Movie Premiere: Elysium

As with most futuristic films, the earth portrayed in Elysium is overpopulated, crime-ridden, diseased, and has all the bucolic charm of a garbage dump. Awfully bleak. Unless you are a member of the elite, in which case you live in an orbiting, utopian, titular space station. You have access to miraculous health care and views to die for. When an oppressed Matt Damon is poisoned by radiation, he decides to crash the upper-crust party.


Leslie: Is it a bit ironic that our screening of Elysium was shown in Aspen?


Ken: Aspen, Colorado - the Elysium of the Rockies, two miles high and the living is good. The woman sitting next to me looked like Jodie Foster, and she was not amused.


Leslie: Okay, let’s back up. The space station Elysium uses anti-immigration laws to keep out illegals, so it can preserve its lifestyles of the rich and famous. Jodie Foster plays a hard-ass in space, and Matt Damon is the earthling who needs to break into Elysium to access some non-universal health care.


Ken: Gee, do you think there’s some social commentary going on here?


Leslie: Director Neill Blomkamp says he didn’t intend anything political. And sometimes I don’t intend to say someone is full of BS.


Ken: Ha! It’s overtly political, but its sheer naivety saves it from becoming a manifesto. On the other hand, it’s interesting that in the future, oppressed poor people speak Spanish, and snooty rich people speak French. Is Blomkamp trying to insult the French, or compliment them?


Leslie: Also interesting is the fact that evil rich people apparently all listen to classical music. It’s funny - I never really associated the Bach Partitas with greed and class warfare before.


Ken: Oh, Bach was totally evil. Not to mention that fat cat Mozart. Politics aside, this film is an audio/visual treat in the theater, and should be a terrific Blu-ray as well.


Leslie: The earth visuals were beyond grim. I could practically taste the grime. They shot on location in Mexico City, in the second largest garbage dump in the world. The crew could wear gas masks, but the cast wasn’t so lucky. Good thing this wasn’t shot in Smell-O-Vision.

Ken: On the flip side, the outer-space visuals were breathtaking. Watching the torus-shaped space station, I kept getting 2001: A Space Odyssey flashbacks, which is my highest form of visual flattery for a space movie. How much would a condo cost up there?


Leslie: Well, as they say in the real estate biz: “location, location, location.” Blomkamp and designer Philip Ivey were inspired by Syd Mead’s design for a rotating space habitat housing 10,000 people that he did for a NASA conference in 1975.


Ken: Mead did designs for Aliens and Blade Runner, favorites of the director. The space station visuals were wonderful. I wish the movie had spent more time exploring its technology and inhabitants.


Leslie: Agreed. And as much as I hate 3D, some of the space shots might have been eye-popping in 3D.


Ken: But all those handheld, shaky-cam shots were unsettling. And I’m not a big fan of Blomkamp’s slow-motion, either.


Leslie: The CGI was expertly done. The blending with live-action material was seamless. I’m usually instantly removed from the film the minute I spot the tell-tale unnaturally-timed movement of CGI, but this was all done very well.


Ken: Aside from the use of classical music when we see hateful rich people, how did you think Ryan Amon handled the score?


Leslie: This was his first film score. His background is in movie trailer music, so he knows how to create emotion. However, he scored a lot of this without seeing the scenes, so sometimes there was a disconnect between the visuals and the score. I felt a lot of the scenes lacked the emotional payoff with the music.


Ken: That explains a few puzzling score choices. Near the end, in one scene, the score in intensely dramatic, but the visual action onscreen is fairly mundane. Very disconnected.


Leslie: Perhaps a more experienced film composer could have pulled it off. Amon is good, but he fell flat on more than one occasion.


Ken: He certainly is talented and has a future. I thought the blending of electronic sounds and sound design within the score worked well against the more traditional palette of orchestral sounds. Although I could have done without the obligatory choir added for dramatic effect.


Leslie: And, the typical solo female voice. Anything to try to get the audience to feel something for the characters. I just never felt emotionally connected to any of them.


Ken: I bet you weren’t connecting with uber-evil Kruger. He was beyond creepy. Every time we saw him, we heard the buzzing sound of mosquitoes. Both are blood suckers.  


Leslie: Sound was used effectively to differentiate between the societies. On earth, there was constant chaos: dogs barking, people arguing, TV’s blasting and children crying. On Elysium, just pleasant background music and the gentle hum of machinery.


Ken: The sound design was very good, but not particularly unique. Some of it was too obvious. For example, the low-tech illegal shuttles sounded like a bunch of lawnmower engines strapped together, while the high-tech Elysium shuttles had a cool turbine sound.


Leslie: During one intense scene, the sound is muted, but they sustain a LFE track that was a bit of a bass challenge even in a large theater. I thought that was effective, and can’t wait to hear that in my home theater.


Ken: Agreed! But a few minutes later, they drop out the sound again - you can’t use the same trick twice!  There’s also a particularly unconvincing sound of a droid exploding in slow motion.


Leslie: As a sound designer, I struggled to create sounds for slow-motion scenes. Do you create a similarly slowed-down sound or not? In this case, the thin, tinkly sound just didn’t work for the total destruction we see on screen.


Ken: Before we go, should we mention Jodie Foster’s accent, or rather - accents?


Leslie: Something went terribly wrong there. Her weirdly affected dialect was different in every scene. She’s a brilliant actor, but she was so stilted and awkward here.


Ken: And now and then the sync of her overdubbing was painfully bad. Her performance was iffy to begin with, and these audio miscues completely ruined it.


Leslie: But, you gotta admit, she looked fabulous, if a bit overzealous as the HOA president of the ultimate gated community.


Ken: Ha! Matt Damon, as usual, was fine. But I bet a young Arnold Schwarzenegger would have brought a lot more power, and fun, to the role.


Leslie: Can you believe that Eminem was offered the role before Damon?


Ken: He turned it down because they wouldn’t shoot it in his beloved Detroit.


Leslie: So, are we ready to pass judgement? I’ll go first. I had high hopes when I saw the cast, but I never connected with them. I also had high hopes for composer Ryan Amon, but again, I never connected with the score. Overall, I felt it was good music, but it didn’t pull me into the individual scenes.


Ken: I didn’t particularly like the film. Despite the director’s frantic efforts, I was never emotionally involved. If he pulled out all the goofy action, and hackneyed cliches, there is probably an awesome 50-minute film in there somewhere.


Leslie: I could have done without the political agenda. I studied classical music. Does that make me evil?


Ken: You and everyone else in Aspen where, by the way, Charlie Sheen and Kevin Costner both have homes.


Leslie: Touché. Au revoir, mon cher.


Ken: Hasta la vista, baby.