Blu-ray Review Elysium

Sky High Blu-ray Review: Elysium

December 17, 2013Ben MK

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Dystopian, utopian, perfection

By Ben Mk

Back in August, I reviewed the theatrical release of Elysium, the second film from District 9 director Neill Blomkamp. It was one of those films that just begs to be seen and heard on Blu-ray, with all of its sci-fi spectacle and grandeur. Now, four months later, that moment has arrived. Is the disc worth the anticipation? Read on to find out.

The Film  ––––  ★★★★½

For those unfamiliar with the film, here's the rundown from my review of the theatrical release: Damon plays Max, a weary 22nd century ex-con turned factory worker, who receives a lethal dose of radiation during a workplace accident, leaving him with only 5 days to live. With his days now numbered (literally), his only hope for survival lies on Elysium, an off-world space station habitat for the planetary elite. Thanks to a local gangster named Spider (Wagner Moura), Max's body is outfitted with an exoskeleton suit, granting him superhuman strength. With his newfound abilities and aided by his friend, Julio (Diego Luna), Max sets out for Elysium. But before he can get there, he must carry out a job for Spider -- a risky data heist from the brain of the CEO of Armadyne (William Fichtner), the very corporation Max works for. Also standing between Max and his salvation on Elysium are its cutthroat Secretary of Defense, Delacourt (Jodie Foster), who has her own plans for the orbiting utopia, and a vicious mercenary named Kruger (Sharlto Copley).

As for my opinion of the film, it hasn't changed upon a second viewing: I still consider it to be an amalgam of the ideas that constitute good, intelligent science fiction, underpinned by themes relevant to today's society, and bolstered by explosive action sequences. It's brains and brawn, all wrapped up in one package.

Audio/Visual Presentation  ––––  ★★★★★

Surprise, surprise, Elysium look and sounds great on Blu-ray -- which is to be expected for a new release. Visually, this is a top flight Blu-ray presentation, full of eye candy. The gorgeous transfer is ripe with detail and nuance, with a very fine layer of grain present, and no image defects to speak of. The crispness of the picture is maintained throughout the film, but where it especially shines is in the scenes on and around Elysium, where even the finest minutiae of detail -- especially on the exterior of the space station -- is visible. As far as memory serves, this is completely faithful to the way the film looked in theatres. It also sports an aggressive DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack (no audio commentary, though), which fires on all cylinders to deliver an enveloping audio experience that will immerse viewers in every explosive firefight and shuttle fly-by. There's just no way to fault this technical presentation.

Supplements and Bonus Features  ––––  ★★★½

The Blu-ray set comes packed with a DVD and Ultraviolet digital copy of the film, as well an array of supplements, including an extended version of the "Kruger Wakes Up" scene, interactive galleries of the ships, vehicles and droids and trailers for Captain Phillips and Spike Lee's Oldboy; but the meat of the bonus features is a series of seven featurettes, totalling about an hour-and-a-half, that run the gamut from pre-production to post-production (and everything in-between).

First up is the nine-minute Envisioning Elysium, which focuses on the overall design of the film. Among the highlights, Blomkamp talks about Syd Mead's National Geographic illustration of an orbital space station serving as insipiration for the design of the Elysium space station. Blomkamp's collaborators on the film, including associate producer Victoria Burkhart, producer Simon Kinberg and production designer Philip Ivey, also discuss how integrated the design process was with the rest of the film's development. There's also some time spent on shooting the future Los Angeles scenes for the film in Mexico City and the Elysium portions in Vancouver, as well as some notes about Max's exo-suit (which is referred to as the "Hulk Suit"); but those topics are covered in greater detail in the next featurette.

Clocking in at twenty-six minutes, Capturing Elysium delves more into the shooting process and features a lot of behind-the-scenes footage from the sets in Mexico City and Vancouver, along with some insight on production from Blomkamp and his collaborators. Elysium was shot over a period of fourteen weeks (from July 2011 to December 2011), and here we get to see tidbits of how some of its scenes were shot. Among them, the filming in Vancouver for Max's irradiation scene and his meeting with his parole officer, as well as Max's fight with Kruger and his mercenaries onboard Elysium. Next, we move onto the production in Mexico City -- first, the two-week shoot in a Mexico City landfill (for the scene where Max and Spider's thugs take down the Armadyne CEO's shuttle), followed by shooting scenes in Spider's factory (which, in reality, is a an old wallpaper paste factory). There's also some insight provided on Max's and Kruger's exo-suits and their fighting styles; and Blomkamp also discusses the different shooting aesthetic he employed for filming the Earth-based scenes (which featured a rougher, documentary style) versus the Elysium scenes (which featured a smoother, cinematic style).

