Updated: Feb 10, 2021
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
Matt Damon plays ex-con Max DeCosta, who works on the assembly line at a robot plant in 2154 Los Angeles.
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4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 2013; R for strong bloody violence and profanity throughout; streaming via Amazon Prime Video (4K), Apple (4K), FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play (4K), Movies Anywhere (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)
Best extra: The 48-minute “The Journey to Elysium”
FOLLOWING THE footsteps of his own “District 9” (2009) – the surprise Academy Award Best Picture nominee from rookie filmmaker Neill Blomkamp – “Elysium” continues the South African’s examination of global injustice.
The story framework in “District 9” was aliens who were oppressed, “directory or indirectly” by humans Blomkamp says. Its parallel between South Africa’s segregated society and apartheid, the country’s institutionalized system of racial oppression, was no accident.
In “Elysium” the year is 2154, and mankind is divided into two classes. The wealthy have escaped to Elysium, a gleaming space-station circling the planet, while others are left behind in a diseased, overpopulated, and polluted Earth. “Initially, I wanted to make a film about the rich and poor and wealth discrepancy,” Blomkamp says. His inspiration came from a 1970s Syd Mead illustration for National Geographic Magazine of an orbital Torus space station, he explains in the three-part “Journey to Elysium” documentary. “The idea … of Beverly Hills in space was this slightly satirical way of portraying those two worlds.” The oasis is sleek, with blue skies and lush green parks, and massive homes. Earth has become a dirty brown and gray world, rife with poverty and despair.
(1) Mankind is divided into two classes. The wealthy have escaped to Elysium a space-station circling Earth, while others are left behind in a diseased, overpopulated, and polluted Earth. (2) A flashback scene with young Max who dreams of going to Elysium, and lives at a Catholic orphanage. (3) Fast-forward to today, Max prepares for work.
Preproduction took a long time, with research and development taking a year to develop the script. During the writing, Blomkamp also created the design and storyboards. “It happened all at once in a sort of tumble dryer of mixed ideas,” he says. While writing the script, concept illustrators created a graphic novel of the story, setting the perimeters to the world of Elysium. Hundreds of photographs lined Blomkamp’s office wall, determining what city would represent Los Angeles in 2154. The slums of Mexico City were selected since it had the hills, the flatland, and enormous, overcrowded population.
Cameras began rolling in Vancouver the summer of 2011, with all the interiors completed, including a huge soundstage for a NASA-style control room. Several mansions subbed for Elysium’s plush interiors. Production finished on the Earth exteriors in Mexico City during December.
“He [Blomkamp] treats science fiction not as an imaginary world, but as a real world. Everything has to have an authenticity and organic feel and functionality that’s no different than if we were to build a bridge or a highway.” — Producer Simon Kinberg
Peter Jackson’s (“The Lord of the Rings” Trilogy) digital effect house Weta Digital handled most of the early designs producing terrific final FX shots. It was the New Zealand filmmaker who gave Blomkamp his start, green-lighting the $30 million budget for “District 9.” With a number of FX shots and filming over five months, the production budget neared $120 million, earning a disappointing global box office of just over $286 million.
(1) Heading to the bus stop Max encounters the police who show no mercy and break his arm. (2) At the hospital Max is attended by his childhood best friend Frey (Alice Bragaz). (3) The underground compound for crime lord Spider (Wagner Moura). (4&5) Two time Oscar winner Jodie Foster plays Delacourt, the Secretary of Defense on Elysium, whose job is to keep all illegals off the utopia space-station.
Sharlto Copley, one of Blomkamp’s high-school buddies who starred as Wikus in “District 9,” returns in a secondary role as Kruger in “Elysium” as a brutal mercenary. He’s employed by the ambitious Secretary of Defense played by Jodie Foster, speaking in an obvious South African accent. She wants to keep all immigrants from Earth out of Elysium.
The star is Matt Damon and his muscular Jason Bourne physique as an ex-con with only five days to live. The American actor wore a 25 pound prosthetic for 60-plus days of filming for his character Max DeCosta. He’s received a fatal exposure of radiation in an assembly line accident, where he makes security robots. His best friend from childhood, Frey played by Brazilian actress Alice Braga (“I Am Legend”), is a hospital nurse, whose daughter has leukemia. Their only hope is to get to Elysium, where every home has its own medical pod that can instantly heal every disease and infirmity.
