Elysium is supposed to be paradise but somehow this movie falls far short of that into some sort of viewing purgatory of almost - but not quite, good effort - but far from the mark. On a sunny California paradise-like day I met with students from the Film Literature class to watch and discuss Blomkamp’s latest movie. Afterwards we sat and had a discussion where we rated the movie and talked about what we liked and disliked. The rating of 7ish seemed to be the general consensus, which in grade terms is a C average. How did this happen and what kept us from giving it a 10 was our next talking point.
One student felt the pacing was off, which I found to be a valid point and said one remedy to this would have been to start the film from the point where Matt Damon (Max) ends up in the dilemma of risking his life or his job to remedy a minor assembly line problem. From this point on we are on the journey with him and care about his mission. The hero’s background story could have been and actually was unfolded during his struggle.
As a matter-of-fact, the background story was a point of contention on many levels; the first was its slow paced clichéd intro. followed by flashbacks of the slow paced intro and ending with flashbacks of the slow paced intro. It almost felt like there wasn’t quite enough material to honestly tell a well-woven story. It seems as if writer/director Blomkamp had an idea and began dressing it too quickly. In addition to a thin storyline, the sci-fi features of the film were also near misses. We end up with slow motion droid fighting scenes (there’s nothing like slow motion robot fighting scenes to make you appreciate cage fighting), and fight scenes where the camera doesn’t allow the viewer to enjoy good fight choreography.
Actually the dilemma that Max finds himself in at work seemed quite implausible as well because with droids taking the place of parole officers and police officers it definitely seems like assembly line work would have been a natural place to use a machine to conduct repetitive and potentially dangerous work... it is small details that were glossed over that were troublesome if you think too much about the events in the film. The writer could have offered some sort of explanation by means of a conversation about productivity and cost efficiency where paying slave wages was easier than investing in machines that could do the job better but would cost more than the owner was willing to pay. As a matter of fact productivity and losing money was briefly presented but it didn’t feel like a genuine concern.
That seems to be the problem all the way around. The characters are one-dimensional. The villains seem like cartoon villains a la Pinky and the Brain order. There is bad and worse and the audience is not given a solid reason as to the point of their evil machinations except for brain malfunctions that drive them to be greedy for more and more power. There was no chemistry between the love interest Frey (Alice Braga) and the hero Max. The most fascinating characters were the bounty hunter and the gangsters.
O.k. I could go on and on about the writing, especially what (Jodie Foster) was given to work with, but I want to get to Elysium. This had to be one of the most boring places. Everything is white and pristine, devoid of color or true joy. The only reason to want to be there is for the machine that cures all of your ills.
Bottom line is that Blomkamp created some interesting social commentary, but not an interesting story. Los Angeles is all Hispanic and the primary language seems to be Spanish. There is also other commentary about socializing medicine and the heartlessness which seems to be inherent in social and economic class struggles. Because the story is thin the messages this allegory offers seem to be heavy-handed. District 9 addressed issues in a much more entertaining and dynamic way. If you haven’t seen District 9 that is the Blomkamp movie you should see.
Entertainment: C Social Commentary: B