By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood July 14, 2012 at 1:45AM
Ever since indie "District 9" put South African writer-director Neill Blomkamp on the map as an original filmmaker with an extraordinary command over VFX, film fans have eagerly awaited his next. I remember when Sony introduced the now iconic poster-campaign for the low-budget sci-fi thriller at Comic-Con 2009--which went on to earn a Best Picture nomination and $215 million worldwide. So Hall H couldn't have been more primed for seven minutes of early footage for the $90-million Sony pick-up "Elysium," which is in the middle of a long post-production process, due to an even bigger scale of VFX. They were not disappointed. (See my flip cam interview with Blomkamp and video from the panel below.)
"Comic-Con was good to me in 2009," Blomkamp told the crowd. "So I'm debuting some footage for 'Elysium.' I try to be as honest as I can as a filmmaker. There's an element of salesmanship that sometimes makes me feel distanced. But launching the film at Comic-Con is honest, fans wanting cool footage. I'm completely OK with it." The crowd ate it up.
For "District 9" breakout Sharlto Copley, "it was a defining moment of my life when I came here in 2009." When he read the first draft for "Elysium," he immediately saw potential in the role of the bad guy: "He allowed me to do something a little different from what you might expect from a movie villain." Copley is already moving on to play King Stefan, Angelina Jolie's lover in "Maleficent." "I pinch myself every day," he said.
Already, even in rough form, the effects are realistic, characteristically gritty and on a far grander scale than "District 9." Blomkamp takes a future factory worker parolee (Matt Damon) trying to go straight in one of many over-populated and infected Earth's city hell-holes. The film was shot on location at the second largest garbage dump in the world in Mexico City, where the crew could wear gas masks but the actors could not as fecal matter dust was kicked up by roaring helicopter blades. "I aways knew why I was there," Damon said in Hall H. "I tried not to think about it, I got to do it, signed up for movie, I was really going to go do this, we're there, we just do the work and go home."
The star basically signed up for a strong script by a filmmaker he admired; he was also wowed by the presentation materials Blomkamp has developed, including an entire detailed graphic novel on his computer and books on the world's weaponry and vehicles. "There was a lot to go on," Damon said.
"District 9" fan Jodie Foster plays a tough-ass commander on Elysium, the space station home for the wealthy who can afford to pay for unpolluted off-planet luxury living. When Damon gets radiated in an industrial accident, he is told he has five days to live; he returns to his criminal cronies to find a way to blast himself off to Elysium for a cure.
"Luckily the script came in and there was a girl in it," said Foster. "It was about all sorts of things that matter to me. He's someone who is able to marry intellectual big ideas with beautiful gut-wrenching explosions and death."
Producer Simon Kinberg ("X-Men") added that Blomkamp manages to "combine politics and social commentary, rich themes, and also the kickass fun of a bloody science-fiction action movie." They brought back much of Blomkamp's crew, but "working on a larger canvas with the same approach. The reality of that movie is important in this film as well, even if it's a fantastical sci-fi world."
Blomkamp admitted that there's a political subtext to the film. "There's no question the theme is about wealth discrepancy and the gap between rich and poor. The films I want to make need to take place in interesting environments, the subtexts to the film are those relatively important and apparent themes and ideas. Layered on top of that is lot of explosions and popcorn."
I can't wait.