Thursday, September 5, 2013

ELYSIUM: Flawed Nobility

September 5, 2013

In the world of "Elysium" set in the year 2154, the ever-widening gap between rich and poor has reached its ultimate level. The rich are now floating above the earth in a utopia set-up in space. The poor remain to suffer on the squalid wasteland that remains on Earth.

Max Da Costa (Matt Damon) is a laborer who was stricken with severe radiation illness in a work accident. His only chance to recover is via the healing facilities located up there in Elysium. Unfortunately, these are exclusive for the use of Elysium citizens. Max seeks help from renegade hacker Spider (Wagner Moura) to smuggle him across. Max was provided with an android- like exoskeleton (which gave him superhuman strength) and a cerebral link (to steal vital Elysium information in return). 

However, the powers-that-be represented by the fanatical Secretary of Defense Jessica Delacourt (Jodie Foster) makes sure the impossible immigration laws are strictly enforced and their ideal floating space station remains pure. She has her psychopathic enforcer Kruger (a frequently unintelligible Sharlto Copley) on Earth to make sure no "undesirables" ever crosses over the line, and that includes Max. 

The social message is very clear in this film, criticizing the great financial divide and its tragic implications, especially with regards to access to quality health care. Director Neil Blomkamp previously tackled racial discrimination in his acclaimed previous film "District 9" which made it all the way to the Oscar Best Picture shortlist a few years back.

Despite the presence of bigger stars, "Elysium" is not exactly better than "District 9". While intentions of the story are obviously noble, the execution of this story was rather roughshod, as rough as the dizzying shaky camera technique employed (unnecessarily, I thought) in most parts of this film. 

The ever-reliable Matt Damon manages to remain believable as the flawed hero Max, even if the circumstances of his story became unbelievable. On the other hand, the usually cerebral Ms. Jodie Foster actually comes up with an over-the-top one-dimensional performance here, which did not fit her well. 

Being a science fiction film, we expect to be regaled with special effects, but here, the CGI was good, though we were shown nothing we have not seen before in some form or another. Of all the futuristic equipment shown, it was the powerful healing bed Med-Bay which was the most impressive. It was able to perform a total face reconstruction in minutes complete with nicely trimmed beard! This Med-Bay is so miraculous such that if it actually exists, the whole medical profession may not be needed anymore!

One really head-scratching moment was the "surgery" of the sick Max in the hands of rebels to receive sophisticated technical gadgets attached not only to his body (through his t-shirt, mind you) but also his brain. You really need to suspend your disbelief big time how that could have been done, given the crude conditions Max and his "neurosurgeons" were in. 

Overall, I would just rate this film a little above average. The ending scenario though was very good despite the rocky road the film took to get there. The initial premise was very promising, more could have been done with it. For instance, we don't see enough of what life on Elysium was really about. It was not a bad film, but just a bit disappointing given its potential. 6/10

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