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Elysium (2013)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 12/17/2013

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 12/23/2013

I believe I've mentioned in the past that I've been giving my daughters an education in film by showing them some of my favorite movies, both classics and new favorites. One of our more recent entries was Escape from New York. (Reviews were mixed, but both sat through the whole thing with no complaining, which is the same as a "Thumbs Up".) We often watch or discuss parodies of movies in this series, and I explained that I couldn't think of any parodies of Escape from New York, but along with Mad Max, the film did ignite a series of imitators which offered anti-heroes in a dystopian future setting. (2019: After the Fall of New York or 1990: The Bronx Warriors, anyone?) Personally, I thought that this trend died out long ago, but Elysium showed me that it's alive and well.

Elysium is set in the year 2154 and opens in Los Angeles, a desolate place filled with over-crowded slums. Max (Matt Damon) lives here and works in a factory which makes robots. He is a reformed car thief and tries to lead a clean life. Max is involved in an accident at work in which he is exposed to a lethal amount of radiation. He is "treated" by the company doctor and told that he has five days to live. Max approaches local crime-lord and hacker Spider (Wagner Moura) and asks for assistance in booking passage to Elysium, a space-station which orbits the Earth. Elysium is home to the wealthy who have abandoned the polluted Earth and the facility houses medical technology which could cure Max. Elysium's security is overseen by the power-hungry Delacourt (Jodie Foster), who has set her sights on taking over the station. Max and Spider come to an agreement, which involves Max stealing computer data. This heist draws the attention of Kruger (Sharlto Copley), Delacourt's Earth-bound assassin, and thus a race to reach Elysium begins.

Elysium comes from Writer/Director Neil Blomkamp, who wowed certain audiences in 2009 with District 9. While I found the special effects in that film to be impressive, I thought that there were problems with both the story and the direction. Well, Blomkamp proves to be a consistent director with Elysium. Again, the visual effects here are top-notch and Blomkamp shows that he really has an eye for placing things like spaceships in very realistic and natural looking environments. Also, he continues to struggle as a storyteller.

Elysium is such a messed-up jumble of ideas that it's difficult to find a starting point for critiquing the script. The above synopsis may appear to make some sense, but that's only because I made an attempt to string things together, something Blomkamp does not try to do. I admire a film which hits the ground running, but Blomkamp has no interest whatsoever in establishing any sort of background to his story and he assumes that the audience will simply go along for the ride. When was Elysium built and by whom? How can it be in space and have no roof? How did Los Angeles become a wasteland? Is the robot factory the only job in town? What made Max end his life of crime? How did Delacourt get her position and has she been turned down for a promotion in the past? And the big one -- why aren't their any med beds on Earth? These questions and many others will cross your mind as you watch the film and try to make sense of all of it. The story is in no way complex, but it feels very, very lazy as things simply happen and we are meant to take them all at face value.

The story also never gels. Blomkamp is throwing all kinds of ideas at us, but they don't all seem to be in the same movie. The bulk of the story takes place on Earth and focuses on Max. It's nice that there are some scenes set on Elysium, so that we get an idea of what life is like there, but the who Delacourt storyline feels tacked on and unnecessary. Spider could have wanted to steal the data without the side-plot of Delacourt's attempt to seize control. Sure, it's great to see Jodie Foster in front of the camera, but her character is so pointless that it's almost embarrassing to see the Oscar winner involved in this. As for Maxís story, itís a bit jumbled as well. Iím still not 100% sure why he needed the exo-skeleton, save for the fact that someone probably thought that it was cool looking. This is all capped off by somewhat of a bummer ending.

The worst part about Elysium is that it never feels special. Take away the familiar faces and youíve got just another Syfy movie of the week. Along with the aforementioned Escape from New York, the movie also borrows liberally from Blade Runner, Johnny Mnemonic, and Total Recall. I kept waiting for something to happen to justify the filmís release as a summer blockbuster, but it never did. As with District 9, Elysium obviously carries some heavy political messages (the most timely of which has to do with access to medical care for all), but Blomkamp needs to back off of the politics and actually learn how to tell an original and coherent story.

Elysium made me wonder why people in 2154 were still using laptops on DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source material. The lack of distracting grain is a true plus, as many scenes take plus in bright, beige conditions, which can be very grain-prone. The colors look good and the image is never overly dark or bright. For a DVD, the level of detail is good, but a few shots are notably soft. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. For a track which isnít lossless, the audio is pretty good here. The subwoofer effects during the action sequences are palpable and help to bring the film to life. The stereo effects are nicely done, and the surround action isnít simply mimicking the audio coming from the front channels.

The Elysium DVD contains only two extra features. "Collaboration: Crafting the Performances in Elysium" (13 minutes) examines the casting of the film. Blomkamp talks about the characters and his approach to casting. We also hear from Damon, Foster, and Copley who talk about their characters, how they got involved, and their experiences working on the film. "Engineering Utopia: Creating a Society in the Sky" (12 minutes) examines the design of the space station through interviews with Blomkamp and artist Syd Mead. We see a great deal of concept art here as the two talk about the inspirations and the look of Elysium.

Review Copyright 2013 by Mike Long