Though later today will launch the first trailer for Neill Blomkamp‘s Elysium, yesterday a special event was held in select cities to show off the new trailer, and show a ten minute extended preview of the film, which stars Matt Damon, Jodie Foster and Sharlto Copley. We’ll post the trailer as soon as it’s available, but until then, here’s our preview of that footage.

Set in a dystopian future (2154 to be precise), in this world the most wealthy people in the world have moved to Elysium — a floating space station where the 1% live perfect lives — while back on Earth the ravages of time and exploitation have left the 99% toiling in terrible jobs. Blomkamp has set up this world as full of people who are reduced to criminal acts and working Joes with most covered into tattoos, including our protagonist Max (Damon). He’s a two-time felon whose story starts when he talks a little too wise to one of the robot police force and gets a broken arm. This gets him in trouble at work, and when pushed he does something stupid which sets the ticking clock in motion: He’s got five days to get to Elysium, or else he’ll die.

To get there, he must steal the information inside the head of John Carlyle (William Fichtner), and to do that he’s going to have to get wired up in a mech suit (as seen in the poster below).


But once he plots his heist, Secretary Rhodes (Foster) sends their elite crime fighter and mechanized soldier Kruger (Copley) after Max. As we’re shown, anybody who tries to get to Elysium without being part of the elite is executed so it’s going to be a hard road ahead for Max.

That’s the set up. But what was apparent in the footage is that Blomkamp, now working with a blockbuster budget and name stars (and out of the found footage style), has talent to spare. Every time a low budget filmmaker makes the jump to a studio project, there’s a worry that they’ll either be stifled by the compromises that come working within the studio system or they’ll just not know how to handle the bigger toys and tools. After watching the footage, there’s no question that Blomkamp knows how to deliver a big science fiction world, but didn’t compromise on the subtext. It feels like the man who made District 9 was given exponentially more money and knew what to do with it. The only recent film to compare Elysium to is Christopher Nolan‘s Inception in that there’s big budget action, but a whole heck of a lot going on under the surface.

When I asked about how Science Fiction is the perfect genre for smuggling commentary on the real world, Blomkamp chuckled and said “I hadn’t heard that before,  filmmaking smuggler” but then added that “I think that in the realm of commercial popcorn cinema, the amounts of message or smuggling of ideas you can get in there is quite limited. If you think you’re actually going to make a difference or change anything, you’re on pretty dangerous thin ice. But you can put ideas in there that are real issues that are happening in the world. Ideas formulate out of them. If I were to make something to make a difference, I’d make a documentary. The film does talk about things that do have a big impact on me, but I don’t know how much the audience takes away from it.” He also suggested that the Occupy movement had no impact on the making of the film, as he was already far into making the film when that happened.

The question raised by the footage shown of Elysium isn’t if it’s going to be have a great lived-in universe or if Blomkamp can work with professional actors — it looks like he’s got both down — but if the film can thread the needle of delivering action and a story that obviously has real world implications without being too heavy handed. If they pull it off, Elysium will be an all-time great science fiction film. All the pieces are there for a great movie. If they pull it off.

Elysium opens in theaters August 9.

Are you pumped for Elysium?