My Extended Look at Elysium [Spoilers]

Yesterday, at noon. I had the privilege of getting a sneak-peek at the trailer you should be seeing below, and more.

We press-types and others who signed up online for free tickets gathered for what we were told was the “very first look” at Elysium, a statement that ignores the ten minutes or so shown last Comic-Con, but whatever.

Host Ralph Garmon introduced producer Simon Kinberg, aka the luckiest nerd on the planet, as he’s producing this, X-Men: Days of Future Past and the next Star Wars; director Neill Blomkamp; the movie’s villain, Sharlto Copley; and live via satellite from Berlin, Matt Damon, who took the time to say, “Thank you everyone in L.A. for skipping work or school; you’re exercising excellent judgment.”

About his inspirations, Blomkamp said that ” a sci-fi take on the haves and have-nots as a visual difference was really compelling to me.” Set in 2154, the movie shows a culture divided between overpopulated, slumlike Earth and the uber-rich space station Elysium where everything is amazing – to ensure a different feel the areas were shot in different locations with different crews: Earth in Mexico, Elysium in Vancouver.

So then they showed us the trailer. Here you go…

Blomkamp described Copley as having “explosive unpredictability,” and warned him to stay on script for this movie, so he did, judiciously, but then strenuously objected when Alice Braga went off-book a bit. Ultimately, Blomkamp let him improvise. His character, Kruger, is like a black-ops soldier of the future, embedded in the Earth slums until activated. has a shaggy beard and bits of metal implanted in his bones and protruding from his skin to help him attach military gear, clip-on style.

With the beard, he felt “unstoppable”; at Comic-Con, Kate Beckinsale’s security made him step away from the elevator. He says Kruger will have a specific type of South African accent you’ve never heard before, and feels bad that after District 9, in which he hoped to rehabilitate the image of white south Africans as racists, he’s setting them back now: “The South African’s the villain…AGAIN!” Asked how Neill was different to work with this time, Sharlto said, “He’s a big deal now; he’s a lot more bossy…Matt and Jodie [Foster] are like, ‘Who are these guys, they’ve done one movie!'”

We then got to see about ten minutes more of the movie. It opens with a shirtless Damon covered in Tupac-like gangsta tattoos. On the way to work, he makes the mistake of being sarcastic with robot cops (they look like a cross between ’50s tin toys and the prawns from District 9 – blocky yet skeletal) – they ask him what’s in his bag, and the bald Damon says “Hair care products, mostly.” So of course they beat him up and tell him to report to his parole officer.

Said parole officer is a smiley faced automaton which, like everything else in this world, has been graffiti-tagged. It automatically pops up a plate of pills when it senses Damon might be stressing too much.

Then the parole meeting makes him late for work, and to avoid getting fired he volunteers for a dangerous job that – for reasons not entirely clear – traps him in a radiation area and gives him terminal cancer. His only hope is Elysium, where they have machines that cure it in a second – but it costs a billion dollars to go.

Separately, we see dirty, slummy spaceships take off for Elysium, and the control folks in the station (led by Jodie Foster, who I could’ve sworn was Helen Mirren for a split-second) take note of the “undocumenteds” who dare approach.

Foster: “Activate Kruger.”

Back on earth, Kruger (Copley) emerges with a massive rocket launcher. He fires it, launching mini-missiles which go all the way into space and take the ships down.

Not having a billion dollars, Damon seeks a more illegal way to get into space – all he has to do is kidnap a rich businessman (William Fichtner) and download the knowledge from his brain. To do this, and to give him the strength he needs to counter the cancer, he gets that exoskeleton from the poster drilled into his body. It enhances his abilities to the level of a robot.


We saw a little bit of the action sequence in which Damon and co kidnap the Fichtner character – who speaks in a weird cadence not unlike the way he talked in Wrong – and Kruger shows up with heavy weaponry. It looked a lot like District 9, and frankly I’m amazed (and happy) nobody forced a 3D conversion here – one money shot in which a robot is smashed to pieces seemed tailor-made for it. Anyway, it seems that what lies inside Fichtner’s head are the access codes to override Elysium completely.

Then a whole bunch of quick cuts with action before the fade to black.

At a mini-press conference afterward, Blomkamp and Copley shared a few more tidbits with us:


2/3 of the movie is set on Earth, 1/3 on Elysium. The kidnap sequence was filmed in the second-largest garbage dump in the world, next to an open sewer. Copley says he wasn’t afraid of being kidnapped in Mexico, because he knew they’d go for Matt Damon first. The major threat difference in Mexico versus South Africa is that Mexican crime is mainly planned kidnappings, while South African crime is mostly spontaneous car-jackings. Houses in Mexico City are mostly unpainted because that way they remain “unfinished” and can’t be charged property tax.

Blomkamp on Halo and other people’s stories: “One of the things I learned from Halo is that if i was in control, I would want to do it. But that’s the problem – when something pre-exists, I have my interpretation of what it is, but along with it comes 150 other interpretations of what it is, and then the entire audience has their interpretation that you can live up to or fail in their eyes…There’s iconic characters out there that I would like to get closer to and make a film about, but when I start dipping my toes in I get an allergic reaction.”

On a District 9 sequel: “The world of District 9 has a lot of race and oppression based ideas that I would still like to explore.”

Possibly anticipating conservative backlash, Blomkamp went out of his way to note that it is not an “Occupy” movie, saying he hoped that wasn’t an influence at all – he’s upset to think the movie could be reduced to a soundbite. However, “It’s a mirror of how the western world views immigration – half want to help out, others want to hold on to what they’ve got.”

He actively sought product placement – Matt’s exoskeleton is Kawasaki, the low-end dirt bike version of that tech. Sharlto gets a more high-tech one later in the film.

On spoilers and revealing too much: “I tried to limit it as much as I could – but I didn’t win.”

They expanded on the basis for the Kruger character. Blomkamp: “There was a border war in South Africa in the ’70s and ’80s, where a lot of the guys were truly on their own. They were insane, truly black ops on a different level. And there were behind-the-scenes photos of those guys wearing these terrible shorts, with nothing else and a beer, and like a beard that this long after they’ve mass-murdered a bunch of people. And that served as reference.”

Copley: “That unit was called 32 Battalion and the guys would go into the bush and not come out for months. It’s a very specific type of soldier. It’s not like ‘Ooh, I look so cool with my Oakleys and I’m gonna blast you!'”

Blomkamp closed by saying his favorite film of all time is Aliens. “What Elysium doesn’t have that I’d like to put in the next film is there’s no slime and eggs.”