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Release Date: Aug. 8, 2013
Reviewed: Aug. 12, 2013, 1:06 a.m.
Elysium image Space Oddity
Get Lasik.
“The future will be better tomorrow.” –Dan Quayle
By: Christian Treubig
Elysium image
“Shoot, I think that’s Kevin Smith over there. Did you invite him?”

The United States has quite a spotty history in the realm of race relations, with our proud white folk making quite the habit out of enslaving virtually anyone tanner than John Turturro. However, throughout the twentieth century, America underwent the greatest exercise in racial assimilation ever witnessed, and this assimilation has directly tracked the rise of a dominant American culture that is globally dispersed like none other in human history. There’s a reason that 99% of blockbuster movies are American/mostly American-made. It’s a nation of people from crazily different backgrounds coming together to create even crazier new ideas, whether it be jazz, an iPad, or Conversely, the former cultural/intellectual center of the universe, Europe, has been rendered irrelevant by centuries of in-breeding. There ain’t no one else in Bulgaria besides Bulgarians. And it won’t be getting better anytime soon for the Euro-trash either, as they’ve built up social welfare states (now collapsing) that are implicitly only for whites. They don’t tolerate immigration (usually composed of poor non-whites) and there’s no way blonde Swedes are gonna give up a vacation day to pay for a pregnant black woman’s maternal suite.

South Africa, with District 9 and Elysium writer/director Neill Blomkamp as its spearhead, is now poised to become a global cultural superpower, at least at some point this century. They have all the ingredients to mimic the rise of Americanism in the twentieth century. A half millenia of limited warfare between European whites, native blacks, and every other race under the sun hopefully reached its cathartic end with the abolition of apartheid in the 1990’s. As long as they can just keep it together (iffy), the energy produced by racial tensions, formerly channeled into hatred and murder, could instead manifest into a wildly creative and original society. It’s how it happened in America… centuries of slavery and institutional oppression of non-honkies, followed by wild cultural shifts in the 1960’s that removed political barriers to equality, culminating with an insanely progressive culture that now produces world’s best and brightest white rappers. We should all get onboard the South African cultural bandwagon because, as you’ll witness in Elysium, they may have the English-speaking world’s coolest accent, beating out Irish, London cockney, and Southern belle with ease.

Elysium succeeds where many sci-fi epics, or epics in general, fail. It gives you a sense of massive scale and scope, both in story and setting, but does it with all of the fat appropriately trimmed. It has all of the familiar ingredients: sweeping vista shots, a triumphant musical score, and outlandish characters; but every one of these elements is employed at the right place, right time, and with purpose. Somehow, Elysium clocks in at under two hours; there’s a ton of stuff packed into that short timeframe, and it seems that absolutely nothing was left out. I would have gladly paid more than the ten dollar entry fee, but my wife would be furious if I exceeded my entertainment budget and shower time allotment in the same week, the latter of which was unavoidable given that I’ve been conducting interviews to fill my boss’ vacant receptionist position since Monday morning.

Elysium demands your engagement; as much as any sci-fi movie ever made, it feels like the middle entry in a trilogy, including ones that actually are #2 out of 3. It’s a decidedly one-off affair, but the characters are so convincing and of the world they inhabit that you’ll immediately grasp them intellectually, freeing your mind to float back and forth in time to wonder how things ended up like this and where they are going.

The basics are pretty basic; in the twenty-first century, Earth’s environment and civilization crumbled, prompting the wealthy to flee to an exorbitant, gargantuan space station, Elysium, which looks down upon the unfortunate Earth-dwellers with mocking pity. Now, in the twenty-second century, things on Earth are the standard dystopian fare. The entirety of the built environment is a Rio favela times ten; there’s scores and scores of poor people running around in dirt all day, just being poor. The over-the-top nature of how bad things are on Earth is a weaker point in the film; there’s just no way people could tolerate living the way it’s portrayed without descending into all-out anarchy, which doesn’t occur. On Elysium, it’s nothing but tropical mansions lining perfectly manicured parks, inhabited by immortal citizens in perfect health and beauty.

The most fascinating point of Elysium is the mannerisms of the eponymous space station’s residents. While it’s obviously all-out dystopia on Earth, there appears to have formed an equally omnipresent dystopia on Elysium, buried just under the glossy, luxurious surface. On Earth, the entirety of one’s waking hours is dedicated to survival, thus there is no time for cultural pursuits. However, it’s the same situation on Elysium. Though their survival is guaranteed, the citizens don’t appear to do anything on a day to day basis, other than revel in their wealthy surroundings. This point is not directly addressed, but the Elysians appear to have lost a sense of higher purpose. A higher purpose is only sought after when one possesses existential anxiety; the Elysians have no such anxiety, since eternal comfort is ostensibly guaranteed.

