The sophomore slump is any filmmaker’s greatest fear. The debut is a smash hit, maybe even a massive award winner, and then an incalculable and unrealistic level of anticipation amounts from all the whispers and speculation about the follow-up project, then, suddenly, come release day it’s a major disappointment. John Singleton (Boyz N’ the Hood) is the first filmmaker who comes to find who suffered irreversibly from the sophomore slump. Best Director nomination first time out, and his best movie since has been Four Brothers. On the other end of the spectrum, you have Sam Mendes who won the Oscar for Best Director with his debut, American Beauty, and has since directed a stellar crime drama – Road to Perdition – and the most successful James Bond film to date – last November’s Skyfall. Some directors stay happily within their genre of choice, for example Guy Ritchie’s sophomore effort was the classic, Snatch, which was a revamp of his nearly identical debut, Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, and his next best film was the stylized RocknRolla, which focused on another interconnected group of London criminals. Regardless of how any director has played it, follow-up films can make or break a career, nobody remembers a one hit wonder (Michael Cimino anybody?)
Why this entire preface? Well, because a new breakout filmmaker is making a big screen return with his second full-length feature. Neill Blomkamp, director of the 2009 sci-fi film District 9, has taken his methodical time over the last four years to craft his bigger, louder, more socially conscious, and possibly more ambitious follow-up, Elysium. Starring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster, the title refers to a space station constructed just off of Earth, suspended in its orbit but almost wholly different than the world we all presently call home. The rich live on Elysium. No disease, no poverty, no violence, no harm of any kind. It’s a utopia made for those who can afford to live there. The rest of humanity – or what’s left of it – rots on planet Earth, a nearly destroyed mess of a world filled with menace, destruction, and death. It’s as if the entire planet was Camden, New Jersey (in actuality, Mexico City served as the location for the film’s shoot, followed by a great deal of post-production CGI). Matt Damon plays a dying man who crafts a plan that will get him from Earth to Elysium, and along the way he encounters the forces working for Jessica Delacourt (Foster), Elysium’s mayor, who is heavily enforcing anti-immigration laws, even if she has to maintain them through violent means. Sharlto Copley and William Fichtner round out the cast.
Due in theaters August 9th, Sony Pictures has released the first trailer which gives us a look at the world of Elysium – and 2154 Earth – plus glimpses of that world’s technological advances, the action that will unfold over the course of the film, and that creepy exoskeleton thing that Damon is wearing.
Watch the trailer and see my reaction below:
Bourne Again: Matt Damon is an excellent actor with a diverse range and a charming presence in real life. He’s come a long way from Southie Boston, MA, and in the sixteen years since Good Will Hunting, the forty-two year old has made his mark in the action genre as well as the dramatic field. He brought Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne to life in the Bourne trilogy, which gained him worldwide stardom, but other than Paul Greengrass’ forgettable Green Zone, it’s been many years since Damon has kicked any kind of ass on screen. Elysium seems primed on fixing that. This is Damon’s first foray into science fiction, but that seems to be making it all the better. Blomkamp likes to fuse drama and action together, as District 9 so wonderfully displayed, and I think that Max Da Costa is going to be a fantastically complex character with enough dramatic substance for the Oscar-nominated Damon to sink his teeth into and enough action to fill the void that Damon opened after handing the Bourne franchise over to Jeremy Renner. Though Damon ripping the head off a robot soldier might be the trailer’s most questionable shot selection, you can’t deny that Damon firing heavy-duty firearms with explosive rounds and futuristic laser weapons isn’t enticing! Also, that mechanical suit he’s got laser-glued to his body reminds me of Bruce Wayne’s metal body cast in the comic Kingdom Come – aka. it’s pretty badass.
