Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Cinematic Anticipation: Piecing Together Neill Blomkamp's Enigmatic "Elysium"

It's been a long time since I updated the Constellation of Cinematic Anticipation. Why is that? Well, we are looking quite far ahead, and with today's instalment being just under a year from release, I would say that frequent new additions are not too urgent. That does not mean that the current film, Elysium, is less important. In fact, Neill Blomkamp's follow up to 2009's awesome (and SA-set) District 9 is one of the best entries of all. Hit the jump to see what's happened so far on this exciting and enigmatic project, and for some fun speculation on where it's headed.

1. It all started with The Hobbit...

Back in June 2010, when The Hobbit movie was floundering in its own development hell, Neill Blomkamp was rumoured to be attached to that film (no doubt by virtue of his connection to Sir Peter Jackson). Needless to say, that rumour was false, but as Hans Landa would say, quite revealing. In debunking the story, Vulture reported that Blomkamp was instead working on a new sci-fi film that he wrote called Elysium. And there it was, less than 12 months after District 9, Blomkamp's next project was on the map. At this stage only two clues were revealed: the film is set (1) on another planet, and (2) in the distant future.

2. It just might have something to do with this creature...

Things went a little quiet after the big reveal. That is, until the end of November 2010, when the iPad edition of Wired Magazine unveiled the following video made by Neill Blomkamp. The web was instantly abuzz, and to this day nobody knows exactly what the hell it's for.

So, what is it? And does it have anything to do with Elysium? Most people seem to accept that it must have something to do with Elysium, but I don't think that is necessarily the case. You never know though, and a little later I will speculate as to its possible meaning. All I will say for now is that it is damn disgusting, clearly the result of some form of animal testing, and it crawled from that factory-type place on the horizon.

3. Sharlto Copley was first on board, and big names followed...

Soon after the pig-lizard viral video, Deadline reported that Sharlto Copley had joined Elysium. Not surprising (considering they have been mates since before District 9), but excellent news nevertheless. Not much time passed, and then we heard that Matt Damon had joined as well (he is playing an ex-con), followed closely by Jodie Foster (who apparently plays the leader of an alien planet). Wow, quite a cast!

Incidentally, Sharlto Copley is in another upcoming sci-fi movie called The Europa Report, which looks interesting too. Click here for a first look.

4. Pitching Elysium to the Studios...

After the big name cast members were assembled, Blomkamp and Media Rights Capital (the original funders of the film) began shopping Elysium to various studios. With that, of course, came some interesting new information, including that the film is set 100 years in the future, is an "unabashedly big movie" and contains similar social allegories to District 9. Sony Pictures quickly snapped up the movie for a reported $120 million. That is pretty damn big!

5. Syd Mead will lend his vision...

One of the most legendary sci-fi production designers of all time is Syd Mead. He did Blade Runner, and because Neil Blomkamp is so awesome, signed up for Elysium. He does not do a lot of movies anymore, so this should tell you something about the film.

6. Pre Production Begins...

In March 2011, with the money in place, Elysium could steam ahead. The first order or business? Finishing off the casting process. The rest of the cast is awesome, and mostly of Latin American origin. Could that mean anything? Included are Wagner Moura (Elite Squad) as the villain, William Fichtner, Alice Braga and Diego Luna (pictured below). At this stage, the release date was set as well, for 1 March 2013. Damn, that is a long time in advance, which should also tell us something.

7. Filming...

Filming kicked off in the second half of 2011 and, according to Twitch, actually wrapped at the end of the year. So, filming is complete with more than a year to go before release! This means one thing: plenty post production and mucho special effects. I like that. The filming locations are of particular interest to my wild speculations which conclude this post. Parts were filmed in Canada (Vancouver and British Columbia) and the rest in Mexico City, Mexico. More on that later.

With filming on the go, plenty set photos were released, including the following pics of Matt Damon looking rather stressed and "wearing" a sort of mechanical device.

And then there were these pretty cool pics taken while filming in Mexico City. They involve Matt Damon again, a crashed space ship, plenty carnage and futuristic soldiers. There is also a modified bus which hints that at least part of the movie will be set in future LA.

(Photos via Collider and Sci-Fi Movie Hype) One conclusion that could probably be drawn from the pics above is that the "mech suit" photos were likely taken during rehearsals or the filming of test footage. The crane in the background tells me that, and the incredible setting of the other pictures seem to confirm it. Maybe Matt Damon needed to get used to his device.

