Director Neill Blomkamp Talks 'Elysium' and Screens Ten Minutes of the Film

Monday, 08 April 2013 23:04 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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Director Neill Blomkamp Talks 'Elysium' and Screens Ten Minutes of the Film

Debuting exclusively on Yahoo! beginning April 9th at 4:00pm PT is the first official trailer to the new sci-fi epic Elysium, which opens in theaters on August 9th. The film was written and directed by Neill Blomkamp and is a follow-up to his Academy Award-nominated sci-fi masterpiece District 9

In addition to reuniting Blomkamp with his longtime friend and District 9 lead Sharlto Copley, the movie also stars Academy Award-winners Matt Damon (Promised Land), and Jodie Foster (The Silence of the Lambs), as well as Alice Braga (Predetors), Diego Luna (Casa de Mi Padre), and William Fichtner (The Dark Knight). As if Blomkamp didn’t already bring enough sci-fi cred to the project, Elysium was produced by writer Simon Kinberg, who is currently penning X-Men: Days of Future Past, as well as Star Wars Episode VIII and IX along with legendary filmmaker Lawrence Kasdan.

In the afternoon on Monday, I had the opportunity to attend a special event at the Arclight Theater in Hollywood where fans and press alike gathered to be the first to see the new trailer for the film a day before it’s premiere. In attendance were Blomkamp, Copley, and Kinberg, who participated in a brief Q & A after the screening. Also participating in the discussion was the film’s star Matt Damon, via satellite from Berlin, where it was nine o’clock at night and the actor was screening the trailer for a packed crowd of German fans. In addition to the trailer, the actors and filmmakers screened ten never-before-seen minutes of the film, which was essentially a sizzle reel that incorporated the trailer and gave the international audience a better understanding for the scope of the film’s story. 

The movie takes place in the year 2159, where two classes of people exist: the very wealthy, who live on a pristine man-made space station that is disguised as a massive floating city called Elysium, and the rest, who live on an overpopulated, ruined Earth. The footage began by introducing us to Max (Damon), a resident of Earth who has a history of breaking the law. After a run-in with some extra-strong robots, which police the slums of Earth, Max goes to an emergency room to have his broken arm looked at. He has his injury bandaged up by a nurse named Fray (Braga), who he appears to have a past with. Once his arm has been taken care of, Max arrives at his factory job where he is about to be fired for tardiness but begs for one last chance as he is desperate to keep his employment. In order to please his boss, he agrees to take on a dangerous assignment that leaves him sick and with only five days to live, unless he can get to Elysium to find a cure. 

With nowhere else to turn, Max meets with Julio (Luna), an underworld lord who offers him away out. If Max can spaceship-jack an Elysium resident named Carlyle (Fichtner), who is on Earth for business, and download special information that he has, then Julio will offer him away to get to Elysium. However, in order to do that, Max must painfully have a special suit (more like a robotic skeleton) grafted to his body, which will allow him to download Carlyle’s information directly into his brain. It will also give him super-strength like the robots patrolling Earth. In what is truly an awesome scene, we see the spaceship-jacking and Max reach his goal of downloading the information, as well as going toe-to-toe with a few robots. 

But now, Max is the most wanted man on Earth as he holds in his head the very information that could destroy Elysium. Jodie Foster plays the Mayor of the space station, Secretary Jessica Delacourt, who is hell bent on capturing Max and retrieving the stolen data. In order to do that, she enlists Kruger (Copley), a badass black-ops soldier embedded on Earth for just such an emergency. Now, Kruger is on a manhunt after Max, who must get to Elysium before his five days of life are up. The rest of the footage entailed a montage of very cool sci-fi scenes, which teased the film for the American and German audiences. 

I was definitely intrigued by the film before I saw the footage just because I was a big fan of District 9 and wanted to see what Blomkamp would do next. But after the screening, I’m now really excited for the movie and think fans will be very impressed with what the filmmaker has achieved, as well as Copley’s villainous turn, and Damon’s performance, which is unlike anything we’ve seen the actor do before. 

After the presentation, I had a chance to attend a private press conference, along with several other members of the press, and got to hear what Neill Blomkamp had to say about his work on Elysium

The filmmaker began by discussing how the Occupy Wall Street movement and the 99% impacted him and helped inspire his idea for the film. “I think if they're topics that are just on people's minds then those things manifest into reality out of this sort of global consciousness and being aware of those topics,” he explained. “Separate from the 99% discussion and the Occupy Movement, I was thinking about this and the film kind of grew out of that. I remember reading something about Christopher Nolan trying to film some Occupy Movement thing for The Dark Knight series. It was the first time that I realized that I was making a film that actually fit in terms of the global consciousness and fit into CNN sound bites.”

The director also talked about the design of the robotic suit Damon wears in the film, and how the actor was able to perform with it on set. “With product placement I personally wrote emails to companies that I wanted to try get into the film and to try to add realism to the suit. One of my favorite ones is Kawasaki, which is actually on his suit. So the idea was that it was some sort of very low end, almost like a dirt bike, like a motocross kind of version of a strength suit that was born out of research that the military is doing now. I just wanted it to look really grungy, extremely sort of low end and kind of real. So that was the thinking, and he's sick in the film so it makes him stronger, but it doesn't make him Iron Man strong. I'm trying to do it semi-realistically.” 

“Then in the practical application it's actually a surprising amount of engineering that Matt has to do for the range of motions to actually work correctly,” Blomkamp continued. “Sharlto has one later on in the film that is a bit more advanced than what Matt wears in the film. It is a little bit more complex, and had a little bit more power, but they're essentially the same suit,” he revealed.

While on the subject of Copley’s villain, Blomkamp discussed the specific look of Kruger, and how the actor and director’s home country’s history (South Africa), helped inspire the character’s design. “One thing Sharlto tried to do was a few different versions of accents and a few different versions of ‘where does this guy come from?’ There was a war in South Africa in the ‘70s and ‘80s where a lot of the Special Forces guys were truly on their own and it was a really insane way that they operated,” he explained. “The behind the scenes photos of those guys often showed they're wearing these terrible shorts with nothing else and like a beard that's that real long, and they've mass murdered a bunch of people. That served as reference. He tried a bunch of different contacts and he really just picked a dark pair of eyes.”

The director was also asked if the film ever explains how Earth became the way it is and the world’s wealthiest citizens started living on Elysium. “The thinking originally was split because part of me really just likes films that put you in the story and you just have to deal with it,” he explained. “I really like that so there was an even more aggressive version of the film where the intro is almost non-existent. The film just starts and it's like, oh shit, there's a space station, and then you try to keep up with it. I shot some footage that explained the intro a little bit more, but I decided to not use it. So I would say its sort of half way. There is some explanation, but it's definitely not all the time. It kind of just begins.”

Finally, Blomkamp had this to say about any perceived social messages hidden within the film’s intricate plot. “Basically, I think that in the realm of commercial popcorn cinema the amount of message of ideas you can get in there is quite limited. Like if you think you're actually going to make a difference or change the world, you're on pretty dangerous, thin ice.”   

Elysium opens in theaters on August 9th.

To watch our Comic-Con 2012 video interview with Sharlto Copley about Elysium, please click here

To watch the new trailer for Elysium, please click on the video player below.

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