn't think much of the audience. Blomkamp is a great director, but I fear he may become one note if this is all he can follow up with.
Sony delivers a pristine DVD transfer with a near-perfect 2.40:1 widescreen video. The scenes in space look deep and dark, the interiors of Elysium are vibrantly bold and the Earth landscape is believably gritty and dirty. The 5.1 audio does an exceptional job showcasing the little details of each location with a good use of each speaker.
The DVD includes two featurettes; one focusses on the acting and direction while another showcases the unbelievably detailed designs of set designer Syd Mead.
Despite some impressive blending of visual effects and design, Elysium still feels like a Hollywood-ized version of Blomkamp's superior District 9. It's more visually appealing than it is well-written with a script almost completely devoid of subtlety. This is by no means a terrible movie, but I hope Blomkamp can do a little better in the future. For that reason, I do recommend the film, but with a few reservations.