Neill Blomkamp unveils new footage from the Matt Damon science-fiction film 'Elysium'
Sony Pictures held an event today in Hollywood to introduce new footage from Neill Blomkamp's "Elysium," the first film from the acclaimed science-fiction director since his breakthrough debut, "District 9." Ralph Garman moderated the event, which featured in-theater appearances by Blomkamp, actor Sharlto Copley, and producer Simon Kinberg. The star of the film, Matt Damon, is in Germany right now shooting the movie "Monuments Men," and so he was patched in via satellite from a theater in Berlin. The new trailer, which arrives online tomorrow, was the first thing shown, and then there was a ten-minute reel prepared specifically for the event. At the end of the footage, Garman asked Damon what he thought of what he saw. Damon waited for the satellite delay, then answered, "Well, we're in Berlin watching it, so I have to say that I'm impressed. My German was flawless."
It's fitting that the event was staged on an international scale, since the movie was an international affair. The film is a very immediate science-fiction metaphor that deals with the real-world divisions between the haves and the have-nots right now, and in order to create a stark difference between the perfect world of the Elysium space station and the left-behind slum that is the Earth, Blomkamp shot the Earth footage in Mexico City, and everything on Elysium in Vancouver. He did his best two treat the two parts of the production as totally independent units, and it pays off in the visual contrast we saw even in the ten minutes of footage they showed us.
Matt Damon plays a guy who lives on Earth. He's an ex-con, a guy who had a rough youth. He's served time, and he's trying to settle in to a "better" life. It's a shitty system, though. We see how easy it is for the authorities to push Damon around, how hard it is for him to escape the life he's been living. He has a factory job, and he's happy to do it, but it's a terrible job. When he's involved in an incident involving a stuck door and a radiation leak, he is essentially thrown away like trash. He knows that there are machines on Elysium that could fix him instantly, and he also knows that there's no legitimate way he's going to ever get access to those machines.
The first thing that stuck out about today's presentation was just how clearly we can already see that there is a certain aesthetic that defines a Neill Blomkamp film, a sort of grimy, hand-made quality to the technology. He told us today that "Aliens" is his favorite movie, and I'm going to bet that when Sigourney Weaver stepped out wearing that power loader, ready to fight the Queen Alien, that was the greatest single moment Blomkamp ever had in a movie theater. It resonates through his work. Here, Damon's character realizes that if he's ever going to set foot on Elysium, he's going to need to modify himself. He goes to a back-alley shop, and they do a surgical procedure that ends up grafting a sort of exoskeleton onto him, drilling deep into bone and tissue, and adding a dataport to his head that he's going to use to hijack security information from an Elysium citizen who is visiting planet-side.
They had the new one-sheet for the film up in the lobby, and it's a view of Damon from the back, after he's had the augmentation. We saw a chunk of the hijack, and the person who he's chasing is played by William Fichtner. He's being guarded by Droids, and we see that for the most part, security forces have been mechanized. The augmentations just help Damon stand some sort of a chance in the fight. It's a very brutal action sequence, and the process by which they grab the data from Fichtner's head and transfer it into Damon's is a very hands-on, organic, physical process that looks painful.
At the very end of the footage, we got a glimpse of Sharlto Copley as the bad guy in the film, Kruger. He is an Elysium operative who lives on Earth, waiting to be activated. When they need him, they reach out to him, and when the attack on Fichtner begins, Kruger gets the call. He moves in, and we saw just a hint of how deadly that confrontation is going to be when it finally happens.
Most of the on-stage Q&A was about the chemistry between Copley and Blomkamp. The biggest difference between this film and "District 9" is that this time around, it's rigorously scripted. Copley was allowed to ad-lib his character in "District 9," so in the months leading up to the shoot this time around, Blomkamp really emphasized that this was going to be a different process. They explored a number of options for what sort of accent his character would have and what his background would be, and they finally settled on a very specific Black Ops persona from South Africa, and Copley really lost himself in the character physically. He grew in this crazy homeless person beard and took on an accent that he says is very striking. They were careful not to show us any footage involving him speaking in the film, and Copley seems excited for people to see it in the context of the film.
It looks like the information that Damon steals from Fichtner is not just a security password, but is instead the key to the entire Elysium system, and Damon is suddenly the most dangerous man on Earth. After the footage presentation, a group of journalists were led to an upstairs lounge where we were able to ask some questions of Kinberg, Blomkamp, and Copley. The first thing asked was about how much of the movie takes place on Earth and how much of it takes place in Elysium. "Most of the film is on Earth," Blomkamp said. "I wanted to make Elysium an aspiration for the characters and for the audience. It's about the first two-thirds on Earth, and then a third of it on Elysium."
Blomkamp was asked how much the events of the Occupy movement influenced the film. "Hopefully it didn't impact it at all," he said. "I think there are things that are just on people's minds. I remember reading something about Nolan trying to shoot something around the Occupy movement, and I realized I could be shooting something that could be reduced to a CNN sound bite, and that upset me."
He was asked about the augmentations that they put on Damon and how long they took to apply each day. Blomkamp said he worked very hard to get product placement into this film so that it would feel grounded in a real world. His greatest accomplishment was getting Kawasaki to sign on, and on Damon's arm devices, you'll see their logo. "I personally wrote to companies I wanted to use in the movie. I wanted it to look grungy and low-end and real. He's sick in the movie, and this makes him stronger. And as far as the practical application… there was a surprising amount of engineering that WETA had to do to make it work."
Someone asked if the design of Sharlto's character was them consciously trying to do something that was the opposite of who he played in "District 9," and Blomkamp shook that idea off. "I never wanted to go opposite just to go opposite. I try to find things that are appealing. I never start from what I'm trying not to do. Sharl built this based on these guys, these real Black Ops guys who lived on their own, and we saw photos of these guys, wearing just a pair of shorts and holding a beer, and with this big beard, celebrating after they just killed someone."
Asked about the various mechanical ports we glimpsed on Copley's face and arms, Blomkamp explained, "They're metal implants drilled into his body. The ones on his face are for night vision. You can just click them on. The others… well, no, I don't want to discuss that."