Monday, August 26, 2013

Elysium: A Complicated Journey

The promised land isn't all it's cracked up to be in director Neil Blomkamp's dystopian sci-fi fantasy, Elysium.


ARTH VADER (AV): The seemingly never-ending story of the haves and the have-nots moves on in this sci-fi, somewhat original tale of extreme elitism gone all kinds of wrong in Elysium. Quite reminiscent of one of my all-time favorite sci-fi flicks, District-9, the movie is less about ray guns and space ships and more about the progression of the greed of the privileged as they stand on the backs of the greater majority—namely the rest of us. The continuity here is the perpetuation of the very wealthy having what the rest of us don't and… very literally... holding it over our heads.

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): Well said Vader. The “continuity” of this film is the parallel to the real life, here-and-now issues society is dealing with today. This film screams at you to be heard as it makes statements about corporate corruption, health care, politics, immigration, and classism. The future setting gave it more pinnace as it bedazzled, but the looking glass was clear nonetheless.


AV: Fellow Bostonian Matt Damon delivers a solid (if not 'stellar') performance as the reluctant hero, Max who is imperiled with a lethal dose of radiation and must travel to Elysium where the space station's miracle medical devices offer a last ditch hope for survival. Super sci-fi sweetheart Alice Braga (I Am Legend, Predators) plays Frey, the love interest/emotional support and Mom to a sickly daughter who also needs Max's help to take a trip to Elysium's miracle medical salvation. Bad guy Kruger, played by Sarlto Copley (another District 9 alum) is as bad-ass–if not downright cliché as they come. Diego Luna (Milk, The Terminal) and super-badass screen maven Jodi Foster round out a strong and engaging cast for this fairly sober look into the future. Pontificator, would did you think?

TP: This film was cast very well Vader. Matt Damon was excellent in his role as Max, an everyday person thrust into dire circumstances as a victim of a society that produces and preys upon the downtrodden. Thumbs up also for Jodie Foster as Secretary Delacourt. Her lack of sympathy and thirst for power were convincing. Her complete disregard for anyone not of Elysium drove home a fine point in the movie. The film itself moved at a steady pace and always kept me engaged in the characters. The overall tone of the film stayed ominous, breaking only long enough to shock us with graphic and explosive action.


AV: I must say, this is a damn good looking movie. The dystopian District 9 look plays well for Blomkamp and this movie is both believable and unsettling. Originally slated to direct the initial HALO movie project (now defunct), Blomkamp doesn't revel in the pristine, super smooth, overly sterile environments of many futuristic Sci-fi worlds. The director's vision of the future is sullen, downtrodden and this side of depressing—all playing well to the movie's larger story. The technology is both fantastic and believable, a hard balance to strike. Wouldn't you say, Ponty?

TP: Agreed Vader. This is a film that isn’t dependent on special effects to make it’s point, but when it does them... it does them well. There was no new ground broken, but the visuals are superb and the technology is realistic and fantastic at the same time. The most sophisticated piece of technology didn’t even require any real effects, it just scanned you... then cured you. I thought this was brilliant as it left the filmmakers free to concentrate on making the weapons and robots futuristic and functional, without disconnecting so far from reality as to make them absurd. The merging of man and machine, and specifically, man and computer, in this film was both unnerving to watch and interesting to contemplate... for the very near and very real future.


AV: Down to brass tacks, this movie is NOT about space stuff, technology and robots as stated earlier. All of those things exist in Elysium but they aren't the real story. This story is about the awful–downright criminal–lengths wealthy people often go through to keep what they have away from the rest of us. It's about closed borders, illegal immigration and the inequity of class warfare. Elysium makes a point of calling out the subjugation of the majority by the privileged Elite. It's the story of the 'other 99%' and it's done well. 

Liberal advocate, Jodie Foster dials in a ho-hum performance but Matt Damon's conflicted character is redeemed on the hero's journey. In the end, we are faced with the solution being a software reboot and not actual people being the problem. All it would take is another system reboot and we are right back where things were and that is downright bogus to me. Thoughts, P-Man? 

TP: This is a film that I could spend all day talking about Vader. The relevance it has to today is eerie and makes me shudder. The only thing scarier than watching this film and realizing that it is speaking about us today, just set in the future... is watching it and not realizing this. 

Corporations are running amok and gaining more influence daily over the lives of everyday people. The same people that make their success possible, and yet for whom they show little regard. Health care remains a hot-button issue today, the level of which is received is directly tied into our financial viability. Politics remains about those in power maintaining their position of such, and catering just enough to the masses to make them think it is otherwise. Immigration remains a problem as those with needs, but without means, seek to go (illegally) where those needs can be met (taking nothing away from the privileged as it seems nobody is ever home on Elysium). Class remains the divide as the wealthiest of us seek to separate and isolate themselves, while also subjugating everyone else. Yes... these are the messages of Elysium, shown as the final destination if things continue to progress as they are. This film is easily one of the most profound ever reviewed here.

PONTIFICATOR’S SPECIAL OBSERVATION: I have friends that are in law enforcement and have great respect for the job they do, but this film makes it a point to highlight the degrading image of the profession by having the positions (police, parol officers, security) performed solely by robots, that emulate the very worst in abuse and brutality that humanity can offer. The irony being that we freely create the very instruments that deprive us of freedom. Seen in the film as robots, seen in reality as the decisions we make once in a position of upholding and enforcing the law.


AV: I really believe it would be a huge disservice to the voice and experience of this movie to follow it up, seeing as *spoiler alert!* the hero dies. I could see how the another Elysium story could be told with an entirely different cast of characters. Regardless, I look forward to Blomkapm's next theatrical undertaking. 

TP: There is nowhere left to go here. The points have been made and the solution has been given. What happens next is anyone’s guess... but the society of Elysium’s Earth will either become Blade Runner or Battlestar Galactica... and we have already seen these two paths. Elysium cements itself as a masterpiece, only if it is left to remain standing alone with it’s messages. 


ARTH VADER rates Elysium: This movie is one of 2013's stronger cinematic experiences, at least in the wheelhouse of movies we review on this blog. As with all movies that show above average intelligence, it will perform only moderately–as did District 9–at the box office. But with a stellar cast and out-of-this-world (sorry) screenplay, Elysium solicits a sound eight (8) Busted Blocks for emotional engagements and intellectual maturity but looses points for complication of idea presentation and lack of true resolution. 

THE PONTIFICATOR rates Elysium: Profound in it’s messages, entertaining in it’s effects... and engaging in it’s direction and acting, this film was so much better than I expected that I was left sitting in my seat thinking to myself... wow. It provokes serious thought about where we are today as a society, and where we might be going...  busting eight (8) blocks on the way there. 

ELYSIUM: 8 / 10 Busted Blocks

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