Yesterday we got our first taste of new footage from Neill Blomkamp's District 9 follow-up, Elysium. These freshly filmed scenes haven't even been edited and polished — but already they show off an action-packed tale of a desperate man trapped in a dismal, impoverished slum whose only salvation is a space station that knows no poverty or disease.
Blomkamp was full of nervous energy as he introduced his Elysium reel, saying that there's nothing quite as honest as showing footage at Comic Con, because it's going straight out to the fans. And this was a particularly unvarnished reel, with rough placeholders standing in for many of the visual effects. Even so, there is a lot to be excited about. We make a quick visit to Elysium, the apparently utopian space station where the ultra-rich and beautiful have sophisticated medical bays that can detect and eliminate the faintest traces of disease. "You're not invited," a screen card tells us, sending us back down to dirty, dingy, crowded Earth.
Matt Damon's Max is a parolee who has turned his back on his criminal life, at least until an industrial accident leaves him fatally irradiated. If he can't get to one of Elysium's fancy medical bays within five days, he'll die. Desperate to survive, Max returns to his former cronies. He's told that he can get to Elysium if he performs one particular job: hijacking an Elysium resident (William Fichtner) and downloading the information from this bigwig's brain into his own brain. To this end, Max has various technologies implanted in his body, including those big old exo-arms that allow Max to use some pretty powerful firearms.
Max and his accomplices successfully heist the data, but it turns out that's just the beginning. Soon, he's being hunted down by a gun-toting Elysium agent (District 9's Sharlto Copley). Max learns the data he's downloaded could potentially override Elysium's systems, and soon he's on his way to the fabled space station. Meanwhile, Secretary Rhodes (Jodie Foster) will stop at nothing to protect the wealthy sanctuary. And Max isn't the only one with a desperate need to visit Elysium's healing technological shores.
Although the shots of Elysium itself were unfinished, these shots gave us plenty of great worldbuilding Earthside. Blomkamp filmed the movie in Mexico City, in the world's second largest dump, so all the grime you'll see will be very real. The shiny automata we saw earlier this week in the concept art exist in parole offices, too, but they're filthy and graffitied. The AI is crude, and if you fail to behave in a calm manner, it will offer you one of a number of colorful pills. Plus, the casual way Fichtner's character orders a droid to kill Max and his compatriots shows how this incredible divide between rich and poor means that the ultra-rich barely register the poor as human.
And there's far more to be seen. Damon says that, when Blomkamp initially pitched him the project, he gave Damon a lengthy graphic novel outlining the world of Elysium, plus separate books detailing the movie's vehicles and weapons. Damon was stunned and impressed by how thoroughly Blomkamp had developed his world, long before shooting ever started. Even when he asked Blomkamp some obscure question about the construction of the space station, Blomkamp always came back with an (often very technical) answer. Could we hope that Blomkamp will release these concept-art materials after the movie comes out?
As excited as Damon was to work with Blomkamp, shooting on the garbage dump was not a pleasant experience. Helicopters used in various shots spun up dust storms, which contained mostly fecal matter, so that the actors would be caked in it by the end of the day. The non-acting crew wore respirator masks, although even Blomkamp admitted the stench was sometimes overpowering. "But the photography looks great!" he assured the audience.
Damon's stunt double apparently got the worst of it. During one scene, Max hides out under a pig cart while being pursued by Copley's character in a helicopter. By the time the stunt double traded places with Damon, the pigs were thoroughly freaked out, and spent the rest of the day's shooting peeing on the stunt double, who was then coated in the fecal matter dust. By the end of the day (the worst of his career, he told Damon), the double looked thoroughly tarred.
With Elysium coming on the heels of District 9, Blomkamp was asked about his interest in portraying class divisions on film. Blomkamp replied that, while those are areas he's interested in exploring, his main thought in creating rich/poor divide in Elysium was to develop an interesting setting in which his story could take place. "[My stories] need to take place inside interesting environments," he explained. "I wanted to see this environment and these characters."