When director Neill Blomkamp burst onto the scene in 2009 with his acclaimed debut District 9, the world took notice. Here was a new name to watch in sci-fi cinema, delivering with his first film a powerful and thrilling flick that balanced exciting alien action with complex themes of social segregation and xenophobia. Following the film’s Academy Award nominations, filmgoers were excited to see what he would do next.
Unfortunately, most were disappointed. His 2013 feature, Elysium, trod a lot of the same ground as his previous film as it told an allegorical story about that touched upon themes of immigration, healthcare, worker exploitation and the class divide. While it might’ve bitten off a bit more than it could chew thematically and underwhelmed in its dreary and bland narrative, Elysium is nowhere near the disaster that many have labelled it.
It’s 2154 and the citizens of Earth live in poverty. The rich and powerful, on the other hand, live on Elysium, a bright and beautiful space habitat in Earth’s orbit. Technologically advanced, Elysium’s most valued commodity is their healthcare – specifically, their “health pods” that can cure all illness, regenerate body parts and reverse ageing. When Max (Matt Damon) suffers an industrial accident on Earth and finds himself with radiation poisoning, he embarks on a journey to heal himself on Elysium – at any cost.
The film has a lot of good ideas, but would’ve perhaps been better served focusing on fewer. If Elysium had just been a critique of the state of the healthcare system or a study on immigration and the associated class divide, it might’ve been a more powerful piece – but crucially, it suffers from overburdening itself with themes. There is too much going on thematically for Elysium to make an emotional impact which, when combined with the rather underdeveloped characters, makes for a rather soulless film. But this criticism only comes when comparing the film to what Blomkamp evidently can achieve – compared to his previous Oscar-nominated modern classic, it is a somewhat underwhelming step down. Taken as a sci-fi action blockbuster however, Elysium succeeds as an action-packed thrill ride.
Yes, Elysium more than makes up for its narrative shortcomings with its thrilling action set-pieces and stunning visuals, now given new life on 4K UHD thanks to Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film looks absolutely phenomenal on the format, with crystal clear clarity and incredible HDR that makes the contrast between the luscious colours of the Elysium space habitat and the bleak living conditions of Earth even more powerful. The booming sound design has been turned up to 11 with this 4K UHD too, which gives the futuristic action an added punch. Elysium’s action is nothing short of awesome, and experiencing it on this format certainly heightens the film’s strengths and minimises its weaknesses. And hey, Sharlto Copley’s over-the-top and volatile scene-stealing performance is worth the price of admission alone.
This 4K UHD re-release of Elysium offers a reference-quality viewing experience, and while the film’s more passionate haters won’t be won over, action lovers should give it another shot – there’s a lot of explosive fun here.