There is evidence that Blomkamp was going for at least something resembling the bullshyte you just read. The two main Elysian characters, portrayed by Jodie Foster and William Fichtner, are completely new constructs. They don’t exist in the 2013 world, or in any other movie. To the point of the non-existent culture, their characters, while presumably highly intelligent and thus able to command positions of immense power, are completely lacking refinement when communicating with other human beings. It’s not a lack of etiquette, but something different. It’s as if the concept of society doesn’t exist to them. They have nothing but their most base instincts guiding their every decision, as there is no true Elysian culture on which their minds could have fed upon to help form subtler emotions and ideas. If Elysium was a proper civilization, then these characters would possess a more thoughtful and complex problem-solving approach. Thus, both Earth and Elysium have effectively slid down opposite sides of the same full circle, arriving back at a primitive state, with one group hopelessly impoverished and the other hopelessly wealthy.

Elysium may be the most effective work of Matt Damon’s career. You’ll not only forget that it’s him, but you’ll forget that you’re watching a movie star period, as he underplays his part to perfection. The true star is the universe being presented to us; Damon never attempts to siphon off the limelight from Blomkamp’s vision. On paper, Damon plays an archetypal action-adventure protagonist, Max, an anonymous Earth-dweller who is presented with an opportunity to infiltrate Elysium and restore a more equitable balance of wealth among the human race. It’s a mission that he embarks upon with great reluctance, though he really has no choice in the matter. However, it’s not Die Hard, where every action and thought of every character revolves around the hero. There are plenty of compelling characters throughout Elysium, and they are given equal billing in terms of their significance to the story, with each implicitly possessing their own intriguing past.

Unfortunately, Elysium fails where District 9 wildly succeeded, that is, in its social commentary. While D9 was about as effective an exposé on apartheid as any non-fiction work, Elysium is wrought with juvenile complaints about various injustices in the world, namely wealth inequality in general, but particularly access to healthcare. It never actually delves into these issues at all; the main thrust is simply that the rich have a bunch of nice stuff up there, and we’re gonna go get some. It’s therefore best to simply ignore these parts of the story when they’re getting shoved in your face, else it could detract from an otherwise amazing experience. However, these social issues are interwoven into a questionable ending, so it’ll leave you with a very strong feeling that this could have been a much better movie had the preachy parts simply been removed.

District 9 was a spectacular debut for Neill Blomkamp, and Elysium is an equally spectacular mega-budget debut. However, it doesn’t close the deal. His next film must marry the biting social commentary of D9 with the epic scope of Elysium. At that point, we can put him on the all-time sci-fi Mount Rushmore, alongside George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Randy Quaid.

SCORE (Out of 10):
Get Lasik.
Universal healthcare = Healthcare for the whole universe?
By: Steve Loori
Elysium image
I’m Barack Obama, and I approve this message.

Let me start by saying that I have always been a fan of Matt Damon. Good Will Hunting, Dogma, and The Departed made him a top actor in my mind, and his work on 30 Rock solidified that viewpoint. And I have not even mentioned the Ocean’s trilogy. So upon seeing We Bought a Zoo about a year and a half ago, I found myself a little confused. The movie itself was fine – it was a mid-grade emotional drama with animals as supporting characters. But Matt Damon, Hollywood hunk extraordinaire, was playing a washed-up father, beaten down by life and sporting a gelatinous bodily figure. He had let himself go. Somehow, Matt Damon had gone from this to this. Now, some will argue that he had gained weight for The Informant! and never quite trimmed the edges back down, but I have never seen The Informant! because I have a slew of no-good friends. Alas, that is a story for another time. More to the point, Damon has it goin’ on in Elysium. The man is cut up like a jack-o-lantern. It is a very impressive body to begin with, but when you factor in his recent bodily fashion it makes it nearly unfathomable. So what effect could Damon’s physique have on this summer blockbuster? To be frank, Damon’s impressive, age-defying bod is able to catapult an average sci-fi film into the realm of slightly more visually entertaining, average sci-fi films.