8. Viral Marketing...

Comic Con 2011 (which was a massive launch pad for District 9) saw the release of the first little bit of viral marketing for Elysium. It came in the form of a poster linking you to the website www.armadyne.net. If you go to that website, you will find a video advertisement, clearly set in the future, which talks about a company called Armadyne, and reveals that Armadyne is "building a better world", "a monumental vision of the future", "the most ambitious project ever undertaken by mankind"; and to do this is seeking experienced individuals in various fields, including:
  • Zero G Welders;
  • Mega Structure Engineers;
  • Quantum Networkers;
  • experts in Zero G Coupling;
  • experts in Multi-Generational Planning;
9. People have spoken, but details remain sparse...

One thing you should be able to conclude about Elysium at this point is that details are, to say the very least, few and far between. However, interviews have been conducted, and people have said some stuff which may provide clues as to the direction Blomkamp is taking here...

"I can’t tell you about the content of Elysium but I can tell you, it won’t really be… it’s a very different movie than anything you’ve ever seen before. It’s not necessarily an alien movie. He set himself up, because [District 9] was one of the greatest first films any director’s ever made. I’m hoping that this movie has an opportunity to be even better. He was very young when he directed that movie, he was like 26 or 27. He’s only 31 now. He’s learned as a filmmaker, he’s evolved as a filmmaker. Visually, stylistically it’s actually very different than District 9" - Simon Kinberg (Producer) in an interview with iO9.

"They’re going to kill me if I start talking more about that than anything else. The only thing I can say is that he is… No, no, I’m not even in the right track to talk about it. Sorry." - Diego Luna (Actor) in an interview with Collider.

It's a “very hard and violent sci-fi movie”, “there aren’t any aliens in it,” it’s actually “about what happened to Planet Earth”, and the story “deals with Taurus, an orbital habitat called Elysium that is hovering over Earth.” - Matt Damon in an interview with Inquirer Entertainment.

10. Piecing together Elysium...

Considering all the information above, and the fact that "Elysium" stems from Greek mythology as a sort of Utopia (or place of ideal happiness), it is not too difficult to speculate as to the story. Take note though, this is based purely on speculation.

First, the pig-lizard video is part of the Elysium story. It is set in present times, or the not too distant future. These guys discover this creature which has been genetically modified, and the whole god complex / genetic modification theme emerges. What then happens is that us humans go completely overboard with genetic modification (as is bound to happen), resulting in some serious problems for mankind and planet earth, including everything from social division (poor people not being able to afford safe food) to our planet eventually becoming uninhabitable. This takes place over many years of course. I imagine the poverty and destruction being filmed in Mexico City (which, as you may or may not know, is one of the scariest cities on the planet), and the upper crust being in Canada, pretty much the opposite of Mexico City. This also ties in very well with Matt Damon saying that “there aren’t any aliens in it,” and it’s actually “about what happened to Planet Earth”.

What next? Well, in order to survive, man is forced to colonise. But let's face it, colonising another planet is a damn long way off. If something had to go wrong soon, our best bet would be a massive ark-like space station. From there we could consider out options further. We have plenty technology as far as orbiting habitation is concerned, and almost nothing that could transport the human race to distant planets. So, Armadyne is a massive company that is building this "space ark". It is, in their own words, "a monumental vision of the future" and "the most ambitious project ever undertaken by mankind". This ties in perfectly with Armadyne's search for people to build the station and for experts in multi-generational planning. You know, with a small population it will be very important to plan the future of the human race carefully (who breeds with who etc). It also sounds like they are sugar coating some grave issues and hiding some vital truths (like pretending that the end of the world is an ambitious adventure).

Of course, the project (or the station) is aptly named "Elysium", and it will obviously be reserved for the super rich. On an already crippled planet, you can only imagine this to cause even more social uproar. It would be kept secret of course (as exemplified by the tenor of the Armadyne ad), but the it will not be secret for long. I'm sure Matt Damon's role has something to do with an escape, rebellion, revolt or some form of uprising against the wealthy minority who seek to dictate the future of humankind. Included in this minority is Jodie Foster, the "head of an alien planet", or not quite. The "alien planet" is, in my humble opinion, nothing more than the space ark / Armadyne itself and the result of some flexible (if confused) word usage. Wagner Moura is no doubt one of the assholes involved too. As for Copley, Luna and Braga, I can certainly see them hooking up with Matt Damon on earth, and at least one of them being the key to the secret referred to earlier. The film will probably also involve substantial travel between earth and the space ark. Some such travel may be scheduled (the craft in the Armadyne ad) and some not (Matt Damon's crashed space ship).

That was more fun than you can imagine. Do you think I'm on the right track or completely stupid? Anything more to offer? What do you think is the secret of Damon's mechanical "suit"? Right or wrong, Elysium looks AWESOME, and I will be sure to (1) keep you posted, and (2) be a happy man if some of my premonitions are correct.

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