This post isn't about how Elysium fails as a movie, although I could write a loooooot about that too. No, it's about how it fails, specifically, as a science fiction movie. It probably comes not just because I spent 90% of the movie going 'really?!', but a) if you remember my reaction to Star Trek Into Darkness, the mishandling of science fiction lately really is starting to get on my nerves, and b) because, like when often is the case when people who are not interested in science fiction are exposed to science fiction, I heard a lot of good things about Elysium, which not only caused my disappointment, but made me think about how it fails as science fiction specifically.
5. It's unoriginal. And I'm not talking about the mountains of cliches and generic dialogue in the movie, although that was grating, too. I'm talking about the fact that the entire setting seems to be lifted from Asimov's Caves of Steel and the Naked Sun. It really does feel like Neill Blomkamp saw the movie called I, Robot and how it presented itself as an Asimov adaptation even though it had nothing in common with Asimov's book and its message was actually the opposite of Asimov's, and realised that... no one these days actually reads Asimov. So he can pretty much steal the entire setting of the robot books and no one would notice. Unfortunately, it seems like he was right. Except that he only stole some of it, which caused problem #4...
4. There's no metaphor/ the setting makes no sense. A major part of science fiction, after all, is the metaphor about our own lives, societies, etc. Except that in Caves of Steel, the metaphor about the classes/ rich vs. poor was entrenched in more than 'the poor are oppressed'. Oh, yeah, all those reviews that said the movie makes a political message? I'm sorry, but 'oppressing the poor is bad' is not, in fact, a political message. It's not even a political point. It's superficial lip-service. Again, in Caves of Steel there was actually a political message. There was a point. There was thought behind the world. But since Blomkamp simply reduced everything to the most simple elements, it was all lost, and therefore nothing makes sense anymore. In what way is this relevant to today's society, other than the fact we, too, have poor people who are not being helped by rich people? It isn't. And it really doesn't help that the setting is inconsistent. Which brings us to #3:
3. This film is not about societies. The best example for that is the point (or lack of) about robots. We get robots as the faceless representatives of authority, who, being robots, enable the oppression of the poor masses due to not having a heart, bothering to listen, or put a toe out of protocol. They can't - they're robots. Look what society is turning into! (The metaphor, of course, should be when people behave that way, not when technology replaces the human element, unless your movie is about the dangers of technology and not about how people screw over each other). ... Except that in the end, it's the exact same traits of the robots that bring about the happy ending, cos now that they've been reprogrammed, they automatically use the rich people's resources to help the poor. Yeah... not a very consistent message. I mean, if the movie would have been about how rich people choose to programme their robots/ use their resources, fine, the ending would have made sense. But the very long sequence in the beginning meant to show us how it's the robots themselves which are the problem... yeah. Inconsistencies. And that's one example - the entire design of the movie suffers from the same inconsistencies (and I won't even start about the point plenty of people have already made about how all the oppressed are Latin@ and black... except for the white hero who saves them all). And it isn't just inconsistencies with the science fiction message (and here I'm probably turning away from why this is a bad SF movie and into why this is a bad movie) - it's inconsistencies with the message itself. We keep on getting flashbacks about Matt Damon's childhood and how the Good Nun Who Raised Him told him that he shouldn't aspire to go live a better life but he will have a good thing that he was meant to do etc etc etc. The most obvious kind of indoctrination that is meant to stop people from protesting over the way society perpetuates those mechanisms that keep them oppressed. Except that it is presented as a good thing. So, the robots and Evil Jodie Foster With The Inconsistent Accent And Mismatched Lip Movements* are the oppressors, but apparently society-at-large has nothing to do whatsoever with it. And that's what is called the political understanding of a shoelace.
2. Speaking of people... there aren't any in this movie. Calling the characters here 'one-dimensional' would be a compliment.
1. Going back to the Asimov quote - there's no reaction. At all. Not to the technology. Not to the society (other than 'the rich people are oppressing us!'). Not when Matt Damon is implanted with a huge metal exo-skeleton. Nothing. It's the trademark of the worst kind of action movies, but this is supposedly something more. Or at least that's how plenty of people treat it. Why, I have no idea.
*I know, I said I won't talk about how this is a bad movie. But this was so jarring. I think Foster originally played her with a French accent and then they decided they didn't want it in post and re-dubbed her dialogue? So half her dialogue is in a French accent cos apparently you don't need to re-dub it consistently, and the part that isn't in a French accent is horribly and jarringly unsynced with her lip movements. It's like, dear god, people, if you're going to re-dub only half her dialogue... re-dub the parts where you don't see her lips moving!!