In case you missed it, yesterday evening Sony finally unveiled the long-awaited trailer for "Elysium," Neill Blomkamp's rather ambitious sci-fi follow-up to the dazzling and creative, "District 9." Starring Matt Damon and set in 2154, "Elysium" looks like a direct commentary on "the haves and have-nots." It's set in a future where the ruling class are on Elysium, an elite luxury space station above the planet, while the 99% are stuck on a ravaged and resource-drained Earth, both brutally overpopulated and polluted. And we've got to say: the trailer looks tantalizing and incredible, with some spectacular effects that point to some potential next-level shit.
Co-starring Alice Braga, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley and more, we wanted to deconstruct and take a closer look at Blomkamp's latest sci-fi spectacle, so here's five key elements to take note of and keep an eye on.
While not as eye-popping as some of the other arresting visual images in the "Elysium" trailer, one rather striking image from last night's first look is what appears to be a cancer scanner (with a creepy, Versace-esque sun-face logo on it) that looks for, and potentially eradicates, the existence of cancer. A sunbathing woman is seen laying out and then entering the scanner which then says, "cancer free." If she's getting skin cancer for baking in the sun too long, perhaps in this far future this no longer matters. And as motivation for Matt Damon's character to get to "Elysium" either for himself or a loved one? Yup, that sounds like pretty damn good motivation and we'd buy that.
At this week's prses presentation, director Blomkamp said that the robotic augmentation Damon goes through makes him stronger but “not Iron Man-strong." Indeed, the trailer seems to show that grafting a robotic supplement to your body isn't exactly the kicky joyride it looks like every time Tony Stark suits up (early reports say that the "Elysium" transformation sequence is just as painful and gory as the similar sequence in Paul Verhoeven's immortal "Robocop"). What's also interesting is that it looks like the robotic stuff serves a metaphoric purpose too – Damon goes through hell just to be able to get to Elysium, while Shartlo Copley's character, the villainous mercenary Kruger who is employed by Jodie Foster's character, already has mech-tech (in a slightly more refined version) and uses it for evil (we see him flipping a truck with the technology and blowing a spaceship out of the sky). The have and the have-nots, apparently, extend to bio-robotic bells-and-whistles.
We were slightly worried that, given the bigger scale and higher budget, Blomkamp would be tempted to shy away from the biting social commentary that made "District 9" not just that year's best thrill-ride but a deeply meditative look at the way our society works (or doesn't work) with allegorical undertones that extended from apartheid to class warfare. Thankfully, it looks like Blomkamp hasn't abandoned his gleeful fuck-you spirit and interest in social satire. In "Elysium," the 1% reside on a palatial space station while the 99% are rummaging around on the dirty, overpopulated planet below. Occupy Earth? (They shot the movie in Mexico City, making use of the "New Brutalism" architectural design aesthetic that was also a part of the similarly dystopian "Total Recall" back in 1990.) The aesthetic tenor on Earth is not miles away from "District 9": dry, dusty and dilapidated. The movie looks exciting, of course, but also incredibly pointed. All the great science fiction films take us to fantastical new worlds while reflecting our own. "Elysium" could be one of those movies.
So far "Elysium," has really pushed Damon, Foster (who initially said she just had a cameo, but this now feels like a flat out lie) and Copley as the central figures in the movie. But "Elysium" also features lots of international talent, Brazilians Alice Braga and Wagner Moura, have been seen in recent photos, but barely heard from until now is Diego Luna, who hasn't been seen or heard from too much on screen in recent years as he's been focusing on directing (or at least compared to his hermano Gael Garcia Bernal?). What's he doing in "Elysium"? The trailer doesn't say, but character details from the film's website reveal that he's a childhood friend of Damon's character helping him for the biggest (and potentially last) mission of his life to get onto "Elysium." You can see him rockin' some double ponytails in this image from the movie.
Philip Ivey, a New Zealand production designer who worked on a number of influential projects (including the three "Lord of the Rings" movies and Blomkamp's own "District 9"), is clearly drawing from several influences including his own work in Blomkamp's debut (the slums of Mexico are a distant echo from the Johannesburg in 'D9') and the futurist designer Syd Mead and Mead's designs for "Blade Runner" (Mead himself also worked as a set designer). There’s also some key shots looking like direct homages to Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” and more modern flourishes as well. Between the dusty, run-down slums, which share a certain kind of battered intensity to “District 9” and the rarefied air that the Elysium space station/planet breathes, which could be the Tyrell Corporation meets something from “Star Trek,” there’s a myriad of mosaic influences going on here and, of course, the fact that there are robots. They might not look like Rutger Hauer but they seem to serve similar purposes (Damon rips the head off of one). Mead's designs from "Aliens" (he drew up the space ships), "Tron" and "Star Trek: The Motion Picture," seem to be cribbed from as well, along with Blomkamp's typically esoteric reference bouillabaisse: Japanese anime, "WALL-E," war documentaries, video-games, "Brazil," comic books, and, of course, "Star Wars."
“Elysium” hits theaters on August 9th. For more, potentially spoiler-ish stuff, go to the movie’s official website for more character details. Here's the trailer once more. --Drew Taylor and Rodrigo Perez