Next up is the ten-minute Enhancing Elysium, which deals with the post-production process -- specifically, editing, sound-mixing and scoring the film. Editor Julian Clarke discusses the challenges he faced mirroring Blomkamp's shooting aesthetic in the editing aesthetic and talks in general about the editing process (i.e., assembling the rough cut on a day-by-day basis and editing one day behind shooting). Sound designer Dave Whitehead and sound re-recording mixer Craig Berkey discuss the sounds for the film -- which also mirror the shooting aesthetic, with grungier sounds for the Earth-based tech and more high-tech sounds on Elysium -- as well as talk about the collaborative process between editing and sound-mixing. Finally, composer Ryan Amon talks about his involvement in scoring the film (which came about from Blomkamp discovering his work via YouTube).

The thirteen-minute Collaboration: Crafting the Performances in Elysium details Blomkamp's line of thinking toward casting the film, as well as the particular decisions that factored into casting the main roles. Associate producer Victoria Burkhart outlines Blomkamp's general approach toward casting -- which is to select easy-going, everyman actors -- and Blomkamp talks about the mental hurdles he had to overcome before deciding on using name talent. Producer Simon Kinberg talks about the specific considerations that played a role in casting the roles of Max and Delacourt, which was to choose actors who could play both drama and action; and there are interviews with Matt Damon and Jodie Foster, who muse about their reasons for wanting to be a part of the film. The featurette concludes with a segment on Sharlto Copley's role in the film -- from his persistence in wanting to work with Blomkamp again to the filming of a key scene with Jodie Foster. This is also only one of two features that are not Blu-ray exclusive.

The Technology of 2154 is a ten-minute piece on the role that technology plays in the film -- as well as some behind-the-scenes insight on how the various pieces of technology seen in the film were created -- and focuses on Weta Workshop's work to bring Blomkamp's designs to the screen. It kicks off with Blomkamp noting how the film is metaphorical sci-fi and not speculative sci-fi, and that technology in the film played a role in designing the metaphor. The featurette then moves on to showing Weta Workshop's approach in building the physical props, including the droids, Max and Kruger's exo-suits and the weapons used in the film. It also features interview footage with Weta co-founder Richard Taylor.

In Support of Story: The Visual Effects of Elysium is another ten-minute piece, this time focusing on the digital effects for the film. Elysium featured roughly 800 VFX shots -- less than the typical summer tentpole -- and this featurette goes into detail about how some of these were created. Specifically, it showcases the work that went into the Raven "Bird of Prey" VTOL vehicle, the droids and the Kruger reconstruction scene. In addition to Blomkamp, visual effects supervisor Peter Muyzers, Image Engine CG supervisor Andrew Chapman, conceptual designer Tyruben Ellingson and visual effects producer Shawn Walsh are on-hand to reveal some of the secrets behind the film's digital effects, including the use of stunt performers in mo-cap suits to capture all of the droid performances in the film.

The final featurette on the Blu-ray is titled Engineering Utopia: Creating a Society in the Sky. Running for twelve minutes, it focuses on the design of the Elysium space station and features an interview with renowned artist and designer Syd Mead, as well as Blomkamp, Ivey, Muyzers and Walsh. The bulk of this piece deals with Mead's approach and methodology in designing various aspects of Elysium for the film, and Blomkamp and his collaborators discuss extrapolating from Mead's designs and bringing them to life for the screen. In particular, Blomkamp talks about steering the final design of Elysium away from the hyper-realism of speculative sci-fi and towards the metaphor of "Beverly Hills in space". This is the second of two features on the disc that are not Blu-ray exclusive.

Overall, the extras on the disc are fairly substantial. They're thoughtful and well-presented, and they provide valuable insight into the film. The featurettes do cover a considerable amount of ground, although there is some minor overlap between the content and some aspects of production, such as fight choreography, do get the short shrift. All the disc is missing is a trailer for the film itself and an audio commentary.

Final Score  ––––  ★★★★½

Elysium on Blu-ray is the complete package: a multi-faceted and entertaining film with definite replay value, a stellar audio/visual presentation and an informative set of supplements that goes well beyond the standard EPK material. Fans of sci-fi or action shouldn't hesitate to add this disc to their collection. That goes double if you're a Neill Blomkamp fan -- this most-definitely deserves a spot next to District 9 on your shelf.

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