A few hours ago at the Arclight theater in Hollywood, director Neill Blomkamp showed off a rock-em-sock-em trailer for his new sci-fi epic Elysium, followed by an even more revealing ten-minute clip reel … but if he’d had his druthers, he’d have shown nothing at all. “I try to show as little as I can,” he told reporters afterward. “The thing is, if you’re a responsible, functioning filmmaker in the 21st century, you can’t spend a hundred million dollars and then try to behave as though you’re going to keep [the movie] wrapped under a blanket … I realize that you have to get it out there.”
Blomkamp will start untucking that blanket tomorrow when the trailer for Elysium debuts online, and it’ll give audiences a taste of the bracing, brawny, brainy movie that today’s footage seemed to showcase: an action film with a whole lot on its mind, similar to Blomkamp’s feature debut, the Best Picture nominee District 9, but realized on an even bigger scale. The director describes Elysium (out August 9) as “a science-fiction take on the haves and have-nots and the separation of wealth,” and Matt Damon stars as one of those have-nots, a former car thief living in a slummy future Earth studded with smoking skyscrapers while the pristine space station Elysium looms up above, a beautiful paradise for rich one-percenters that’s patrolled by a severely ponytailed Jodie Foster.
After a factory accident leaves Damon so irradiated that he’ll only live five more days, he realizes that the sole cure to his condition can be found on the technologically advanced Elysium. With the help of characters played by Wagner Moura and Diego Luna, then, Damon is grafted into a brawny mech suit resembling Sigourney Weaver’s power loader from Aliens (which Blomkamp cited as “my favorite movie of all time”) so that he can kidnap rich businessman William Fichtner, steal his identity, and hijack his way to Elysium.
Filmed back in fall of 2011, Elysium coincided with the rise of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and it’s hard to miss the real-life parallels in the film’s story. Still, the normally chatty Blomkamp began to choose his words carefully when a journalist asked him whether the Occupy movement impacted the movie. “Hopefully it didn’t impact it all,” said Blomkamp, who seemed understandably wary that his summer movie could become a cable-news hot potato (especially since its star, Damon, is a politically outspoken Fox News bête noire). “It was the first time that I realized that I was making a film that, in terms of the global consciousness, fit into a CNN sound bite. That upset me a little bit. But they both come from the same place, I just don’t want [the coverage] to be fast-food and throwaway.”
Of course, Blomkamp is working in a medium dominated by fast-food filmmakers, so his idea-packed tentpole pictures stand out all the more: Producer Simon Kinberg promised that Elysium would tackle “immigration, health care, and class issues,” while Blomkamp’s District 9 was a sci-fi parable that drew from the apartheid era in his native South Africa. “I think that in the realm of commercial popcorn cinema, the amounts of message or smuggling of ideas you can get in there is quite limited,” Blomkamp admitted. “If you think you’re actually going to make a difference or change anything, you’re on pretty dangerous thin ice. But you can put ideas in there that are real issues that are happening in the world.”
Still, don’t get the wrong impression: Though Elysium is smarter than your average action movie, it still comes complete with several spoonfuls of sugar. The footage we saw was packed with futuristic weaponry and sarcastic wisecracks, and Damon even disrobes for a glory shot of his tattooed abs that recalls Ryan Gosling’s shirtless introduction in The Place Beyond the Pines. “It’s got a copious amount of robotics and guns, so that’s cool,” laughed Blomkamp. “For me personally to get invested in [a movie], it has to have crazy amounts of genre stuff in it. As long as that’s in it, I also want to have things that interest me and that I want to explore and talk about. Not just ‘The guy has to shoot the other guy because he’s got a gun.’”