What a letdown. From the trailers it looked like it might be interesting. The main attraction was something we haven’t really seen before in a movie: An O’Neill colony. Remember those huge space habitats, concepts that go all the way back to the ‘60s? Put some spin on them, and you’re living on the inside of a donut, or a cylinder. (I was interested because it proves something that I have waited a long time for: That it would be possible to create the interior of Gaea from my Gaean Trilogy.)
Well, the colony is here, and it is gigantic, probably bigger than anything Gerard O’Neill imagined at his most grandiose. But we don’t see much of it, and it seems to be stupidly run. I don’t have the math to calculate whether or not it’s big enough to dispense with a roof over the habitable areas—don’t know its radius, nor the rate of spin to allow one gee down on the wheel. I know Larry Niven’s Ringworld was big enough. But I’d sort of like a roof, anyway. And wouldn’t it make more sense to dock incoming shuttles at the hub, than have them come in over the rim? I don’t know, and it’s not really a big deal, I guess. It does look fantastic.
Other than that, it’s just a series of gunfights and fistfights strung together with a half-assed plot concerning desperately poor people down on the ground and super-rich people on the wheel, enjoying themselves while children starve down below. They have everything, including the ability to almost instantly heal any disease and every injury that doesn’t destroy the brain. It’s clearly a metaphor for the American medical care system. I don’t mind that—I agree that we’re almost as fucked-up as Elysium—but it’s all on a child-like level.
I could go into chapter and verse about the stupid things on display here, such as the several gunfights where “smart” weapons capable of following and targeting individuals down to a few inches (can you say “drones?”) fire a literal hail of bullets and never manage to hit much. But we’re used to that. I will confine myself to the most stupid plot device, which I think of as the “Star Wars Loophole.” Here you’ve got this planet-sized weapon known as the Death Star … and somehow the geniuses who planned it not only can’t hit a single X-Wing fighter no matter how hard they try, they have somehow missed the fact that there’s a basketball-hoop-sized hole, wide open, that leads directly to the button that apparently says PRESS HERE TO DESTROY DEATH STAR!
Here, it’s the programming of Elysium. A group of hackers back on Earth have found a way to re-program the whole vast artifact and, presto! Everyone back on Earth is now a citizen, and eligible for health care! There is apparently no way to stop this. And now, all those teeming billions back home can journey to Elysium and … make a pesthole out of it, hanging laundry between the buildings and living in graffiti-covered abandoned space cars, I guess.
As for the people involved … I can’t end without sadly mentioning that prior to this, I’d never seen Jodie Foster turn in a bad performance. She’s pretty awful here. Matt Damon works hard, but nothing can save the core stupidity of this film. It’s written and directed by Neill Blomkamp, who got very hot after the success of District 9, a film I didn’t like nearly as much as almost everybody else did. In fact, I didn’t like it at all. He is a devotee of the shakycam school of second-rate directors, and loves the extremely short cuts that disguise the lack of anything really going on. I won’t be looking forward to his next effort.
But the thing that strikes me most is the theme running through it. Remember the ‘50s, when every other SF film had a giant insect or glowing man who was infected by … gasp! Radiation! That was the paradigm of the day. Today it’s the have-everythings and the have-nothings. This theme goes all the way back to The Time Machine, with the lovely Eloi on the surface and the brutish Morlocks underground. Of course, the Eloi had a price to pay, which was being dinner when the Morlocks got peckish.
There have been a lot of movies like this lately, including quite a few I haven’t bothered to see. The most famous is The Hunger Games trilogy. Is this our new societal fear? The growing gap between those with tons and tons of money and the insane things they spend it on, and those with literally nothing? The scenes of endless shacks and filth were shot in Mexico City, enhanced to make it even more crowded and squalid. But guess what? A full third of the human race actually lives like the people on Earth in this film, minus the high tech, right now. More than two billion, and they have nothing. While in places like Qatar and Gstaad and Dubai and Beverly Hills people live lives that Roman emperors would have envied. The Hunger Games are already here, folks. They’re sucking our blood. Can we do anything about it? Well, I don’t think we can find a little loophole to chuck a bomb into and blow the motherfuckers up. Beyond that, I don’t know what to do.