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Elysium Trailer: Blomkamp’s New Movie Too Similar To District 9?

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Last Tuesday, Sony Pictures released the trailer for director Neill Blomkamp’s new sci-fi thriller Elysium, due for release on August 9th 2013 (U.S.) The gritty style and chunky, badass far-future technology on show doesn’t hide one upsetting fact: it looks far too similar to Blomkamp’s last movie, the Oscar-nominated District 9.

In the trailer, we’re shown a uniquely-equipped man on an impoverished future Earth who, for reasons unknown, must make a journey to the heavenly, enlightened off-world colony Elysium.

Themes of oppression and segregation are overt. Almost too overt. Initially, we’re shown “The Privileged ” a space colony called Elysium where enlightened, wealthy, glowing people live in perfect health and harmony- a bonafide lifelong holiday resort. Then we get bombarded with imagery of a future America akin to a third world country; tones of developing Africa, shanty towns and bad sanitation.

2009’s District 9 was also a sci-fi thriller. It also dealt with oppression and segregation. It also featured a marginalized group of individuals- aliens who were forced to live in dry shantytowns outside of Johannesbourg in South Africa. The thing is, where District 9 tactfully dealt with apartheid and political problems in urban South Africa- simply replacing black Africans with aliens- Elysium looks like it’s held these same themes and moved away from a relatable, realistic setting. Which was the pull of District 9; this was our world, there was still apartheid, still poverty, the only difference was that it regarded tragic aliens who arrived in 1982. Elysium’s world feels less well founded and less believable.

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There are also big questions which Elysium’s trailer doesn’t answer. Questions which suggest the film’s plot may be a little porous.

Matt Damon, looking a lot like Battlestar Galactica’s “The Chief”, sources some sort of exoskeleton suit, a suit which is the ‘only thing’ which could give him a chance to escape Earth to Elysium. First off, it’s not clear how or why he has to escape to Elysium. He just does. Second off, it’s not clear what this exoskeleton can actually do. It let’s him “override his system”? They’ll “hunt him to the edge of the Earth” for it? The trailer does a worryingly bad job of making us clear what is actually going on. And Jodie Foster provides an archetypical “evil aristocrat” figure as the villain; someone seemingly in charge of Elysium who will no doubt be trying to thwart Damon at every turn.

Despite all these questions and concerns, the film looks generally promising. There are other themes present- we see water poverty and health issues coming to the fore as people run in panic with empty water canisters through a desert-like western city, and we see an Elysian woman have her body eradicated of cancers.

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The movie’s sticking close to legitimate science-fiction theory too, Elysium itself being a Stanford torus (doughnut-shaped for gravity) space habitat. Robots and vehicles appear, as I said, chunky and badass; one of District 9’s strengths was its equally real and used-looking sci-fi technology. My favourite moment, however, was catching a glimpse of Sharlto Copley, the South African who played District 9’s pathetic protagonist Wikus, now in the villainous lead-henchman role. He does a cool hand-flick with some gizmo on his hand that makes a car do a flip. And he has a sweet beard.

So while Elysium is plagued with worries for me, it does show promise. We just have to hope it has a lot more story hidden up its exoskeletal sleeve than what’s shown in the trailer.



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