Remaining Topical: Science fiction, like horror, is a tough genre to nail. When done right, you’re all but guaranteed an instant classic, but when done wrong, you get something like…The Island. Not a terrible movie by any means – Michael Bay always delivers great FX channel, commercial-heavy, summer afternoon nap movies – but hardly groundbreaking. The science fiction classics always have a topical nature about them; they are set in different universes or in parallel/futuristic time periods but deal with present day issues. They seem to contemplate this frightening potentiality that the problems of today will continue through tomorrow and all of the tomorrows after that. Metropolis, Blade Runner, any book written by Ray Bradbury, even Blomkamp’s own District 9 all deal with problems that ring true today, or rang true at the time – in the case of Bradbury, the guy nearly predicted every technological innovation of the current age a good half century before, do yourself a favor and pick up Fahrenheit 451 if you haven’t read it already. Elysium is covering some very topical ground with its depiction of the have’s and have not’s. The 1% live on Elysium while the 99% destroy each other on Earth. This isn’t to say that Blomkamp’s allegories aren’t in your face, District 9 didn’t make its apartheid undertones subtle by any means and Elysium drives in its point over the course of the above two minutes and thirteen seconds, but this isn’t preachy science fiction. This isn’t a didactic, ‘let’s change the world!’ rally. This is a film; a science fiction actioner made for the cultural mindset of 2013 with a commentary on immigration as the kicker! Talk about a high hand Blomkamp is playing on this one.
Is this Blomkamp’s reel for Halo?: Visual splendor aside – this movie looks phenomenal, and this is what happens when your first $30 million movie is a box office hit and a Best Picture nominee: you get to work with $90 million the next go-around. I want to direct you all to one very specific frame in this trailer. Go to :30 and look at that frame for a few seconds. Some of you will see it instantly, for those of you who don’t, which classic video game from Generation Y’s youth does that clip remind you of? Halo is the correct answer. That jaw-dropping second level of the original Bungie classic, Halo, took place on the surface of the alien megastructure, Halo, which, when you pulled the right joystick back to look upward, you could see the other side of the Halo ring up in the sky. Is that subjective glimpse across space, seeing the other end of the Halo, not the same as that frame at :30? I’m not saying that this is subliminal on Blomkamp’s part, but could this be Blomkamp’s attempt at nudging the powers-that-be to tackle the Halo property for filmic purposes? In a recent post by Drew McWeeny over at Hitfix.com, he discussed the opportunity that he and other film journalists had to speak to Blomkamp after the first unveiling of Elysium footage and a question came up about Blomkamp tackling non-original property. He addressed the question maturely, but then pointed out specifically that if he were ever given control of the Halo universe, he would love to make the game into a movie. I’ve been saying for a long time that Blomkamp was the perfect fit for the Halo movie (rather than Peter Jackson who was attached to the adaptation for a number of years), as well as a new Star Wars movie if Abrams bails after Episode VII. Here’s to hoping that what we see at :30 eventually becomes a piece of the future Halo movie.
With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility: Thank you, Uncle Ben, for teaching us all a very valuable lesson. When you have the ability to make or do something great, you must embrace the accountability you create for yourself to uphold public expectation. Not to compare Neill Blomkamp to Spiderman, but referring back to the idea of the sophomore slump, Blomkamp is nearing a pivotal moment in his blossoming film career. This is the moment where Danny Boyle made Trainspotting and Darren Aronofsky made Requiem for a Dream, the Coen’s made Raising Arizona and Anderson made Boogie Nights, Tarantino made Pulp Fiction and Spielberg made Jaws. If the filmmaker can hurdle over the hype and continue the jaunt all the way to the finish line, he’s primed to sit right alongside those filmmakers with Elysium besting his magnificent District 9. In that same article posted by McWeeny, Blomkamp says that his favorite movie is Aliens. James Cameron’s Aliens is the sequel to Ridley Scott’s Alien, and Scott followed Alien with Blade Runner. Could Elysium be Neill Blomkamp’s Blade Runner?
Is Elysium worth the luxury? The extravagant trailer, the hype, the price of admission? For those of you who liked, or disliked, District 9, where do you stand on Blomkamp’s highly anticipated follow-up? Am I playing a ridiculous game of six degrees of separation linking Elysium to Scott’s Blade Runner? And, what do you think of Sharlto Copley’s (star of District 9) appearance as the dastardly Kruger, one of the film’s major villains? He’s only seen briefly and there’s one screenshot floating around the Internet of him in character, but word is they aren’t showing any footage of Kruger speaking until the film is released because of Copley’s accent he invented just for the character. And speaking of voices, is that William Fichtner playing a robot? That cadence is…oddly…robotic…
Article by Mike Murphy