Elysium is set in 2154 in Los Angeles, California. As the movie opens, we learn that Earth was ravaged by disease at the end of the 21st century, and is now left as a dismal, still slightly operational wasteland. Above the Earth, clearly looking down at these second-rate citizens, lies Elysium – a highly developed spaceship that works as a colony for all of the super-rich people that had the means to afford the unbelievably expensive escape from their lowly Earthy brethren. We also learn that these inhabitants of Elysium “live forever”, though their actual life expectancies are never truly explored. The way this is justified is by showing that the affluent folk high above the world have healing beds in their homes, which allow all Earthly defects to be completely and totally fixed in a matter of seconds. From a face being blown off to some degenerative knees, these beds are unbelievably useful – but only for those who have the monetary funds to utilize them. Because of these healing beds and the much better way of life on Elysium, people down below who are fighting to survive in the hellish prison of Los Angeles each day are willing to give everything for the chance to try to sneak onto the colony on spaceships, though there is clearly an incredibly low success rate in penetrating this highfalutin lifestyle. Due to the extremely dirty nature of these discreet shuttles, they are run by the scum crimelords of the area. This is where Matt Damon’s character Max gets mixed up in the events of Elysium.

Max is a former thief turned law-abiding citizen, trying to save up his pennies to achieve his lifelong dream of reaching Elysium. He wants to do it the legitimate way though, without the crappy shuttle. Unfortunately, his dream turns into an urgent necessity after an “accident” (due to the expendability of the average, poor worker, Max is forced into a bad situation) at the robot production factory, Max gets radiation poisoning and only has a few days to live. This sends Max on a journey that brings him to the depths of Earthy scum and the heights of the stars, trying to get himself to one of those big healing beds in the sky.

Elysium goes very much out of its way to show the juxtaposition of the poor and the rich. Of course, the rich have everything and the poor have nothing, with class mobility a mere unrealistic dream for the citizens of Earth. It gets to be rather preachy when you consider the current fight for universal health care in this nation. I get it; everyone deserves the opportunity for the same benefits. What I don’t need is an advertisement for health care disguised in a Matt Damon sci-fi epic. It is the same preachy attitude that dismayed viewers from enjoying Wall-E, as I found myself finding striking similarities between the two movies, even though they were incredibly different. If the producers felt the need to show us what is wrong with the health care system, I think a simple documentary on the corruption within the current industry would have been plenty sufficient – there is an abundance of dirt to dig up on health care providers. Luckily, there was more to the movie than just its notion that I should feel bad for myself since I pay for my own health care.

On Elysium, there is a governing body headed up by a president and a board. Most notably, Jodie Foster plays the Secretary of Defense, who presides over that board of governors and deals with day-to-day operations with the citizens of Elysium, while trying to move up the ranks through back-alley programming deals since everything is now completely computer based. For some reason, Jodie Foster is still a big draw, even though I think a few of us saw Contact. It’s as though Silence of the Lambs gave Jodie Foster a permanent “mail it in” card that she uses on any big-budget film she appears in (which is thankfully increasingly rare). The dubbing of her lines were off kilter throughout the entire movie. A knee-jerk reaction would leave the sound editor to blame for this glaring error, but it cannot be. Her live acting and later re-recorded vocal acting did not measure up, as she has an accent which she must not have been able to pull off during initial filming. That can be the only true explanation, as her accent is terrible and there is a clear timing issue that only exists with her character. It is frustrating to watch.

As I said earlier, the Secretary of Defense makes some back alley deals in order to move up. One of these is with a crazy, discharged army officer named Kruger, who is played by Sharlto Copley. Now, I remember being unimpressed by Copley in The A-Team, which made sense because I was unimpressed with that entire garbage product. But Copley shines in Elysium, demonstrating a clear insanity combined with intensity at a high level consistently, which could not have been easy. Kruger is an intriguing character, and you’ll wish you had more on his backstory while you’re watching Elysium, though an unexplained psyche adds to the thought provocation of his character.

Despite my negative vibe to this review, Elysium was not all bad. It looked sharp, and had pretty cool shootouts and action sequences when they came. The Elysium colony itself was very nice to look at, with strong computer visuals bringing the space station to life. Elysium also had an interesting story buried beneath the pamphlet directing Americans to support universal health care. Unfortunately, I could not get past the grossly liberal political overtones, as they made the movie significantly less enjoyable.

Matt Damon is back to normal as a studly movie star (Paul Rudd hit the nail on the head). Jodie Foster needs to stop acting (Hinckley had it backwards). The main characters of Elysium were likeable and interesting, but the secondary characters left a lot to be desired. There was an attempt at romance that simply did not fit, and had too much circumstantial timing (What are you doing back in town? I haven’t seen you in years! I have five days left to live! You need to go to Elysium too?!). I wanted better, I expected better, and I received mediocre.

SCORE (Out of 10):