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Science-fiction, the Howard Zinn way – Elysium

August 9, 2013


Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 was such an original breath of fresh air in 2009, was so out-of-nowhere, its refreshing scent lingers like fine perfume. In today’s media-saturated movie environment, it’s hard for any film, much less an effects-driven science fiction project, to travel under the radar for much of its production. Cloverfield had done the year before, but that movie’s utterly uninteresting principals kept it from ascending to the rarefied heights we all hoped it would. It didn’t quite live up to the mounting hype. (By the end, I was praying for the mostly hidden monster to eat them. Lesson: Twenty-somethings should never be option 1A when casting sympathetic leads. And I type this as someone who was still twenty-something when he first saw that movie.)

I’m not sure whether District 9 measured up to its pre-release anticipation, but it came close. After its first trailer was released, with an alien with a scrambled face noirishly interrogated in a dark room, people started paying attention. Who the hell is this Blomkamp guy? Isn’t that a name for a sex act? more than one person was heard to ask. Yeah, the Peter Jackson Wingnut folks are backing it, but there are no stars in this? Can’t be good, right?

But it was good. It was even kind of great, with Sharlto Copley’s Michael Scott-ish South African bureaucrat and the beautifully done CGI alien (the prosaically named Christopher Johnson) each on the run from evil overlords, struggling to save their respective skins. Yes, the Apartheid redux angle was heavy-handed, but no one cared. The pitiful plight of the “prawns” ruled all, and a father’s struggle to save his son and give him a better life shone through the extra-terrestrial barrier, as the action clambered towards an alien hyper-tech blow-em-up showdown. It made for an entertaining two hours four Augusts ago.

We’re still waiting for the maybe-won’t-happen District 10. But to tide us over we have Elysium, Blomkamp’s follow-up effort, this time with established star Matt Damon in the lead, Jodie Foster as the villainess, and — hey, look — old pal Copley back in the fold. It’s a bigger production, with bigger infrastructure and a more prototypical promotional imprint. Can Blomkamp and co. dazzle even when they’re not sneaking up on you?

The answer lies on the next page, where I’ve sequestered the analysis of the film for the spoiler-wary among us. There are no grand plot reveals, but as always, be wary.

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