Max makes a deal with crime lord Spider (Wagner Moura) for a ticket on the next illegal flight to Elysium. The deal is he must kidnap industrialist John Carlyle (William Fichtner). Carlyle is also the plant manager where Max worked, and Spider wants to extract vital Elysium software in his brain. As expected it doesn’t go as planned, escalating the violence into the realm of James Cameron's “Terminator 2.”
(1) Spider orchestras an illegal mission of three transports to Elysium with dozens onboard and only one makes it. (2&3) An illegal mother rushes her daughter into an Elysium home and places her onto the Med pod, where her ill-shaped legs are instantly corrected. They are apprehended by Homeland Security robots and transported back to Earth.
Canadian cinematographer Trent Opaloch (“District 9,” “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” “Avengers: Endgame”) returns. “Elysium” has been mastered in 4K since its 2013 premiere, and the original Blu-ray headlined the resolution on the back of its package. FX shots were mastered in 2K and upconverted, while the live-action scenes were filmed with 3.3K Redcode RAW cameras (2.39:1 aspect ratio) fitted with an anamorphic lens, producing an excellent palette of colors and contrast levels.
All of the Earth, scenes were filmed with handheld cameras, much like “District 9.” The Elysium scenes are polished and smooth with cinematic lighting.
HDR10 toning has been graded to a darker level, especially the highlights and mid-tones, providing a more dramatic feel throughout. The shadows are deep and inky without losing any detail. The resolution bump on the 4K is most evident with distant objects and graffiti writings on side of the Los Angeles hospital where Frey works. The enclosed Blu-ray has excellent sharpness, but suffers from over-bright imagery throughout.
The 4K gets a remastered eight-channel Dolby Atmos soundtrack, with plenty of active effects and music to height speakers. The overall balance has plenty of deep bass response, and clear and centered dialogue that is never lost. The score is from musician Ryan Amon who was making a living composing for movie trailers. He received a surprise email from Blomkamp, who wanted non-traditional, organic sound for “Elysium.” Amon, who had never composed a film score before, mixed baboon noises and the hum of mosquitoes into his eerie music, which also includes traditional orchestration and electronic samples.
(1) Another day on Earth for Max. (2&3) On the assembly line the door jams and Max goes inside to dislodge it. He's exposed to a fatal dose of radiation and only has five days to live. (4) The crowded slums of Mexico City sub for Los Angeles and the rooftop compound for mercenary Kruger (Sharlto Copley).
The 4K disc includes four featurettes: “Exoskeletons, Explosions, and Action Choreography” highlighting the physical stunt work and the practical effects filmed in-camera to insure reality; “The Hero, the Psychopath, and the Characters” featuring brief cast interviews with Damon, Copley, and Foster; “The Art of the Elysium Miniatures” highlights the crash of the Raven craft, the first scene filmed in the movie. “It’s always a nail-biter,” the director/writer says. Growing up in Johannesburg, Blomkamp wanted to work in Hollywood making models, miniatures, prosthetics, and gore he says. “Bugatti 2154” highlights Carlyle’s personal Bugatti brand jet he flies between Earth and Elysium.
The Blu-ray also features ten more behind the scenes featurettes highlighting the engineering, art and design, visual effects, the technology of 2154, extended scenes and more.
“Elysium” becomes the third Bomkamp film release on Sony 4K, along with “District 9” and “Chappie.” It’s the most polished yet, providing another peek into the grim future of the haves and have-nots.
— Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer
(1) Armadyne CEO John Carlyle (William Fichtner) prepares to takeoff in his personal Bugatti jet he flies between Earth and Elysium. (2&3) Max shoots an explosive device onto the Bugatti jet and it crash lands. Max fights one of Caryle’s security guards and then connects to Carlyle’s brain port to extract vital Elysium data.
(1) Kruger (Sharlto Copley) tracks Max to Frey’s home and takes her and Matilda prisoner aboard his ship the Raven. (2) Max delivers Carlye’s program to Spider, who discovers that the program can be used to make all Earth citizens legal on Elysium. (3) The Raven crashes into a mansion on Elysium and Frey races to a Med pod to scan Matilda whose fighting leukemia. (4) Delacourt’s team tries to extract the data from Max.