First appeared in artsfuse.org
Remember Neill Blomkamp's District 9, how original, how full of surprises it was — the Prawns, as they were derisively known, from outer space, and their shanty town? The movie seemed a clanky, improvised, by the seat of your pants kind of thing, low-to-no budget, and full of weird, politically incorrect reflections about racism, privilege, and power.
My point is that whatever distinguished District 9 and made it so special is entirely absent from Neill Blomkamp's blockbuster, Elysium. I'd rate Elysium a DON'T SEE, or a MUST MISS, unless you just can't get enough of guys in robotic exoskeletons whaling on each other, even if one happens to be Matt Damon. Me, I got bored pretty quick when I realized that kind of violence was really all that I was supposed to take home with me.
The only thing this movie has in its favor is that Blomkamp knows how to quote/borrow.
Remember that scene in "Blue Collar" when Yaphet Kotto, playing a Detroit factory worker — hey, remember Detroit? auto-workers? blue collar? — is sealed in a room with the mechanical hoses that spray paint cars? He bangs desperately on the glass door as he sinks into suffocation.
There's a scene in Elysium that should remind you of that. Though the idea was worthy of reuse, there's no getting around the fact that it made you care more in Blue Collar.
Or remember that machine in Stargate that heals human bodies? The alien in that movie assumes human form precisely because he thinks our bodies are so easy to fix. A machine like that is integral to Elysium. The machine in Stargate was more intriguing simply because Stargate is a much better movie.
I'm going to get all reductionist on Elysium: its budget is estimated at $115 million, over three times the budget of District 9. For all that dough, Elysium got Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, and, oh, yeah, Blomkamp himself. In District 9 Blomkamp played someone who is transformed internally and externally; he is Prawnifed physically and humanized emotionally. In Elysium he's just this guy in a robotic exoskeleton whaling away at whomever.
I forgot to mention that for all that Hollywood cash, Elysium was subjected to the typical Hollywood overdose on special effects. The move choked on them. It's like Yaphet Kotto dying of paint fumes and unable to get out.
My conclusion is that a director like Blomkamp, who makes a film like District 9 for what is regarded in the movie business as low dough, should be restricted to that same budget in his next film and the one after that.
This film didn't need Matt Damon or Jodie Foster or the digital overdose. It needed the kind of imagination Blomkamp had in District 9.
Maybe he's lost it.