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Immersed in Movies: Neill Blomkamp Talks 'Elysium,' Sci-Fi, VFX (TRAILER)

Photo of Bill Desowitz By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood August 6, 2013 at 2:21PM

"Elysium" director Neill Blomkamp discusses going more commercial and the have and have nots of his movies and the VFX industry.
Matt Damon in "Elysium"
Matt Damon in "Elysium"

For Neill Blomkamp, it's all about design and metaphors. He's not a mechanical director and doesn't think in strategic business terms, so whatever success "Elysium" might have internationally, he insists it'll be purely accidental. But he holds that despite being more ambitious and expensive than his acclaimed, Oscar-nominated, break-out hit, "District 9," "Elysium" contains the same thematic DNA: the disparity between the haves and have nots.

But whereas the undesirable aliens are enclosed in a ghetto by the South African elites in "District 9," the elites of the world enclose themselves in an opulent, Bel-Air style space station in "Elysium." It's the ultimate gated community while Earth languishes in poverty, disease, pollution, and over-crowding.

Neill Blomkamp
Neill Blomkamp

"'District 9' was a singular anti-Apartheid metaphor and 'Elysium' is a more general metaphor about immigration and how the First World and Third World meet," the South African director clarifies. "But the thing that I like the most about the metaphor is that it can be scaled to suit almost any scenario. Like Elysium can be South Africa and the future of LA is Zimbabwe with people crossing the border. It can be a pocket of LA where it's like Compton and Beverly Hills. It can be California; it can be the U.S. and Mexico."

However, Blomkamp maintains that his dystopian/utopian action/adventure is more political allegory than speculative science-fiction, and one of the challenges was balancing the two. It's a riff on the "grass is always greener on the other side," as if Americans were longingly looking over the wall at Mexico. In fact, his vision of LA in 2154 is Mexico City, and that's exactly where he shot it. Conversely, he shot the Elysium scenes in pristine Vancouver.

"On Elysium, if you went totally speculative sci-fi in 2154, then you're making a movie about what they will be like then and they're no longer rich -- it's more like 'Star Trek.'" The doing away with disease, though, was an element that allowed him to explore the elitism of First World medical aid. 

This article is related to: Elysium, Neill Blomkamp, Immersed In Movies, VFX, Interviews, Interviews , Interviews, Sci-fi, Matt Damon, Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.