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DVD Review: 'Elysium'

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The Film:

Elysium” is the kind of intelligent sci-fi spectacle that we don’t see much of anymore. Whenever someone tries to make such a film, they may have the spectacle part down, but it will end up being about as dumb as a box of rocks (for a fine example, you need look no further than the latter two “Transformers” films). With “Elysium,” director/writer Neill Blomkamp not only fills the film with enough exciting action to make it fly by, but he also provides an interesting commentary on the continuing division of classes (the “haves” vs. the “have-nots”), turning it into something more than your average monotonous action flick.

In the late 21st century, Earth has become terribly overpopulated, causing the richest citizens to create their own orbiting space station, known as Elysium, in which they continue their luxuriant way of life. They live without the threat of disease thanks to top-notch medical care and non-polluted air. Meanwhile, back on Earth, ordinary people like Max (Matt Damon) have to struggle day-to-day at their jobs. In his case, this involves working at a plant that creates robots. After an accident doses him with a lethal amount of radiation, he decides to do whatever it takes to get a ticket to Elysium, where it is his hope that he can be cured before his five-day time limit is up.

In order to get there, he has to take a job from a man called Spider (Wagner Moura), which requires Max to hijack sensitive information pertaining to Elysium from the brain of one of its citizens, John Carlyle (William Fichtner), Max’s former boss. However, Carlyle is involved in a secret coup in which the Defense Secretary of Elysium (Jodie Foster) is trying to take command, so when Carlyle is ambushed, she sends a rogue agent (Sharlto Copley) after him. Now not only is Max dying a slow, painful death, but he must also defend himself against a lunatic who will stop at nothing to kill him.

It was only a few years ago that Blomkamp burst on to the feature film scene with “District 9,” a flawed, but enjoyable sci-fi adventure that went on to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar (in one of those bizarre years where there were ten nominees). In just his first film, he showed an amazing amount of talent for incorporating a humanistic story with amazing special effects, a skill he brings to his second project as well.

In “Elysium,” we start off with what we think is going to be a tale of one man simply trying to save his own life, but what we actually get is one that expands into an attempt to save millions. Sure, if you start picking holes in the story, some of it may come unraveled (if the rich have so many easily-automated services at their disposal, why keep them from the people who are desperately in need?), but for the most part the narrative works really well, hooking the audience in with its characters, exciting action sequences, and visual effects.

Speaking of the visual effects, major credit must be given to the team of designers. Elysium is beautifully designed to look like Beverly Hills in space, in addition to multiple backdrops, cityscapes, and machines that are done in such detail that they only help immerse you further into the story. The physical designs are also to be commended, including sets, weaponry, and costumes. Like with “District 9,” all of these elements combine to create one incredible science-fiction atmosphere.

To put it simply, this is a fun and entertaining film full of amazing imagery. As mentioned earlier, it’s somewhat rare to see sci-fi done this well, but Blomkamp obviously knows exactly what he’s doing, making me eagerly anticipate whatever his follow-up project will be. He started off with a good film, then made one that has elements of greatness to it. I can only imagine what’s going to come next.

Video/Audio:

“Elysium” comes to DVD in a 2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen transfer that has your standard blurriness in many places, but overall this is actually a pretty good image for the format. This is a heavily-visual film, so I imagine it looks fantastic on Blu-ray, but this picture is decent enough. The 5.1 Dolby Digital audio sounds great for a DVD as well. It’s obviously not going to be top-notch, but every sound still comes through very loud and clear.

Special Features:

Engineering Utopia: Creating a Society in the Sky: A fascinating look at many of the designs featured in the film, featuring interviews with the artists behind it all. Definitely worth watching if you’re looking to find out more about how the look of the film was created.

Collaboration: Crafting the Performances in Elysium: Another great featurette that goes behind the scenes with the actors and the director as they discuss the characters and how they were cast.

Conclusion:

While it is somewhat annoying that they tease you on the DVD cover that you can get more bonus features with the Blu-ray (which includes a 45-minute making-of that we don’t get here), the ones that we do get on the DVD are excellent samples. Strangely enough, there’s no commentary from Blomkamp, which would have been a great inclusion if his comments in these extras are any indication. Overall, this is a fantastic release that features a great film and some wonderful extras, all presented in decent quality. For fans of well-done sci-fi and compelling storytelling, this is a must-see.

Score: 4/5

Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.

Recent Blu-ray/DVD releases: The Hunt, Touchy Feely, The Rooftop, Drinking Buddies, Inpractical Jokers: Season One, Planes, Paranoia, The To Do List, Blackfish, Paradise, White House Down, Grown Ups 2, Girl Most Likely, Robotech: The Complete Set, The Way, Way Back

Now playing in theaters: Saving Mr. Banks, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Out of the Furnace, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Dallas Buyers Club, Thor: The Dark World, Ender's Game, Carrie, Kill Your Darlings, Gravity, Argento's Dracula, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, Despicable Me 2

Follow me on Twitter @BeckFilmCritic.

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