Ely­sium pitch for the new space race

Ely­sium hints at Neill Blomkamp’s ge­nius, writes Jocelyn Noveck

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - PLAY CONTENTS -

OF all the movie vil­lains we’ve met lately, few are stranger than Dela­court, Jodie Foster’s evil, white-blonde, power-suited and power-hun­gry de­fence of­fi­cial in Ely­sium, the much-awaited but some­what dis­ap­point­ing new film from di­rec­tor Neill Blomkamp.

From her com­mand post on a ritzy space sta­tion high up above 22nd-cen­tury Earth, a demi­tasse of espresso at her side, Dela­court doles out or­ders in a for­eign but un­recog­nis­able ac­cent.

‘‘Send them to de­por­ta­tion,’’ she barks, when ‘‘un­doc­u­mented’’ ships breach her bor­ders. ‘‘Get them off this habi­tat.’’ Blomkamp, whose sci-fi parable Dis­trict 9 came out of nowhere four years ago to earn a best-pic­ture Os­car nod, is crys­tal clear in his in­ten­tions here.

He’s mak­ing ob­vi­ous state­ments about im­mi­gra­tion and univer­sal health care, and whether the fre­quent ref­er­ences bother you or not will greatly in­flu­ence how much you en­joy the film.

One thing you can’t deny, though, is its vis­ual beauty, and, as in Dis­trict 9, his mas­ter­ful use of spe­cial ef­fects. It’s not for noth­ing that Blomkamp, at the ten­der age of 33, has been called a vi­sion­ary artist of the genre.

His Ely­sium – that space sta­tion in the sky – is an enor­mous wheel, on the rim of which its wealthy res­i­dents, hav­ing left the teem­ing and pol­luted Earth, in­habit pris­tine white homes with bright green man­i­cured lawns.

Bril­liant sun­light dap­ples the blue wa­ters of their swim­ming pools. Clas­si­cal mu­sic and clink­ing glasses echo in the back­ground. For some rea­son, peo­ple seem to speak French.

Most im­por­tantly, Ely­sium’s in­hab­i­tants are eter­nally healthy, be­cause each home holds a ‘‘heal­ing bay’’, which looks like a tanning ma­chine, ex­cept it cures all ill­ness.

Down on Earth, things are dif­fer­ent. Los An­ge­les in 2154 is grimy, gritty and poor, with min­i­mal med­i­cal care. Chil­dren look long­ingly to the sky, dream­ing of Ely­sium.

In a flash­back, Max, a young boy in an or­phan­age, prom­ises a young girl named Frey that one day, they’ll go there to­gether.

Frey grows up to be a nurse; Max, a car thief. But Max – por­trayed by an earnest, com­mit­ted and per­haps overly grim Matt Da­mon – has re­formed him­self when, one day, at the hands of a heart­less boss, he’s ex­posed to a lethal dose of ra­di­a­tion in the fac­tory where he works. Within five days, he will die.

To get to Ely­sium and save his life, Max makes a deal with an un­der­ground rev­o­lu­tion­ary (Wag­ner Moura) who runs il­le­gal shut­tles. All Max needs to do is kid­nap the evil bil­lion­aire who runs the fac­tory (a creepy Wil­liam Ficht­ner) and ex­port data from his brain. He gets the data but up in the sky, Dela­court, des­per­ate for the in­for­ma­tion now in Max’s brain, has ac­ti­vated an agent on the ground.

Sud­denly Max is be­ing hunted by the vi­cious Kruger, a char­ac­ter so over-the-top he takes over the film. It’s fun to watch the manic Sharlto Co­p­ley, who played the hunted man in Dis­trict 9, now play the hunter.

‘‘Did you think you could get through ME?’’ he crows, in a heavy South African ac­cent. Even­tu­ally, Max will make it to Ely­sium, and so will the beau­ti­ful Frey (Alice Braga), with the crit­i­cally ill daugh­ter she’s des­per­ate to save.

There, de­spite the smart ac­tion scenes, the movie lets us down a bit with a re­liance on the ac­tion-hero for­mula and some pretty lame dia­logue.

As for Foster, what could have been an in­ter­est­ing char­ac­ter never re­ally gels into any­thing but an odd­ity.

But Blomkamp is tal­ented enough that it doesn’t mat­ter too much. If Ely­sium doesn’t nearly live up to Dis­trict 9, it shows enough panache to leave us wait­ing en­thu­si­as­ti­cally for his next ef­fort.

Ely­sium opens to­day.

Matt Da­mon (cen­tre) in a scene from Ely­sium, which also stars Jodie Foster (be­low)

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