Friday, August 16, 2013

Second Opinion: Elysium

Director Neill Blomkamp makes his long anticipated return to the screen with his second feature Elysium. Sci-Fi fans have waited, not so patiently, for a follow up to his first feature the visually stunning and unique District 9. Blomkamp, a graduate of Vancouver Film schools 3D Animation and Visual Effects program, has a seamless method of combining special effects and live acting that continues in Elysium. Blomkamp’s eye for robot construction, in this film in particular, is unmatched.

Dystopian Earth in the year 2154 is overrun by population, disease and lawlessness. Robots are both the police and parole officers on Earth. They show no favoritism and cannot be influenced or corrupted. The rich inhabit a space station in the sky, known as Elysium, filled with lush green fields, beautiful homes and the top technological and scientific achievements. They have devices, resembling a cross between a tanning bed and an MRI machine, which can eliminate diseases within a couple of minutes.

The story centers around Max (Matt Damon), a former car thief who is on parole and working on the line in a plant that makes robots. After an accident on the job, Max takes a contract from his old underworld contacts in exchange for a ticket to Elysium to cure the malady he contracted at the plant. The job does not go as planned and the strike team is intercepted by an earth based team of disavowed agents. However, Max does get information from the target that turns out to be more important than his sponsors could have expected.

The best part and worst part of the film are interrelated. There are no arcs in the story, therefore, the characters do not grow from the first time you see them on screen until the last act. This hinders the audience’s ability to develop interest in any of the characters. Scenes essentially bleed into each other almost like a random series of sequences all connected by chance. A good example of this is the sequence that starts with Max confronting a police robot while lining up for a bus. The confrontation ends with a broken wrist which leads to a reunion with Frey (Alice Braga) at the hospital. Frey is his childhood soulmate who has a daughter in the last stages of leukemia. Max’s job on the line is threatened by this detour to the hospital. The fear of losing his factory job leads Max to take a risk at work that causes his illness and ultimately his nothing to lose attitude. Although these events present the shell of the plot, there is very little character development that takes place in any of these moments or any others in the film for that matter.

Visually dazzling in scope, depth and detail, Elysium does have a fair bit that works well. It is a film that will especially appeal to sci-fi fans that are interested in the integration between humans and robots in a future society. However, those looking for a strong story, featuring characters that change and grow, will be disappointed as the film falls short. As a result, it is not a film that I can recommend.

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