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SDCC '12: Neill Blomkamp's ELYSIUM Kicks All Kinds of Ass

One of the coolest examples of Comic-Con marketing occurred in 2009, when director Neill Blomkamp brought the first hints of District 9 to the convention and played the film to a shocked and awed crowd. That movie went on to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, and I'm not going to look this up, but I'll just assume that no other movie which has had a similar presence at this convention has ever achieved that honor. It introduced us to a stunning talent in Blomkamp, a director whose vision and technical prowess allowed him to make a 30 million dollar movie look like a 100 million dollar movie. (Not to mention District 9 is just a damn good film.)

Fast forward to this afternoon. Blomkamp returned to Hall H with about ten minutes of footage from his follow-up effort, Elysium. We've heard rumblings of what this film was about, but it has remained largely shrouded in secrecy up until now. In it, Matt Damon plays a former criminal living on an impoverished and overcrowded Earth over 100 years in the future. He's bald, beaten down, and run ragged, and when a factory accident douses him with radiation, he's given the bad news that he only has five days to live. Luckily, there's a solution. Elysium is a ring-shaped world created and inhabited by the rich (including William Fichtner and Jodie Foster) that orbits the Earth, a paradise where any sickness can apparently be healed and on which only people who reach a certain income level can afford to step foot. Damon's character has to get to Elysium in order to stay alive, but his trip skyward comes with a price: when obtaining his ticket through shady means, he agrees to kill Fichtner's character and return to the life he once left behind. To do that, he has machinery and weaponry welded into his body, making him a one-man wrecking crew hell-bent on doing whatever it takes to survive.

Elysium is a fascinating allegory about the separation between the rich and poor, and it appears that Blomkamp tackles this subject with a similar approach that he did with apartheid and racism in District 9. Damon marked his first trip to Comic-Con by speaking about preparing for the role and how, when trying to secure Damon in the picture, Blomkamp showed him a graphic novel of the entire story he had crafted on his computer. He had books of weapons schematics and vehicle details, and that spectacular worldbuilding was on full display in the footage we saw. He aptly described a lot of the film by saying, “I've never seen anything like it, but it was familiar to me right away.” Jodie Foster also lost her Comic-Con virginity today, and hailed Blomkamp's previous film as a masterwork. “I saw District 9 and thought it was a perfect film. I wish I had directed the damn movie.” She joked about what drew her to the film, saying, “Luckily this script came in and there was a girl in it.”

Damon looks kick-ass in his role, but it was actually D9 star Sharlto Copley who brought down the house with his appearance as a sword-wielding badass bounty hunter who's hot on Damon's trail. He looks like the kind of iconic villain that people will be dressing up as at this very convention for years to come, and I'm really looking forward to seeing Copley go in a totally different direction with this role. He was very appreciative of the Comic-Con crowd, acutely aware that he was returning to the place that kickstarted his career as an actor. (He referred to the experience as a “defining moment in [his] life.”)

Fear not, sci-fi fans: Blomkamp is far from a one-hit wonder. The action looks just as intense here as in his previous work, blowing people up in moments of crowd-pleasing splatter and captivating the audience with the jaw-dropping beauty of his visuals (even though the footage we saw wasn't even complete yet). This film has rocketed to one of my most anticipated of 2013, and I can't wait to see the full feature and dig deeper into this rich world that Blomkamp has in store for us.

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